Legal defense fund voted out of committee

This morning in the Gender Equity, Safe Communities, and New Americans Committee sent to the full Council an ordinance appropriating $1 million for a legal defense fund for individuals in immigration proceedings.

This was announced two weeks ago by Council members Gonzalez and Burgess, co-sponsors on the bill. (in the post linked to above, I gave a pretty thorough background and context)

Here’s the heart of the ordinance:

The Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs (OIRA) shall enter into one or more contracts, through a competitive process, with non-profit organizations to provide: a) legal representation in immigration matters, and/or b) guidance and referral services for legal representation, to indigent persons living or working in Seattle in need of civil legal representation for matters related to their immigration status. A non-profit organization may provide either the legal representation or guidance and referral services, or both.

The bill goes on to define “indigent” in this context as “a person who, at any stage of an immigration proceeding, is unable to pay the anticipated cost of counsel for the matter regarding immigration status because the person’s available funds are insufficient for the retention of counsel.”

OIRA will administer the program; they hope to get an RFP out by June. They are talking with King County, which is working on a complementary program, about opportunities to collaborate. OIRA will be required to report back to the City Council on the number of individuals, the number of cases, and the case outcomes the funding was used for.

The ordinance appropriates $1 million of one-time funding; any amount not spent in 2017 can carry over to be spent in 2018. The funds are coming from the 2016 end-of-year surplus in the General Fund.

Gonzalez and Burgess attached a “clerk file” of additional documentation that explains why this is such an important need. Lots of interesting data there.

The ordinance was voted out of committee this morning, and will come before the full Council for final approval next Monday.