How Legal Defense Funds Could Protect Immigrants Under Donald Trump

November 23rd 2016

President-elect Donald Trump's promise to immediately ramp up deportation efforts have put communities across the U.S. on edge

In response to those fears, opponents of Trump's immigration efforts are supporting legal defense funds that protect immigrant rights.

donald-trumpAP/Reiri Kurihara - apimages.com

Legal defense funds are public or private accounts used to supplement legal expenses for clients who can't afford them. Undocumented immigrants facing deportation are in particular need in this respect because, as non-citizens, they're not entitled to free legal representation in immigration court.Immigration law experts anticipate that legal defense funds for immigrants will see increased demand for their services if Trump goes forward with his plan to immediately deport two to three million undocumented immigrants who, he claims, "have criminal records."

Trump discussed replacing President Barack Obama's executive action, known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which protects more than 700,000 undocumented immigrants  who entered the U.S. before their sixteenth birthday from deportation.

However, legal defense funds don't just provide resources for attorneys working in immigration court.

immigrationWikimedia - wikimedia.org

Some, including the Immigrant Defense Project, also run hotlines that provide advice and referrals for individuals seeking legal protection, work on policy proposals designed to protect immigrants at the state and federal level, and organize advocacy campaigns.

"As you can imagine, a lot of us were not happy about the outcome of the election," Marie Mark, a supervising attorney at the Immigrant Defense Project, told ATTN:. "But we came into work on Wednesday, and one thing that was really heartening was that we had begun to get some unsolicited donations. We've gotten a bunch of people who have emailed us or reached out to us through our website asking how they can volunteer and how they can help."

"We don't have the name recognition of the ACLU so we didn't get the millions of dollars, but there are definitely people who are seeing this and saying, 'What can I do now? How can I be active?' It's really helpful to us when we get those kinds of contributions — not just because we need the money, which we do, but also because it helps us to show other people that this is really a cause that lots of people care about," Mark added.

Renewed interest in legal defense funds is also evident in New York, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Sunday that he would include a public/private fund for immigrants in the state's 2017 budget.

"The Cuomo administration described the new fund as a first-in-the-nation program to provide emergency legal representation to immigrants – regardless of whether the person is in the country illegally or not," The Buffalo News reported. "It will be run through the state’s Office for New Americans in partnership with some colleges, law firms and advocacy groups."

Mark told ATTN: she's heartened to see increased collaboration between defense funds, state and local governments, and other advocacy organizations in the weeks since Trump was elected.

"IDP is working on this, but there are organizations in Boston and California and all over the country who are also focused on these issues," she said. "This is just one more time where we're all banding together to protect people who we think are really vulnerable."

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