City of Seattle, King County Announce Immigration & Refugee Legal Defense Fund Awardees

This article was originally published in The Seattle Medium on August 30, 2017. You can read the original version here.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and King County Executive Dow Constantine recently announced the community organizations that have been selected to use $1.5 million in funding, granted as part of the Legal Defense Fund, to provide legal aid to vulnerable immigrants and refugees.

Earlier this year, both the City and County passed legislation authorizing these funds for legal defense and community navigation services, as President Donald Trump threatened immigrant and refugee communities through both his inflammatory rhetoric and unconstitutional executive orders.

Funding was provided to organizations for the following services:

  • Direct Legal Representation – awarded to organizations that have an attorney on staff who is able to provide direct legal representation for low-income immigrants and refugees living in King County or working in Seattle who are in detention, facing removal, or in danger of losing their immigration status.
  • Community Navigation Services – awarded to organizations that can provide guidance and referrals for low-income immigrants and refugees living in King County or working in Seattle who are in detention, facing removal, or in danger of losing their immigration status.

“We are sending a clear, united message to the rest of the country – and to the world – that King County remains an inclusive community where all are welcome to build a better future,” said Executive Constantine. “The funding we announce today will help our partner organizations defend the human rights of more immigrants and refugees who contribute to the prosperity and vibrancy of our region.”

In November 2016, Murray responded to the federal administration’s anti-immigrant actions by passing his Welcoming City Executive Order, which reinforced the City’s already existing policy that employees do not ask about citizenship status and serve all residents regardless of immigration status. The order also mandated funding for peer support groups and counseling for immigrant and refugee middle and high school youth, legal assistance for immigrant families with children in Seattle Public Schools, and a comprehensive public awareness effort around reporting discriminatory harassment.

In March of this year, Councilmembers M. Lorena González and Tim Burgess joined with Mayor Murray in announcing their intent to pass legislation creating the fund. Seattle joins Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, and Chicago as cities that have created programs to fund legal defense and other immigrant legal services. Unlike in criminal trials, individuals do not have a right to legal representation in immigration proceedings. However, studies have shown that people who were represented in U.S. immigration court were up to ten times more likely to obtain relief.

Over the course of two weeks, a panel comprised of members from the immigrant and refugee legal defense community, King County staff, and City of Seattle staff reviewed both written applications and oral presentations. Out of ten applications, five received awards. The award recipients for direct legal representation are Kids in Need of Defense, the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, and Colectiva Legal del Pueblo; and for community navigation services are the Filipino Community of Seattle, South Park Information and Referral Center, and the West African Community Council.

“I signed legislation in April establishing a $1 million-dollar immigrant Legal Defense Fund because immigrants are being targeted by a presidential administration that has embraced White Nationalism,” said Murray. “Today, with additional money from our partners at King County, we are awarding those defense fund dollars to community organizations like the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Kids in Need of Defense, and West African Community Council, because they advocate for immigrants every day in what’s now a larger fight to preserve core American principles of Democracy.”

The City now begins negotiating the contracts detailing each of the grantees’ scope of work. The grantee organizations are expected to start offering services under the Legal Defense Fund after September 30.

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