Montgomery council weighs funding lawyers for immigrants facing deportation

Montgomery council weighs funding lawyers for immigrants facing deportation


Originally published by The Washington Post

The Montgomery County Council will debate on Tuesday whether to spend $374,000 to help defend county residents who are facing deportation, a proposal that Council President Hans Riemer described as a way to push back against President Trump’s immigration crackdown.

“The federal government is targeting our residents and our communities,” Riemer (D-At Large) said at a news briefing Monday. “So we need to respond.”

The money — $373,957 from the county’s general fund — would be granted to the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, or CAIR, a Washington-based nonprofit that would provide the legal work.

The council has scheduled a public hearing on the issue for May 1.

Maryland’s most populous county would join Prince George’s County and the city of Baltimore as jurisdictions in the state that fund legal representation for immigrants facing deportation. Since deportation proceedings are civil, not criminal, matters, immigrants facing deportation are not entitled to publicly funded legal representation.

Montgomery’s program would apply to those facing deportation whose household income is at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level — $12,140 for an individual and $25,100 for a family of four — and who have not been convicted of any of 22 major crimes, such as murder, rape, kidnapping or involvement in a criminal gang.

CAIR estimates that the money would allow it to screen all county residents who are detained for immigration proceedings to determine whether they qualify for the assistance, and provide legal representation for the estimated 85 to 90 people who would likely face deportation this year. The organization represented seven such immigrants from Montgomery County in 2017 and four in 2016.

Under the Trump administration, immigrants with no criminal convictions have been arrested at an increasing rate, according to a report by the American Immigration Lawyers Association cited by county council staff.

The federal government is also ending temporary protected status for immigrants from countries including Haiti and El Salvador, and is attempted to phase out Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an Obama-era program that gave work permits and deportation protections to hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought to this country as children.

This month, the U.S. Justice Department plans to temporarily halt a federally funded program designed to give legal assistance and information to detained immigrants facing deportation. The government says it wants to assess whether the program is cost-effective.

“Given that the federal government is continuing with its targeting of our communities, we just felt we had to match that as aggressively as we could,” Riemer said. “That’s what this program is about.”

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