Cambridge and Somerville set up new defense fund for immigrants

The Cambridge Community Foundation (CCF), working together with the cities of Somerville and Cambridge, has established the United Legal Defense Fund to help defray the cost of legal representation for immigrants.

This new fund expands the previous Cambridge Legal Defense Fund for immigrants which was launched one year ago by Cambridge mayor Marc McGovern-in partnership

with CCF.

Geeta Pradhan,  President and CEO of the CCF, highlighted that Somerville has sanctuary city status and that mayor Joseph Curtatone has an office on immigration and sanctuary city affairs.

“The mayor’s office of Somerville reached out to CCF,” Pradhan said. “They were concerned about the level of needs for immigrants.”

The mayors of both cities came together and eventually met with CCF to create a

new immigration defense fund.

“We distributed $255,000 last October to four local agencies working on legal issues covering

immigration, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “ Pradhan said

“ Three agencies received $40,000 a year for a two year period and the fourth program

received $15,000.”

According to Pradhan, McGovern reached out to CCF early in 2018 and discussed finding a legal avenue to mitigate the cost of legal representation for immigrants who work or live in the city. She elaborated that the city of Cambridge could not set up an immigrant legal defense fund due to threats of funding cutbacks by Washington. But the Cambridge Community Foundation stepped forward and in less than a month created the Cambridge Legal Defense Fund For Immigrants. By the end of March there was a platform on Go-Fund-Me whereby people could make an online contribution  to help cut the cost of legal representation for local immigrants.

National Immigration Forum, a leading immigration policy organization, classified immigration courts as civil courts. Because deportation hearings are civil matters, lawyers are not provided by courts. Immigrants who committed crimes go to criminal court and can get a lawyer as mandated by the U.S. Constitution.

According to the National Immigration Forum, there is a backlog of over 700,000 cases in immigration court. CCF highlighted that only 37 percent of all immigrants and 14 percent of detained immigrants  go to court with a lawyer. Nonprofits and small firms who do pro-bono are overwhelmed and more lawyers are needed to get immigration decisions overturned.

Pradhan pointed out some of the groups who previously got funding will be contacted for a work and client needs analysts. She stated that CCF will do an open process.

“The priority for the new legal defense fund is legal issues. The focus for this campaign is immigration and law. We will accept applications to be reviewed by a central committee who will ultimately make the final decisions,” Pradhan said.

Pradhan pointed out that the central committee will be made up people with a legal focus and  human services background and one of the members will be McGovern himself.

Lauren Marshall, Director of Marketing and Civic Engagement pointed out that 25 percent of the populations of Somerville and 27 percent Cambridge is immigrant-based.

The Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C highlighted that the Boston-Cambridge

metro area which includes Somerville, had the 11 largest increase in undocumented

immigrants in the United States between 2007 and 2016.

Robert Sondak is a vendor and writer for Spare Change News.

Robert Sondak is a vendor and a writer for Spare Change News.

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