New City Fund Will Pay for Lawyers to Defend Immigrants Facing Removal

A demonstrator at a recent rally in Denver for undocumented immigrants.
A demonstrator at a recent rally in Denver for undocumented immigrants. Brandon Marshall
On Monday, March 19, Denver launched a long-anticipated legal defense fund for immigrants with $385,000 in its coffers. The aim of the fund is to provide legal representation to Denver residents who are fighting removal orders or who have requested relief through avenues like Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, asylum applications, naturalization or certain visas.

Mayor Michael Hancock formalized the fund through an executive order issued August 31, 2017, and originally appropriated $100,000 from the city budget. That fund was bumped up to $200,000 through a Denver City Council vote in November. More dollars have since been added through public and private sources including the Denver Foundation, the Rose Community Foundation and the Vera Institute of Justice. (The Vera Institute, which has helped with similar funds, including in New York, will provide Denver technical assistance and support.)

Using public dollars to provide legal representation to individuals in immigration cases is not unique to Denver. A handful of other cities, including San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York, already have such programs. A Vera Institute study found that after New York City provided universal legal representation, ten times as many immigrants there won their cases, which included deportation proceedings. A similar study published by the University of Pennsylvania Law Review found that ten times as many immigrants won cases and five times fewer were deported.

Unlike in criminal proceedings involving residents, immigration cases don't automatically come with a public attorney for the defense. That makes it difficult to go against the full weight and expertise of immigration prosecutors. Denver's Immigrant Defense Fund helps even the playing field, even though it's controversial to some residents who feel that the city shouldn't be using public dollars in such a manner.

Denver officials, including the mayor, announced the fund on the front steps of the City and County Building on Monday.

“Denver’s immigrant community plays a vital role in our city," the mayor said in a statement. "This fund will further our ability to meet a core mission — to preserve and protect families and children living in Denver. We hold dear the values of inclusion, acceptance and opportunity, and this fund will promote due process and access to justice for vulnerable members of our community.”
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Chris Walker is a freelancer and former staff writer at Westword. Before moving to the Mile High City he spent two years bicycling across Eurasia, during which he wrote feature stories for VICE, NPR, Forbes, and The Atlantic. Read more of Chris's feature work and view his portfolio here.
Contact: Chris Walker