The nation’s capital is joining several other heavily Democratic cities in pledging to spend tax dollars to defend illegal immigrants against efforts by the incoming Trump administration to deport them.
D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) announced Monday she plans to award grants to defense lawyers and nonprofit organizations to represent any of the District’s estimated 25,000 illegal immigrants who are faced with deportation.
The $500,000 fund will also help illegal immigrants in the District apply for asylum and will provide representation for those residing in the city legally with green cards to obtain permanent U.S. citizenship.
In a statement, Bowser said the District is “doubling down” on its status as a sanctuary city, where D.C. police have already been instructed to not cooperate with federal authorities working to deport residents.
“We must ensure that all District residents can take advantage of their federal and constitutional rights,” Bowser said. “If immigration enforcement changes and problems arise, DC’s immigrant population will have our support and the support of DC’s legal community.”
Bowser’s announcement puts the District alongside Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and the state of New York, where Democratic mayors, governors and legislatures have in recent weeks approved or pledged to create similar public-private defense funds for illegal immigrants.
It also comes almost two months after Bowser was confronted in a library by angry demonstrators who said the mayor had not done enough to forcefully denounce President-elect Donald Trump’s immigration policies. Bowser was caught by surprise by the revolt, insisting that “your mayor has stood up . . . asserted firmly that we are a sanctuary city.” She left the scene with the crowd chanting “not enough.”
Betsy Cavendish, the mayor’s general counsel, said it would take D.C. ‘beyond sanctuary’ city status, using taxpayer funds to actively oppose a crackdown on illegal immigrants.
Bowser will launch the initiative by shifting funds from the Office on Latino Affairs to a new Immigrant Justice Legal Services Grant Program. City officials said that the fund would also accept donations from individual residents or groups.
Nonprofits, private organizations and law firms in Washington will be eligible to win the grant money. Groups can begin applying Jan. 23, the first Monday that Trump will be in the White House.
Although the funds are coming through the Latino affairs office, groups that serve immigrants from any region are eligible for grants, aides to the mayor said. The aides also said they envision nonprofit immigrant groups pairing with law firms to win grants, harnessing pro bono work of big firms and creating a network of new legal services for illegal immigrants.
Bowser spokesman Kevin Harris played down any possible confrontation with the incoming Trump administration, saying in a statement that the mayor’s plan is not a reaction to Trump but that it “does underscore the Mayor’s belief that one election doesn’t change our values and who we are as a city.”
“The Mayor has heard from many residents who are fearful and uncertain about what the future holds,” he said. “We are going to stand with immigrant communities.”
But Bowser’s grant program could lay the groundwork for a confrontation with the Trump administration over one of President Obama’s most controversial immigration policies — the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.
The program allowed illegal immigrants who were brought to the country as minors to apply for renewable, two-year deportation deferments to remain in the United States to study or work.
The District wants to be poised to react quickly if Trump seeks to use the personal information of those who registered under the program to deport them or their families, aides to Bowser said.
According to internal estimates used by the mayor’s office, 400 to 500 illegal immigrants in the city are enrolled in the DACA program. The office also estimates about 25,000 people are residing in the District illegally.