by Will Racke
Baltimore will begin to use public funds for legal defense of illegal immigrants facing deportation, Democratic Mayor Catherine Pugh announced Wednesday.
A city spending panel approved $200,000 to pay for attorneys to represent illegal immigrants living in Baltimore who federal immigration authorities have detained, The Baltimore Sun reported.
Half the money will come through a Vera Institute of Justice grant, a New York nonprofit, and the other half will come from the city’s budget. The combined funding is expected to support immigration appeals for about 40 people.
Pugh described the initiative as a way to help ensure detained Baltimore residents have legal representation, regardless of their immigration status. The Constitution does not guarantee legal representation for people in civil immigration proceedings, unlike criminal defendants.
“We hope that everyone gets due process,” Pugh said.
The creation of a legal defense fund for illegal immigrants comes as malfeasance and corruption continue to plague Baltimore’s criminal justice system. Baltimore was the deadliest city in the nation on a per capita basis in 2017 and had more homicides than several larger cities — including Los Angeles, Dallas and New York City.
The city’s police department is mired in scandal over the actions of the so-called Gun Trace Task Force, whose members have been accused of racketeering and planting evidence at crime scenes. A federal investigation has prompted the department and city prosecutors to to reconsider more than 850 criminal cases the task force possibly tainted.
“My hunch is that the vast majority of Baltimore residents would prefer to have that money spent on heat and air conditioning in Baltimore public schools instead of legal fees,” Maryland GOP Chairman Dirk Haire said through a spokesman, according to The Baltimore Sun.
Haire’s spokesman was referring ongoing problems with outdated and poorly maintained heating systems in Baltimore’s public schools. The entire school system was forced to close for a day, during a cold snap in January, because heaters could not sufficiently warm the facilities.
The immigrant legal defense fund is needed to protect certain Baltimore residents from President Donald Trump’s administration’s aggressive enforcement policies against illegals, the mayor’s office said. The Mayor’s Office of Immigrant and Multicultural Affairs Director Catalina Rodriquez Lima said the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, will provide the lawyers.
“The current immigration policies have disrupted our communities — including families, schools and workplaces,” Lima said, according to The Baltimore Sun. “Due process and fair representation will help reduce fear and disrupt the ripple effects of deportation in our families.”
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