The Los Angeles City Council and county Board of Supervisors Tuesday expanded a legal defense fund for immigrants accused of being in the country illegally to also be used to help children and parents who have been separated at the border by federal authorities.
“No child should endure the trauma of being separated from their parents or the terror of not knowing if they will ever see their families again,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said.
“I am grateful for the City Council’s partnership and swift action, because we must do everything possible to reunify these families now. Los Angeles is answering cruelty with compassion — by giving hope and assistance to people in desperate need.”
The L.A. Justice Fund is a public-private partnership created by Garcetti, the Los Angeles City Council, Board of Supervisors, California Community Foundation, and the Weingart Foundation. The fund has awarded $7.45 million to 17 Los Angeles based nonprofit legal service providers to provide representation for immigrants accused of being in the country illegally who are facing deportation.
The City Council approved expanding the fund to be used for children and parents who have been separated and are currently residing or detained in the Los Angeles area, while the Board of Supervisors voted for the fund to be used for children or parents separated at the border who have ties to the county.
“When we created the L.A. Justice Fund we looked to help provide legal representation for people whose only crime was looking to create a better life for their family,” Councilwoman Nury Martinez said.
“No one could have imagined we would need it to defend children separated from their families. As a mother and an elected representative for this city, I can think of no better purpose than to use this Justice Fund to reunite families separated by this abhorrent policy.”
For several weeks, the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy on undocumented immigrants — including the now-rescinded policy of separating children from their parents when they are apprehended at the Mexican border — has sparked an international outcry.
President Donald Trump agreed to rescind the separation part of the policy in late June. On Friday, the U.S. Justice Department filed papers in Los Angeles federal court seeking to have the families held together, indefinitely, in detention centers.
According to the most recent information from the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement, 104 children who were separated from their parents are currently in Los Angeles County or the greater Los Angeles area. No separated child is currently in the custody or care of the County of Los Angeles, according to Supervisor Hilda Solis.
“When the federal government callously rips apart families and traumatizes innocent and defenseless children, who will speak up for them? Who will be on their side?” said Councilman Mike Bonin, who was arrested Monday along with 17 other during a protest against the border policy outside Immigration and Customs Enforcement headquarters in downtown Los Angeles.
“With this action, Los Angeles will be.”
The fund was first proposed by Garcetti and other leaders in December 2016 as a reaction to Trump’s election as president while promising to increase deportations.
The council approved its motion on a 11-0 vote, while the Board of Supervisors approved the expanded criteria on a 3-0 vote. The votes do not change the provision that the fund cannot go toward helping those accused of violent felonies.
“Los Angeles County has not stood idly by as this administration abuses children and their parents who are simply trying to escape poverty and violence,” Solis said. “Family separation is cruel and a grave injustice for the more than 2,300 children who were physically torn away from their parents. … L.A. County will always stand with immigrants and asylum seekers.”
Said Supervisor Janice Hahn: “No one in this country, let alone a small child, should be forced to defend themselves in court alone.”
Defendants in immigration cases are not guaranteed the right to counsel because they are considered civil, rather than criminal proceedings.