In December, city and county officials announced that they were establishing a $10 million L.A. Justice Fund to help undocumented Angelenos ensnared in President Trump's immigration crackdown to obtain legal representation. Along with tough talk from Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck, who vowed to continue to leave immigration enforcement to federal authorities, the announcement amounted to a middle finger to an anti-immigrant Trump administration.
But nearly six months later critics say City Hall's pro-immigrant pronouncements — a lighter version of being a so-called sanctuary city — have been all talk. That fund has yet to dispense a penny, and Trump's immigration crackdown is happening now, they say. "The reality is that although there have been several statements made, we believe that a lot more needs to happen and it needs to happen now," says Carlos Amador, organizing director of the California Immigrant Policy Center.
On Wednesday the center joined a number of groups under the Los Angeles Coalition for Universal Representation to protest outside City Hall. An estimated 100 people showed up to urge Mayor Eric Garcetti and his counterparts on the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, who jointly announced the fund Dec. 19, to start releasing cash to defendants.
Another major immigrants rights group confirmed that the cash has yet to materialize and agreed the fund was much needed. But a representative did not want to speak on the record.
"It's been almost six months since the announcement of the Justice Fund, but no money has been allocated to make sure quality legal-service providers are able to fight deportation cases," Amador adds.
Garcetti's press secretary, Alex Comisar, said via email that the "public-private partnership aimed at supporting" the fund was still coming together. "The City Council is currently reviewing this allocation, which was included in the 2018 budget," he said.
He agreed that "access to due process and legal representation will maximize the chances of keeping hard-working immigrant families together if they are facing deportation."
City Councilman Gil Cedillo, a key supporter of the fund, said via email the money was coming but that it was subject to a necessary bureaucratic system. "We understand the importance of providing due process for those without legal representation, but we must also adhere to the City's legislative process.
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"There has been progress with the allocation of Justice Fund dollars," Cedillo said. "As of next week, the item will be in the budget committee and in council shortly there after. Once approved, we will be able to transfer funds over to the California Community Foundation to strengthen the Justice Fund."
In addition to seeing that cash released for defense attorneys, the coalition would also like to see a city "ordinance prohibiting L.A. personnel and resources from being used to support immigration enforcement efforts," according to a statement.
Since the beginning of the year, there have been multiple horror stories about Southern Californians being snatched from home and work by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and subsequently locked up for lacking documentation. Federal detention centers, like the one in Adelanto, are often far from urban centers and present more difficulties for foreign-born immigrants seeking legal help, experts have said. The coalition calls the situation "urgent." "Many have been picked up and many people have been turned over to ICE," Amador says.
"When officials want to act quickly, they find the means to do so," he says. "We need to make sure that L.A. city is taking all necessary action."