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L.A. County may soon be able to offer legal aid to undocumented immigrants

L.A. County may soon be able to offer legal aid to undocumented immigrants
Photograph: Courtesy Zocalo Public Square.

With Donald Trump’s inauguration just a few weeks away, Los Angeles and Santa Ana have both publicly reiterated their commitments to being "sanctuary cities" for undocumented immigrants. Now, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors appears set to vote for a new measure that would go even further in support of Angelenos living here without legal status by offering publicly-funded legal aid for residents facing deportation or removal proceedings.

Advocates for the rights of immigrants are, of course, big supporters of the measure which, if passed, will be the first of its kind by a California county, L.A. Weekly reports. As of today, there are about 50,000 people in Los Angeles who are already facing removal proceedings and many activists assume that number is going to spike dramatically when the new President takes over federal immigration authority.

Offering legal aid to these people is not merely a symbolic act, either. In immigration court, you don’t have the right to a court-appointed lawyer the way you do in other legal proceedings, and pro-bono lawyers are only available in rare cases. That leaves the vast majority of people, many of whom may not speak the language or have knowledge of the American legal system, either scrounging to find the cash to pay for an attorney or hoping to get a chance at the small pool of legal services offered by already-strained charity groups.

According to one study, an undocumented person without an attorney is six times more likely to be deported than a person with a lawyer in a similar situation.

If the measure passes, it would allocate $1 million per year from the county budget for the legal aid program. The county is also hoping to get matching funds donated by philanthropists to boost the amount they have to distribute.

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