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Seattle and King County award $1.5 million in immigrant and refugee legal aid

The five recipients are ‘on the frontline of protecting immigrants and refugees’

ICE’s Northwest Detention Center
Seattle Globalist/Flickr

In a unanimous vote back in April, the Seattle City Council passed a resolution to dedicate $1 million to helping locally-based immigrants and refugees get legal representation in the wake of threats to sanctuary cities by the Trump administration. Seattle has since joined with King County to bring that total to more than $1.5 million.

On Monday, Seattle and King County announced the recipients of that money: The vast majority, more than $1 million, went collectively in a joint award to Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, who provides legal aid to immigrants in addition to advocacy and education work, and Colectiva Legal del Pueblo, who provide direct legal services to fight deportations.

Other recipients include Kids In Need of Defense, West African Community Center, South Park Information and Referral Center, and Filipino Community of Seattle.

“These organizations are committed to defending the constitutional rights of immigrants and refugees by providing access to quality civil legal aid,” said city councilor Lorena González in a statement. “Together, our community navigators and civil legal aid organizations are on the frontline of protecting immigrants and refugees from ongoing attacks by the Trump administration.”

City data estimates that 20 percent of Seattle residents are foreign-born, and that around 150,000 Seattle residents are undocumented.

Seattle passed an ordinance in 2003 that bars law enforcement officials from inquiring about residents’ immigration status, which places us under the “sanctuary city” umbrella in most cases. But that ordinance doesn’t prevent ICE arrests, detainments, or deportations.

City councilors González and Tim Burgess first announced the legal defense legislation in late March. In immigration court, immigrants don’t have the same right to an attorney that they would otherwise—and without access to public defenders, proceedings often go on without representation.

Multiple studies, including one earlier this year at University of California-San Diego, found that cities are safer when immigrants feel more secure reporting small crimes and other public health issues.

A 2016 American Immigration Council study found that people who were represented in court were far more likely to obtain relief, such as asylum. Those in detention with representation were four times more likely to be released than those without.

The same study estimated that 35 percent of detainees in Seattle immigration court don’t have representation by an attorney. In Tacoma’s immigration court, which handles cases of detainees at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Northwest Detention Center, 92 percent go without representation.

The one-time allocation of $1 million came from the 2017 general sub-fund.

Other emergency funding announced today is ongoing, including the Resilience Fund, a collaboration between King County and the Seattle Foundation, which provides funding for “a broad range of services” for “communities who are experiencing changing federal policies and declining funding.”

Money from that fund went to more than 25 local organizations, including CAIR of Washington and API Chaya. The next funding round for the Resilience Fund opened Monday and closes September 29.

This article has been updated to clarify that the bulk of the legal defense fund money went to a joint award, not just NWIRP.