To Fight Deportations in L.A., Private Funders Are Teaming Up With Local Government

 photo:   Chess Ocampo /shutterstock

photo:  Chess Ocampo/shutterstock

In California, where the fear of immigration detention and deportation continues to spiral, a public-private partnership is launching the latest effort to increase access to legal services for people facing an uncertain future in the U.S.

The new L.A. Justice Fund has awarded $7.45 million to 17 Los Angeles-based nonprofit organizations to provide legal services to people facing detention and deportation.

The fund is a partnership between Los Angeles County, the City of Los Angeles, the Weingart Foundation, and the California Community Foundation (CCF). This isn’t the first time these private funders have teamed up with government to protect immigrants in California. Earlier this year, we reported on a rapid response grantmaking effort around immigrant rights that involved the same four players, as well as the California Endowment and the James Irvine Foundation. And two years ago, in 2015, these partners worked together on a public-private effort to provide legal representation for unaccompanied minors from Central America facing deportation.

Related: In a Climate of Fear, California Funders Step Up for Immigrants

“We are stronger when we partner across sectors. Addressing the complex challenges our immigrant communities face requires collective effort,” said Antonia Hernández, President and CEO of the California Community Foundation. “The cross-sector collaboration of the L.A. Justice Fund is a model for developing and implementing impactful solutions.”

Immigrant communities are facing a huge crackdown by the Trump Administration, and Los Angeles is expected to be hit particularly hard. More than 40 percent of the region’s workforce consists of immigrant workers.

The administration has also announced the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program—a decision that is creating even more anxiety among immigrant groups. The DACA Program protected immigrants who came to the United States as minors. As we’ve reported, institutional grantmakers have supported the DACA program and are now scrambling, especially in California, where more than a third of DACA residents live.

Related: Defending the Dream: Who’s Giving Grants for DACA Right Now?

The L.A. Justice Fund estimated that two-thirds of immigrants who’ve been detained do not have adequate legal representation. And the group said that among those detained, people with attorneys are five times more likely to succeed in challenges to deportation.

Across the Golden State, groups are attempting to respond to the crisis by expanding access to legal services, with leading private funders stepping forward to help. In the Bay Area, as we’ve reported, the Silicon Valley Community Foundation has been a major leader this year in funding immigrant legal assistance.

Related: Immigration and More: What's SVCF Been Up to Lately?

But nowhere in California are the legal needs of immigrants greater than in Los Angeles—a region where top grantmakers have long worked to integrate newcomers into the social fabric. Now, these funders are on high alert. "It is urgently important that we have come together to support Los Angeles' immigrant communities at this time, and safeguard our values of diversity, inclusion and equity," said Fred Ali, President and CEO of the Weingart Foundation.

The L.A. Justice Fund intends to increase access to legal representation for immigrants by providing support to a network of nonprofit agencies and legal service providers. Fund officials said that the organization conducted a rigorous review before awarding two-year grants.

The groups range from Asian Americans Advancing Justice Los Angeles to the Central American Resource Center.

The fund aims intends to prioritize the most vulnerable groups in the immigrant community, such as children and victims of sex trafficking. With the increased funding, the group hopes grantees will be able to address the most pressing needs, including the hiring of additional immigration attorneys, and strengthening their organization’s removal defense efforts through training programs and resource and expertise sharing.

“There is nothing more troubling than visiting an immigration court to see one immigrant after another subject to deportation because they simply don't have legal representation," said Judy London, directing attorney for Public Counsel, one of the fund’s grantees. "Because of the fund, people are going to have lawyers who are going to aggressively fight for their rights."