Legal Defense for Immigrants & Refugees

View a Visual Summary of the Proposed Policy


Frequently Asked Questions

1. How will this fund be administered? Who will select the lawyers who will do this work?

The Legal Defense Fund will be structured as a grant that will require interested community based organizations to respond to a competitive request for proposal facilitated by Seattle’ s Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs. Qualified community based organizations can apply for this fund to hire immigration attorneys, legal staff and legal navigators.

Individuals looking for help with their immigration cases should contact an immigration attorney or pro bono legal services such as the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (253-383-0519) or Colectiva Legal (206-931-1514). The Legal Defense Fund does not directly allocate money to individuals.

2. Who qualifies to receive legal defense services?

Community based organizations who receive a grant from the Legal Defense Fund will provide services to residents and workers with limited financial resources and immigration matters before either the Seattle or Tacoma immigration courts.

3. Why do we need to fund legal defense for immigrants and refugees now?

The Trump Administration’s January 25th immigration Executive Orders and the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) interpretation of those orders will dramatically increase the number of individuals who may be subject to harsh enforcement of outdated immigration laws. Under Executive Order 13678, DHS rules provide for an extraordinary expansion of enforcement priorities. These expanded priorities will capture people who may have been de-prioritized or protected under the last administration because those classes of people did not pose a public safety or national security threat. This means that as DHS ramps up the scope and speed of their enforcement actions across the country and in our region, more immigrants and refugees could find themselves coming into contact with federal enforcement officials or in an immigration detention center without access to legal representation and counsel.

4. Why should the city government use taxpayer money for this purpose?

In the City of Seattle, nearly one in five Seattle residents is foreign-born and 129 languages are spoken in our public schools. Washington is the country’s 8th largest refugee-receiving state, and a majority of the estimated 3,000 new arrivals each year are re-settled in Seattle-King County.

Immigrants and refugees contribute economically and culturally to Seattle and these contributions must be protected. According to a 2017 Pew Research Center report, the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue metropolitan area is among 20 U.S. regions with the largest populations of undocumented immigrants. In addition, Seattle is home to a large community of DREAMers who attend the University of Washington and Seattle Community Colleges. These institutions are subject to various state laws that provide undocumented youth with the opportunity to attend and graduate from public colleges.

Additionally, economic contributions by immigrants make up a significant portion of our local economy. The bipartisan research group New American Economy found that in 2014, immigrants in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue Metropolitan Area paid $1.7 billion in state and local taxes, $4.8 billion in federal taxes, and wielded $16.9 billion in spending power. In that same report, Seattle was found to be one of 10 U.S. cities that are the most welcoming to immigrants and refugees. These 10 cities together comprise the third largest economy in the world, after the United States and China. The combined gross metropolitan product of those 10 cities was more than $5.6 trillion in 2015, according to the U.S. Council of Mayors. That’s nearly one-third of the U.S. GDP.

Seattle’s history is one of vibrant cultures, and our values are rooted in equity, opportunity and fairness. We stand to lose that richness if we do not defend the immigrants and refugees who live and work in Seattle.

5. Why do we need to include funds for representation at both Seattle and Tacoma immigration courts?

Individuals do not have a right to legal representation in immigration proceedings even though the federal government is legally represented throughout the process. Immigration law is highly-specialized, and most immigrants do not understand their rights and defenses, the legal proceedings or remedial options that may be available to them. Potential outcomes can include prison sentences, deportation and bans against re-entering the United States.

Unsurprisingly, legal representation is shown to be one of the top two factors that most influence outcomes in immigration proceedings. In 2016, the American Immigration Council conducted the first national study of access to counsel in U.S. immigration courts finding that people who were represented in court were up to ten times more likely to obtain relief.

However, legal representation by private attorneys is expensive, and the availability of legal aid services or pro - bono attorneys is far exceeded by the number of individuals needing assistance.The results are not surprising. At the Seattle immigration court, which handles non - detained cases, 35 % of individuals are not represented in court. In Tacoma’ s court, which handles detained cases, an abysmal 92 % of individuals are not represented. In 2016, 1, 249 people were deported from the Tacoma court and 1, 106 from the Seattle court.

6. What is the source of the funding?

Because of the immediate need for legal assistance and/or representation in civil immigration matters, the City of Seattle will allocate $1 million in 2017 from the General Subfund with an automatic carry-forward of any unused funds to 2018. Councilmember González and Burgess will pursue options in the next budget cycle to sustain the legal defense of immigrants and refugees.

7. What are other cities doing?

Municipality Amount Programs
City of Los Angeles $2 million Legal defense, know your rights, outreach and more.
San Francisco $1.5 million additional to $3.8 million Legal defense, know your rights, outreach and more.
New York $6.3 million Legal defense
Chicago $1.3 million Legal defense and community navigators.

8. What is the timeline for the legislation?

  • April 12, 2017 - Committee Hearing and Vote
  • April 17, 2017 - Full Council Vote