Undocumented immigrants in Sacramento will have city-funded legal services as soon as next month to fight deportation and “prepare for the worst,” as fears continue to grow about federal immigration plans.

Sacramento City Council members voted unanimously Tuesday to set aside up to $300,000 to fund a network of legal, educational and faith-based nonprofit groups that will help city residents with immediate immigration problems and advise on how to protect children and assets if parents are deported in the future.

The network would also conduct rights trainings.

“The reality is there is a lot of fear,” said Councilman Eric Guerra. “We can alleviate that fear.”

Washington Elementary School principal Gema Godina testified she has been asked multiple times by frightened undocumented families to take their children if parents are detained. She said she was unprepared for the requests but has agreed to be the legal guardian for five of her students.

Blake Nordahl, a professor at Sacramento’s McGeorge School of Law, told council members that the school’s immigration clinic, which will likely receive part of the city funding, has been overwhelmed by clients in recent months.

“We are strained. We are beyond capacity,” said Nordahl. He said clients were “afraid to bring kids to school” or report crimes.

Councilman Steven Hansen called the situation an “emergency” that required immediate action.

Guerra said much of the legal aid would focus on creating legal guardianships for kids and powers of attorney to protect homes and bank accounts. The city will begin work on a contract immediately and could have money available within about a month, he said.

Mayor Darrell Steinberg said before the meeting he knew “there will be people that oppose this,” but “we are not a city that will exchange people’s civil rights for money.”

Guerra, who headed the task force that created the proposal, said undocumented immigrants should have access to city aid because they contribute to the local economy, and often pay property and sales tax to the county.

Steinberg cited a recent report from the California Endowment that estimated undocumented Sacramento County residents contribute $58.9 million to government coffers each year.

About 49,000 Sacramento residents are not U.S. citizens, including about 4,100 children, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s about 10 percent of city’s residents. How many are here illegally is unknown. The Census Bureau does not ask about legal status.

Steinberg said immigrants with violent criminal records would not be eligible for aid, but those with minor offenses such as DUIs or possession of marijuana would not be excluded.

“The line to me is people who are a threat,” Steinberg said.

The City Council also strengthened its sanctuary city status by enacting an ordinance that makes it illegal for city employees, including police, to inquire unnecessarily about immigration status. That prohibition wouldn’t stop police from investigating crimes or working with federal law enforcement on joint investigations.

The city money would be part of next year’s budget and come from the general fund, which also supports core services such as police and fire.

The network will also likely seek grants from other nonprofit agencies to expand its financial capacity, city staff members said. The city has already applied to join a nationwide network of cities including Los Angeles and Chicago that are providing similar funding for legal services.

Santa Clara County in January voted to spend $1.5 million over two years to help defend undocumented immigrants. San Francisco recently set aside $200,000 for legal aid, and Oakland has allocated $300,000 for a similar effort. A public-private fund that could hold up to $10 million has also been proposed for Los Angeles city and county.

Sacramento was one of several local governments that filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration seeking to block plans to cut federal funding from jurisdictions providing so-called sanctuary. Recently, a federal judge in San Francisco issued a temporary restraining order prohibiting the administration from going through with its plans.

Steinberg said Tuesday’s action could be perceived as “doubling down” on Sacramento’s controversial sanctuary city stance, but he believed it was the right course of action.

“This is in fact a moral issue,” the mayor said. “What’s more important than ensuring that people who are threatened, people who are scared, people who just want to be part of us, that we provide them the legal protection they need.”

Bee staff writers Ryan Lillis and Phillip Reese contributed to this report.

Mayor Darrell Steinberg said before the meeting he knew “there will be people that oppose this,” but “we are not a city that will exchange people’s civil rights for money… History is full of chapters where good people have choices.”


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