Local Governments Lawyer Up to Protect Immigrant Populations

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As cities and counties await the Trump administration’s next move on immigration, two D.C.-area jurisdictions hire top-tier counsel.

Governments of cities and counties with large immigrant populations are beginning to take steps to prepare for newly aggressive actions to find and deport people without legal status.

While the Trump administration has said it will focus removal efforts on people who have committed criminal offenses, enforcement sweeps have been picking up immigrants whose only offense is their undocumented status.

Two jurisdictions in the Washington, D.C., area have retained legal counsel, The Washington Post reported this week.

In Maryland, Montgomery County has hired Leon Rodriguez, who was director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in the Obama administration, as special counsel on these issues. At the same time, in Arlington County, Virginia, the public school system has retained the large and capable international law firm of Hogan Lovells to provide counsel on immigration matters.

The Post reports:

Rodriguez’s appointment, which is expected to be approved Tuesday by the Montgomery County Council, underscores the level of uncertainty faced by local officials in liberal jurisdictions in light of President Trump’s declared intention to arrest and deport large numbers of undocumented immigrants.

Localities such as Montgomery are struggling to maintain the trust of large foreign-born populations in school systems and other institutions while trying to avoid being targeted for federal enforcement.

In Philadelphia, Mayor Jim Kenney is working with top legal talent in the area, including the Philadelphia Bar Association, on the city’s response.

Some local jurisdictions have sought to create legal defense funds meant to help immigrants and refugees, including a joint effort by the city and county of Los Angeles to create a $10 million fund and in King County, Washington, which last month announced a proposal for a one-time $750,000 expenditure for immigration defense.

On Monday, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee gave final approval to boost staffing in the Public Defender’s Office to deal with immigration-related cases, though the amount—$200,000 tapped from current budget savings—is less than some on the Board of Supervisors had hoped for.

Some large cities have offices and staffs already in place to help their immigrant populations. For example, in New York, the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs works on three broad goals: to “enhance the economic, civic, and social integration of immigrant New Yorkers; facilitate access to justice for immigrant New Yorkers; and advocate for continued immigration reforms at all levels of government in order to eliminate inequities that impact New York's immigrant communities.”

The office is headed by attorney Nisha Argawal, who developed the city’s municipal ID program to help people who do not have driver’s licenses or other types of government-sanctioned identification.

Similarly, in Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti in 2013 revitalized the city’s Office of Immigrant Affairs with goals similar to those of New York. The office is led by Linda Lopez, who holds advanced degrees in public policy and political affairs.

In Boston, Mayor Martin J. Walsh last year announced a “strategic rebranding” of the the Mayor’s Office of New Bostonians, renaming it the Mayor's Office for Immigrant Advancement. His office said that “as a part of a concerted effort to empower immigrant residents and recognize their contributions to our city, Walsh also launched Immigrant Information Corners at the Boston Public Library's Central Library in Copley Square and 24 neighborhood branches to provide information about resources and services available to help advance the well-being of the city's immigrant residents.” The office is led by Alejandra St. Guillen, an educator and Latina activist.

Timothy B. Clark is Editor at Large at Government Executive’s Route Fifty.

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