By Phoenix Tso and Caitlin Hernández/LAist

Originally published May 10, 2022

The Los Angeles City Council has approved a citywide program providing universal free legal representation to immigrants facing deportation.

The L.A. Justice Fund started as a pilot in 2017, but it excluded immigrants with criminal convictions. A Budget and Finance Committee amendment would have kept that requirement, but Councilmembers Kevin de León and Paul Krekorian removed that language before the Council vote.

The program will prioritize providing representation to multiple groups, including unaccompanied children, immigrants who are experiencing homelessness or are at risk, people under Temporary Protected Status, asylum seekers and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients.

Lindsay Toczylowski heads the Immigrant Defenders Law Center. She said it’s important for all immigrants to be able to access legal representation.

“It’s not only the most efficient way to run a removal defense program, something I can say with confidence after 10 years of managing programs, but it also demonstrates the city’s commitment to racial justice, due process for all into a justice fund with no exceptions,” Toczylowski said to the Council.

Several other immigration lawyers and advocates say they support a legal defense fund that helps immigrants without exclusion.

Gloria Cruz Cardenas, policy director at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles. said her father is a first generation African Mexican man who’s lived in Wilmington for more than 30 years.

“I’m here as a testament to all the Angelenos like my father who have contributed to this community and deserve the right to due process in any legal proceedings, regardless of immigration status,” she said.

More than 90% of clients in the pilot program, Cruz said, have been people seeking asylum, unaccompanied children, unhoused people and survivors of domestic sexual violence or human trafficking.

“My father is a proud Angeleno to the core,” Cruz said. “He’s a big Dodger fan. He’s always talking about how much he loves the city.”

This report is reprinted with permission from Southern California Public Radio. © 2022 Southern California Public Radio. All rights reserved.

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