In response to growing community concerns about Tacoma residents facing deportation, the Tacoma City Council has authorized the creation of a Deportation Defense Fund to assist with their legal defense services. Basing the fund’s establishment on one of several recommendations provided by the Immigrant and Refugee Task Force, the City of Tacoma has made an initial allocation of $50,000 towards this fund.
“We have been asked what more we can do as a city to ensure Tacoma residents facing deportation have the legal representation they need to protect their rights,” said District 3 Councilmember Keith Blocker, a co-sponsor with Councilmembers Anders Ibsen and Lauren Walker Lee. “The establishment of this fund is a small step we can take to show our immigrant and refugee residents that they are valued in Tacoma. We have set up the fund so that the people of Tacoma can contribute to it as well.”
Community members can contribute to the Deportation Defense Fund by sending a check to the City of Tacoma Treasurer’s Office (747 Market St., Room 246, Tacoma, WA 98402) with the subject line “Deportation Defense Fund” or by submitting a donation online at https://payment.cityoftacoma.org/donation.
Once the Deportation Defense Fund has reached $100,000 through matching funds from the community, or three months have passed, the City’s Office of Equity and Human Rights will issue a request for proposals for an external entity to administer the contracts for legal services.
Individuals will be eligible for legal assistance if they are able to prove they resided in Tacoma prior to facing deportation, and they meet income standards to be considered indigent and unable to obtain private legal counsel.
“With limited funds, we have chosen to serve the neediest members of our community who are facing immediate deportation first,” said Blocker. “We want to do our best to keep families together.”
In response to federal immigration practices, several cities such as New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Baltimore, and Seattle have established such funds. New York’s defense fund dates back to 1997.
Unlike most criminal defendants in the United States, immigrants facing potential deportation are not constitutionally guaranteed counsel if they aren’t able to afford a private attorney. The purpose of such a subfund is to assist immigrants facing deportation who cannot afford a lawyer with access to legal counsel.
A 2015 study published by the University of Pennsylvania Law Review reported that detained immigrants with legal counsel were 10 times more likely to be granted legal residency than those without. For immigrants who were not detained, those with a lawyer were five times more likely to avoid deportation than those without. According to the City of Seattle’s defense fund statistics, approximately 92 percent of individuals in Tacoma’s immigration court are not represented, and in 2016 approximately 1,249 individuals were deported. The Northwest Immigrant Rights Project estimates that in any given year, approximately 50-100 Tacoma residents are detained.