The Long Beach City Council opted to move forward with a legal defense fund that will establish an agreement between the Safety and Fairness for Everyone Cities Network and the Vera Institute of Justice, a nonprofit corporation that will provide legal representation for low-income immigrants facing deportation in the City of Long Beach.
The city council approved the establishment of a $250,000 legal defense fund as part of the 2018 Long Beach Values Act March 13. The staff determined Vera was most qualified on July 20.
The city council adopted the fiscal year budget for 2019 and approved the $250,000 for the establishment of the Long Beach Justice Fund Sept. 4.
According to the staff report, some of the services the legal defense fund include: removal defense for individuals in detention and non-detained individuals as well as legal support for asylum-seekers and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals applicants and recipients, visa holders and lawful permanent residents.
To qualify for legal representation services, a person must reside in Long Beach and have a household income below 200 percent of the federal poverty guideline. According to The Balance, a household of four would classify below poverty level if the annual income was $24,600 and an additional $4,320 per extra person after that.
Stephanie Medina, a student at Long Beach State and president of For Undocumented Empowered Leaders, expressed the importance of these funds in helping undocumented members of the community.
“I fall under those who will benefit from this fund and I believe that the Vera Institute is the most qualified sponsor to handle the Long Beach Justice Fund,” she said. “I trust that this partnership with Long Beach will help assist undocumented folks if they ever find themselves in a situation of needing legal representation.”
To fund the program, the staff identified $100,000 in savings of the 2018 fiscal year budget that will be set aside for the legal defense fund and can be used as matching funds. According to the staff report, the remaining $150,000 could be identified through council deliberation of the fiscal year budget of 2019. The staff anticipates applying for a $100,000 grant from Vera using the $100,000 of savings from the 2018 fiscal year as a matching source to help build the fund.
Citlalli Ortiz, LBSU student and the commissioner for undocumented students of Associated Students Inc., said the impact of deportation is immensely negative for her and her family.
“I aspire to finish my bachelor’s degree and continue school …and ultimately obtain my career with a dream of giving back to my community,” she said. “Everyone should have an equal right to representation regardless if they have history with the criminal justice system.”
Vera will provide legal services free of charge and will work with the city, finding organizations to help provide legal representation such as the Long Beach Bar Association.
The nonprofit will be managing the fund for the first two years before transitioning it to local control in Long Beach.
Paul Carter, president of the LBBA, expressed how important the legal defense fund is and offered his support.
“We as attorneys know that the Trump administration has created a lot of hostility toward undocumented people and those people need our help,” Carter said. “We’ll use our local expert immigration attorneys with more than 100 years of combined experience … and we’ll only spend what we use and return the rest. We won’t take it and we won’t spend it.”
Another organization willing to help is Centro CHA, said Executive Director Jessica Quintana. She said Centro CHA has a long history of providing immigrant integration services that include citizenship and legal services for people that are getting ready to apply for their green card status, renewing their green card status and helping people who are low income.
Quintana said she was grateful for Councilwoman Lena Gonzalez for pushing this forward.
“Under this administration, there is no one that’s safe,” Quintana said.
After the motion passed 6-3, a chant broke out inside the chambers of city hall with dozens of people chanting “sanctuary, not deportation” repeatedly. The legal defense fund is expected to begin in the first months of 2019.