Tacoma City Council will vote on an ordinance this week that would create a deportation defense fund to help Tacoma residents facing deportation.
"The city will put up the initial $50,000 and the hopes is that we can get the community to participate by making contributions to the fund,” said Tacoma City Councilmember Keith Blocker.
Blocker is introducing the resolution at Tuesday’s city council meeting.
“We have a detention center right in our backyard and the city of Tacoma has no jurisdiction over that detention center, but I feel we have some responsibility to support residents of the community that are in that detention center,” he said.
Blocker is referring to the Northwest Detention Center, one of the largest immigration detention centers in the country.
“Immigrants are part of local economies, and there has been a lot of attacks on undocumented immigrants and just immigrants in general and so I think we’re at a moment when city governments and local governments can see they go do more and they can step up,” said Sandy Restrepo, an immigration attorney with Colectiva Legal del Pueblo in Burien.
The idea of a defense fund for immigrants isn’t new. Cities across the county have opened funds, included the City of Seattle, which opened a $1 million immigrant legal defense fund this year.
Restrepo talked to Tacoma councilmembers this summer about the need for opening a fund.
"By law they are not appointed counsel when they're in an immigration process, so it's very important for someone going through a very complex legal issue for them to have representation. They may not know what kind of release they're eligible for. They may not know what evidence they need to show to a judge,” said Restrepo.
The City of Tacoma started a task force to address issues facing immigrants and refugee. The task force recommended the creation of the fund and initially asked for about $400,000.
Blocker said at this time there isn’t funding available to support $400,000 for this fund and is asking council to take $50,000 from its contingency budget.
"I figured let’s go ahead and do what we can right now, which is $50,000, try to get the broader community involved, and then go ahead and look at our budget for the next year to see if we can squeeze some more funding out and support this cause," he said.
Restrepo said depending on the types of cases she believes $100,000 could help between 70 and 100 people, but says the fund should be bigger.
"I think in my opinion $100,000 is too low. They should commit to more, and hopefully they will after they see this is a successful program and people are being reunited with their families,” Restrepo said. “And hopefully this is something that will be amplified down the line.”