On Jan. 9, District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser announced the city’s intention to allocate taxpayer money to form the Immigrant Justice Legal Services Grant Program, a fund designed to support the legal defense of undocumented residents residing in the city. The plan follows similar moves recently taken by other American cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York in response to President-elect Donald Trump’s repeated threat to deport millions of undocumented immigrants.
This editorial board endorses the actions taken by the District of Columbia that further strengthen the city’s commitment to defend the safety of its undocumented residents. Mayor Bowser’s policy will help to protect the estimated 25,000 undocumented immigrants currently residing in Washington, D.C.
The city reappropriated $500,000 from D.C.’s Office of Latino Affairs to create this program. It will provide nonprofit organizations, private companies, and defense lawyers the opportunity to apply for grant money and resources intended to cover the legal representation of undocumented immigrants living in D.C. The funding will help support applications for asylum, provide assistance for residents currently holding green cards to petition for permanent United States citizenship, and represent residents in deportation proceedings.
The program will also fund classes that apprise undocumented immigrants of their rights and assist in filing lawsuits which challenge the constitutionality of using Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) applications to locate and deport undocumented immigrants. We support DACA, which allows certain undocumented immigrants who entered the country as minors a renewable two-year deferral from deportation, and we fully endorse the policy provisions in the Immigrant Justice Legal Services Grant Program designed to defend it. We commend the city’s overall effort to protect the constitutional rights of undocumented D.C. residents, who are among its most vulnerable citizens.
Washington, D.C.’s plan has been labeled as taking the city “beyond” sanctuary city status. President-elect Donald Trump pledged to cancel all federal funding to sanctuary cities during his campaign and promised to immediately deport 2 to 3 million undocumented residents upon taking office. Since Trump’s election, not one of the 37 sanctuary cities in the United States, among them New York and San Francisco, has changed its policy regarding undocumented immigrants.
However, unlike other American cities, D.C.’s budget is drafted and passed by the federal House of Representatives, making the risk of retaliation from the Trump administration greater than in other areas of the country that possess democratically-controlled state legislatures. D.C. must be prepared for potential repercussions in response to its actions and should have a clear plan in dealing with these potential consequences.
Given the possibility of such consequences, we believe that the city must display caution. If potential retribution from the federal government consists of cutbacks in other vital city-funded policies such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or resources provided to the homeless, the city government should consider this fallout. More information on Trump’s commitment to remove federal funding from sanctuary cities is necessary, and as his policies become clearer, so should the District of Columbia’s.
Additionally, we are unsure of how far the allocated money can go in providing the proposed resources to the city’s 25,000 undocumented immigrants. For a large city, $500,000 is not a large amount of money, and D.C. must work to ensure that this program is funded adequately into the future.
On top of the original sum budgeted by the mayor, the plan allows for private contributions coming from residents and organizations within the city. Such donations could propel this program far beyond its initial allocation. We see these donations as a positive means for concerned residents to push back on the proposed policies of the incoming Trump administration.
The District of Columbia must be vigilant in continuing to fund this program and to communicate its existence to the undocumented community. Like any government initiative, it is not enough to simply create the program. To have an impact, the city and its residents must ensure that as time goes on, the new fund continues to help those who face deportation.