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Baltimore mayor announces taxpayer-funded defense fund for illegal immigrants

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh (Maryland Government/Flickr)
March 20, 2018

Democratic Mayer Catherine Pugh announced on Wednesday that the city of Baltimore will begin to use public funds for the legal defense of illegal immigrants facing deportation.

Pugh’s statement comes less than a year after Baltimore prosecutors ordered staff not to charge illegal immigrants with minor, non-violent crimes on the grounds that the offenders would be deported.

Judicial Watch reported last week that the city panel approved spending $200,000 for the month of March as a way to pay for lawyers representing illegal immigrants with deportation orders. Pugh said in a local news report that the goal is for everyone to receive due process.

“We’re not making a decision as to their status, we’re making the decision to be supportive of individuals who live in our city,” she said.

Unlike the criminal justice system, immigration court does not offer free lawyers to those who cannot afford them. Illegal immigrants who do not have the money for an attorney must instead represent themselves or rely on volunteer attorneys or immigrant rights groups.

According to a report from the Baltimore Sun, half of the $200,000 is funded by a grant from the Vera Institute of Justice, a New York nonprofit. The other half will come from the city’s budget. The funds are expected to help about 40 individuals obtain legal representation.

The Vera Institute, in particular, will also provide Pugh’s office with “technical assistance and support” including help in identifying lawyers and providing research and data, according to the Baltimore Sun.

While the mayor’s move has garnered some support, many Baltimore residents feel as though that kind of money would be better spent elsewhere. Maryland’s largest city has been plagued by crime and infrastructure problems stemming from a lack of funds. Many schools in the Baltimore area even lacked proper heating during the winter.

“My hunch is that the vast majority of Baltimore residents would prefer to have that money spent on heat and air conditioning in Baltimore public schools instead of legal fees,” Maryland’s GOP Chairman Dirk Haire said through a spokesman.

Baltimore in the past has taken steps to essentially “go easy” on illegal immigrants in order to avoid collateral consequences.

In mid-2017, an internal memo issued by Baltimore’s Chief Deputy State’s Attorney instructed prosecutors to “think twice” before charging illegal immigrants with minor, non-violent crimes.

The chief deputy, Michael Schatzow, wrote in the memo that the Trump Administration’s deportation efforts “have increased the potential collateral consequences to certain immigrants of minor, non-violent criminal conduct.”

In a local news report, Pugh reiterated her city’s stance on immigrants, exclaiming that Baltimore is a “welcoming city,” and she attempted to distinguish Baltimore from the classification of a sanctuary city.

“We want everyone here. We want to be able to provide opportunities and jobs and careers for folks. That’s where we are in Baltimore,” she said.