Public hearing on proposal to fund legal defense for residents facing deportation

ROCKVILLE, MD. -- The Montgomery County Council held a public hearing Tuesday night on a proposed special appropriation of over $373,000 to fund legal representation for low-income county residents who are detained and in deportation proceedings.

It was standing room only at the hearing as dozens of people, both for and against the proposal turned out.

If approved, the county would give $373,957 to the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights (CAIR) Coalition which would provide the legal defense for residents, whether they are documented or undocumented immigrants. However, those who have been convicted of certain serious felonies would not be eligible.

"We’re getting calls from people to help, family members, et cetera. But, we just can’t because we don’t have the staffing capacity to do so," said Claudia Cubas, Litigation Director for the CAIR Coalition.

The staff report on the proposal said the way county residents in this situation currently get legal representation is “grossly insufficient”.

"Last year, the CAIR Coalition screened approximately 75 Montgomery County residents who were indigent for counsel and they were able to place about seven or eight of them with pro bono representation. That’s what happens right now," said Joanna Silver with the Montgomery County Deportation Defense Coalition.

The CAIR Coalition said if the funding is approved they expect they will be able to provide representation for between 85 to 90 residents.

At the hearing, supporters said the funding is needed because immigration policies under the Trump administration are leading to more arrests and sped up deportation hearings.

"It’s really important because it keeps our families with a peace of mind. So, they can continue on with their day jobs, they can continue providing for their family without having to fear that one day they may one day be deported," said Ibrahim Pinzon with the group United We Dream.

But detractors disagreed.

"How easy it is to give away other people’s money and that’s essentially what’s happening here," said Montgomery County resident Dick Jurgena. "They’re giving away money from the taxes we all pay and some of us don’t agree with the reason that that’s being used."

Those opposed to the proposal said federal laws on immigration are clear and taxpayer money should not be used to fight them.

"I think it’s wrong that they’re using taxpayer money to help people that have broken the law and are not here legally. When you’re not here legally, you’re not a citizen, that means you’re not entitled to rights and things that citizens are entitled to," said Daniel McHugh, president of the Montgomery County Young Republicans.

People can continue to submit public comment on the proposal until May 4.

At this time, there is no scheduled date for the council to vote on the proposal.