Baltimore, Soros Group Finances Legal Defense Fund For Illegal Immigrants

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Kevin Daley Supreme Court correspondent
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The city of Baltimore and a private nonprofit have established a legal defense fund for illegal immigrants in deportation proceedings, in hopes of attracting more immigrants to the shrinking city.

The city has partnered with a nonprofit called the Open Society Institute of Baltimore and raised $500,000 to provide illegals facing deportation proceedings with legal aid. Open Society groups were founded and are chaired by liberal financier George Soros.

NPR reports city officials see burgeoning immigrant communities across Baltimore as a bulwark against troubling demographic trends. The city’s population has declined precipitously in recent decades, from a high of 900,000 in 1970 to just over 600,000 after the 2010 census. The decline is attributed to the “white flight” that attended widespread social unrest in the 1960s and 70s, and more recently, the displacement of black populations by new arrivals to the country.

City officials hope to rejuvenate social networks — and their tax base — by making Baltimore a haven for illegal immigrant families.

“[W]e know that immigrants attract other immigrants,” Catalina Rodriguez-Lima, who runs an immigrant-outreach department for the city, told NPR. “Friends and family tell other people that they were able to have a home here. So that’s why it’s so important to be able to retain those networks, because they themselves become a tool to attract additional immigrants.”

Rodriguez-Lima’s efforts have run smack up against the Trump administration’s robust enforcement of federal immigration laws. Immigration related arrests have increased 40 percent since President Donald Trump took office in January — ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations reports the agency averages over 400 immigration arrests per day. To this end, she hopes the legal defense fund will mitigate concerns illegal immigrants have about new federal policy.

“We know that in immigration court proceedings, the outcomes are better if people do have representation,” said Diana Morris, the institute’s director. “We want to make sure that people do have legal defense.”

Immigration cases are civil, not criminal, proceedings. Therefore, many immigrants are not entitled to a public defender, and must use their own resources to mount a defense.

Foreign nationals facing criminal proceedings can rely on resources similar to Baltimore’s program. One such program is a Mexican government fund that advises American attorneys on keeping Mexican nationals convicted of capital crimes off death row.

The Marshall Project first reported that the Mexican Capital Legal Assistance Program, created by Mexican officials in 2000, furnishes lawyers defending Mexican nationals in the U.S. in capital cases with training, advice, and financial support throughout the post-conviction process. The Sunlight Foundation reports the Mexican government spent $3.5 million on the program between 2010 and 2011, and has an annual budget in that range.

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