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LA defense fund to help immigrants facing deportation gets underway

A family member walks into the Adelanto Detention Facility on November 15, 2013 in Adelanto, California.
John Moore/Getty Images
FILE: A family member walks into the Adelanto Detention Facility on Nov. 15, 2013 in Adelanto, California.

Money to help immigrants fight deportation will be distributed to legal nonprofits from a $10 million defense fund set up with public money from the city and county of Los Angeles and private philanthropic contributions.  

Grants from the L.A. Justice Fund were announced this week by the California Community Foundation, which administers the fund, which is expected to benefit an estimated 2,000 immigrants.

For now, $7.4 million will be awarded for legal services, according to the foundation. The remainder of the $10 million is still being raised. 

The county is contributing $3 million and the city $2 million to the fund. 

The funding grants mean that the legal providers can begin preparing to provide free legal services for immigrants who are facing deportation, said Rosie Arroyo, a senior program officer with the California Community Foundation.

“As part of that, what they are going to be doing is hiring attorneys, creating the necessary infrastructure to support the program," Arroyo said.

The city and county have placed restrictions on their share of the money: county officials don’t want people with violent felony convictions to benefit, and city officials will only allow its funds used in such cases in rare exceptions, based on the merits of an individual's circumstances.

Arroyo said use of the public funds will be limited to the direct representation of clients, such as attorney hours, client intake, and preparing cases for court rather than office expenses, for example.

She said the legal providers will screen prospective clients and determine who is eligible.

There are no conditions like that imposed by the city and county attached to the philanthropic money. Some of the funds will help establish a work space close to the Adelanto detention center, located about 90 miles from Los Angeles.

"It will really make it more possible for L.A.-based organizations to provide high-quality representation in a remote facility," said Lindsay Toczylowski, executive director of the Immigrant Defenders Law Center in downtown Los Angeles that will take the lead in setting up the Adelanto space. 

While the fund will benefit immigrants who are both detained and not detained, those who are in detention are often closer to deportation, making their cases more critical, Toczylowski said.

Arroyo said some of the funding will also cover training for the providers, including on how organizations will report the results from the grants.

Before the city and county voted to commit taxpayer dollars to the fund, there were heated debates over who should benefit from the legal help and whether unauthorized immigrants should benefit at all.

Critics of the fund like John Berry, a statewide coordinator with the Tea Party Patriots, said even with the restrictions imposed by the city and county, immigrants in the country without authorization should not be defended using public funds.   

“By definition they are lawbreakers, and especially what is offensive is they use public money to support these lawbreakers," Berry said.

A list of  legal service grantees can be found on the California Community Fund website.