County moves to fund attorneys for immigrants in Montgomery
ROCKVILLE — One could have mistaken Tuesday night’s County Council public hearing as a national debate about the United States’ immigration policy – not a special appropriation to the budget.
While budget add-ons are common for the Council, the recently proposed $373,957 in funding for legal counsel for immigrants facing deportation has become a contentious issue among residents as they debate the necessity of the funding and America’s immigration policy during Tuesday night’s public hearing on the proposed special appropriation.
The special budget appropriation was introduced two weeks prior with full support from the Council with the intention of helping residents who do not have documentation, from being deported. If passed, the $373,957 would go to the Capital Area Immigrants Rights Coalition, which represents people in immigration court cases pro-bono.
“This is the right thing to do, it is consistent with the core values of our County and our country,” said Laura Munez Lopez, an undocumented immigrant that came to the U.S. as a minor. “It is consistent with the values that drew my parents to seek a better life here in the first place.”
The crowd at the County Council hearing was packed with every seat full and those standing in the back holding signs for and against the resolution. Council President Hans Riemer (D-at large) had to remind the crowd to keep quiet, as partisans on both sides could not resist the temptation to cheer on those testifying on their side.
It was not just residents who were divided – immigrants were split, with those speaking both for and against the special appropriation
Wei Wang, a self-described legal immigrant, spoke against the funding for immigration attorneys, saying the County would the wrong message to immigrants who came to the U.S. legally.
“This special appropriation is against American values of fairness. It is not fair for legal immigrants who respect the U.S. immigration law,” Wang said.
As part of the potential deal the County asks for a couple stipulations to the funds: that the money goes toward legal services for County residents who are at least 200 percent below the poverty line. In addition, the money cannot go toward any person convicted of a major crime such as murder, rape or involvement with a criminal gang and representatives from CAIR will screen the applicants.
State’s Attorney for Montgomery County John McCarthy sent a note to the Council on the resolution saying there were not enough criminal offenses on the list that would exclude someone from County dollars for legal representation sighting an absence of domestic violence and gun crimes.
Council member Roger Berliner (D-1) said he supports the resolution, but the list needs to be expanded to makes sure criminals do not receive money from the County on their immigration court services.
If passed, the County would join other jurisdictions across the country such as New York, California and King’s County, Washington who have put public funding towards supporting legal services for immigrants.
Since he was first elected president in November 2016, the County Council has taken numerous opportunities to condemn President Trump. But while many members of local government had harsh words for Trump and his immigration policies they conceded that there was nothing the County could do in changing how the federal government enforces immigration laws.
In August, Immigration and Customs Enforcement ordered two County high school graduates Diego Claros-Saravia and Lizandro Claros-Saravia who both had scholarships to play soccer in college. The brothers were deported to El Salvador after neither could afford an attorney to help with their immigration court proceedings.