LOS ANGELES — The county Board of Supervisors delayed a vote April 11 on $1 million in legal support for residents facing deportation after advocates protested a provision excluding individuals convicted of violent crimes.
The board first voted 4-1 to explore its authority to limit federal immigration enforcement at schools, courthouses and hospitals, a move praised by immigration rights advocates.
Supervisors Hilda Solis and Sheila Kuehl recommended the potential push-back against immigration enforcement, saying the county has a fundamental interest in ensuring access to service for all residents.
Their motion highlighted the case of Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez, a 48-year-old father of four U.S. citizens who was detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents while driving two of his daughters to school.
The federal agents reported that Avelica-Gonzalez was ordered to be deported in 2014 because of multiple criminal convictions, including a DUI in 2009. Avellica-Gonzalez was arrested about a half-mile from the school.
Supervisor Kathryn Barger voted no based on concerns stemming from President Donald Trump’s vow to reduce federal funding for jurisdictions not cooperating with deportation efforts.
Immigration rights advocates hailed the board’s willingness to resist what they characterized as aggressive federal immigration enforcement.
However, eligibility requirements proposed for the LA Justice Fund by Solis and Supervisor Janice Hahn drew fire.
In addition to the bar on prior convictions, the supervisors’ motion proposed prioritizing certain groups when doling out legal aid, including individuals with family who are U.S. citizens, heads of households, veterans and victims of crime, among others.
A coalition of organizations seeking universal representation for those threatened with deportation rallied outside the Hall of Administration and waited hours to be heard by the board.
“The devil is in the details,” said Ricardo Mireles, executive director of Academia Avance, which one of Avelica-Gonzalez’s daughters attends. “This is an old issue of unequal representation.”
Mireles said excluding those with prior convictions failed to reflect decades of inequities in the criminal plea bargaining system.
Immigrants often “plead up” to more serious crimes based on legal advice that the crimes are “immigration-safe” and wouldn’t alone qualify someone for deportation, according to a letter to the board from the coalition.
That letter was signed by representatives of nearly 50 civil rights organizations, faith leaders, labor unions, legal aid organizations and community alliances — including the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, Los Angeles County Labor Federation, Public Counsel and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.
The coalition called for “due process for all,” arguing for a first-come, first-served approach to providing legal aid.
Niels Frenzen, director of USC’s Gould School of Law Immigration Clinic, supported the board’s efforts to set priorities, saying there wasn’t enough funding to help everyone.
“We’re operating in a world with finite resources,” Frenzen said.
If forced to set priorities, the county should first help those at most imminent risk of deportation, sitting in federal detention, said coalition spokeswoman Emi MacLean of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.
MacLean accused the board of “playing into the Trump framework of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ immigrants” and warned that Los Angeles County might end up on the “wrong side of history.”
She estimated that it would cost $12 million to provide legal representation to everyone inside of Adelanto Detention Center, which houses most individuals detained by federal immigration agents in Los Angeles County.
The LA Justice Fund is aiming to raise $10 million. The board has indicated its intent to contribute $1 million and more than $6 million more has been pledged by other public and private entities, including $2 million by the city of Los Angeles.
The motion by Solis and Hahn was “referred back” to Solis’ office, the county’s version of a redo.
The board also voted 4-1 to formally establish the Immigrant Protection and Advancement Task Force, with Barger voting no.
“Creating a task force and hiding illegal immigrants from federal enforcement only institutionalizes their illegal status and forces them further into the shadows,” Barger said.
“These actions are reactionary and counterproductive in the effort to help individuals seek a path to citizenship or apply for legal status to be in the United States.
“Rather than moving toward becoming a sanctuary state and county in violation of federal law, both the state and the county should be leading the effort to initiate congressional action to enact comprehensive immigration reform.”
The motion calls on each supervisor to appoint one member to the task force. Those five appointees will be charged with identifying other representatives up to a total of 11 members.
The coalition represents a very diverse set of communities and one member called for the same inclusiveness on the task force.
“Black immigrants have been severely ignored in the conversation about immigration despite the consistent rise in unjust deportation in black immigrant communities,” said Addis Daniel of the African Communities Public Health Coalition.
“We hope that a task force that is inclusive … will help to address the needs of immigrants across the board rather than just those with the most visibility.”