Baltimore among 11 jurisdictions that will provide legal help for immigrants in deportation cases

Mayor Catherine Pugh announced Thursday plans to provide increased support for immigrants facing deportation proceedings.

Baltimore is one of 11 jurisdictions that joined to form the SAFE Cities Network, a group devoted to providing publicly-funded legal representation for immigrants threatened with deportation. Prince George’s County is also part of the national network, which is supported by grant money from the Vera Institute of Justice.

“Our community is safest when our neighbors trust their officials and institutions and know they will be treated justly and with dignity,” Pugh said in a news release. “Providing legal representation to those facing deportation maintains trust in law enforcement and our local institutions and keeps us all safe. If our residents don’t feel safe – for example, coming forward to report crimes and cooperating with law enforcement – all of us are at more risk.”

Under the initiative — a continuation of the Safe City Baltimore program launched earlier this year — the city will provide money for attorneys to represent detained Baltimore residents during deportation hearings. The city plans to put up $100,000, which will be supplemented by matching funds collected by the Vera Institute, said Catalina Rodriguez Lima, director of the Mayor's Office of Immigrant and Multicultural Affairs. The combined pot of money should help about 40 people obtain legal representation.

The Vera Institute will also provide the mayor’s office with technical assistance and support, including help with identifying lawyers, providing research and data support and sharing best practices.

“The constitutional guarantee of due process applies to people residing in the U.S., including immigrants. Before we separate parents and children, before we remove someone who is a hard-working and valued member of our community, we must respect their rights,” Oren Root, Vera’s immigration and justice center director, said in a statement. “At its core, providing representation to immigrants in removal proceedings is not about who deserves to stay or be deported, it is about bringing fairness to complex immigration proceedings that pit immigrants against experienced government attorneys, and tear communities apart.”

Research shows that access to legal representation dramatically increases an immigrants’ likelihood of winning their case.

President Donald J. Trump has made calls for more aggressive immigration enforcement a cornerstone of his campaign and tenure in office thus far. He hopes to cut back the population of undocumented immigrants in this country, which the Pew Research Center estimated to be around 11.3 million people in 2016.

“Regardless of the position of the federal government, we will continue to stand by our decision to be a fair and safe city for all,” Pugh said.

In September, federal immigration officials arrested 28 people in Maryland during a nationwide sweep targeting immigration violations in "sanctuary" jurisdictions. Five were arrested in Baltimore, one was arrested in Baltimore County, 11 in Prince George’s County and 11 in Montgomery County, according to a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman.

“What we want to do as a city is give immigrants the opportunity to go in front of a judge and tell their story with an attorney next to them,” Rodriguez Lima said. “We want to provide people due process and justice and ensure that families remain together.”

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