L.A. city and county officials expand legal aid for migrant children

Published in L.A. Times on

The Los Angeles City Council voted to allow a legal aid fund for immigrants to be used for the defense of migrant children separated from their parents.

The Los Angeles City Council and county Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to allow a legal aid fund for immigrants to be used for the defense of migrant children separated from their parents under President Trump’s “zero-tolerance” border policy.

The L.A. Justice Fund, approved in 2017, is a pool of city, county and philanthropic dollars that pays for legal assistance for immigrants facing detention and deportation.

As of November, it had awarded $7.45 million to 17 nonprofit organizations, including Asian Americans Advancing Justice, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, Immigrant Defenders Law Center and Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles.

Before Tuesday, the fund was restricted to residents of the city of Los Angeles or county, making it difficult to aid migrant children recently separated from their families at the border.

The Board of Supervisors voted 3 to 0 in favor of expanding the criteria to include those children, as well as their parents or sponsors who have ties to L.A. County. Supervisor Kathryn Barger abstained, and Supervisor Janice Hahn was absent.

The City Council voted 11 to 0 in favor of a parallel motion, authored by Councilwoman Nury Martinez, that applies to children detained in Los Angeles and their parents or sponsors.

The actions do not change the existing prohibition on using money from the L.A. Justice Fund to provide legal services to immigrants who have violent criminal histories, a subject of fierce controversy when the fund was created.

The decision to expand the fund’s uses comes in the wake of rising calls for local elected officials to help the more than 2,300 children who arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border in recent weeks and were separated from their families. Trump ended the separation policy in late June, but his administration has reunited only a handful of families.

“We welcome resolutions and taking a public stance,” Lindsay Toczylowski, executive director of the Immigrant Defenders Law Center, told The Times last month. “But what’s more important is for elected officials to put money where their mouth is and create a fund that’s usable to help these populations.”

Toczylowski’s group held its own donation drive on Facebook to raise money to represent more children and provide bail for parents in detention around the country. Now it will also be able to use its grant from the L.A. Justice Fund.

Aside from the vote on the fund, council members threw their support behind a federal bill to grant automatic citizenship to children adopted by U.S. citizens. They also backed a proposed law that would ban Department of Homeland Security agents from removing children from their parents or guardians at the border.

Separately, Councilman Gil Cedillo joined a growing group of Democratic politicians around the country who want to abolish U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“On the eve of our Independence Day, I call for the elimination of ICE, the implementation of a humane immigration program and a stop to the separation of families as a deterrent to entry into our country,” Cedillo, who chairs the Immigrant Affairs, Civil Rights and Equity Committee, said in a statement.

Los Angeles City Atty. Mike Feuer also announced Tuesday that L.A. had joined New York, Chicago and San Francisco to file a brief in a federal lawsuit opposing Trump’s efforts to detain migrant children for long periods of time.