City council put $500K of property tax collections into helping illegal aliens avoid deportation
The program, called Universal Representation, also helped at least 105 would-be refugees apply for asylum. And of the people served, 23 were unaccompanied immigrant children, Manning, the founder and director of the Immigration Law Lab, said in an interview Tuesday.
Portland’s City Council approved the service last year and put $500,000 toward its budget from property tax collections. It is run through the Equity Corps of Oregon, with lawyers provided by nonprofits Catholic Charities of Oregon, Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, Immigration Counseling Service, Innovation Law Lab and Metropolitan Public Defender.
The program was championed by Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, who said at the time of its passage that hundreds of unauthorized immigrants living in Portland faced deportation and could not afford lawyers. She said providing attorneys free of charge was a matter of “protecting everyone’s constitutional right to due process.” Eudaly didn’t respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
This year, Multnomah County allocated $290,000 to the initiative and the state approved an additional $2 million to expand the service statewide — the first state to do so in the nation.
According to internal city progress reports, the people who received legal services through Portland’s program hailed from many countries: Colombia, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Honduras, Iran, Iraq, Mexico, Nicaragua, Russia, Ukraine and Venezuela.
Manning said people enter the program via an eligibility screening that checks they live in Portland, don’t earn too much and are in fact facing deportation. Most who receive help are families and people fleeing persecution in their home countries, he said. As an example, Manning said he assisted two people Tuesday facing deportation who are thought to be victims of human trafficking.
The results of the legal aid are unclear. Immigration cases move slowly and Manning said the federal government’s reorganization of deportation courts has thrown the system into further disarray. The Oregonian could not verify the Universal Representation program’s work because immigration court records are not open to the public.
Receiving pro bono legal help can sometimes make the difference between a person remaining in the U.S. or being sent into a dangerous situation in their country of origin, Manning said. “The one thing we know changes outcomes is access to an attorney,” he said.
Portland’s program helps immigrants know their rights — and assert them, he said.
“It doesn’t mean you will win,” Manning said, “but it means you get a fairer shake.”
— Gordon R. Friedman
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