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Public defender, activists call for funding for free, immigration attorneys
If funded, the new $250,000 unit would become the third — and largest — jurisdiction in the country to guarantee representation at immigration proceedings using public funds.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020
Chicago Sun-Times
by Matthew Hendrickson

Public Defender Amy Campanelli joined Cook County commissioners and activists Wednesday calling for an additional $250,000 in funding to provide free immigration attorneys for those in need.

If included in the county’s budget, the unit at the public defender’s office would become the third — and largest — jurisdiction in the country to guarantee representation at immigration proceedings using public funds.

Campanelli said it was “tragic” that there is no constitutional guarantee to legal representation in civil proceedings involving immigration matters.

“Everyday we see attacks by government against the poor and vulnerable, including the removal of non-citizens who are falsely arrested or commit minor infractions of the law,” Campanelli said at the Defenders for All rally outside the Daley Center.

The $250,000 amount needed to run the unit is roughly 0.3% of the public defender’s office current $77 million budget, Campanelli said.

Private organizations have already agreed to match that funding, organizers of rally said. Last year, about 1,500 people were tried without legal representation at immigration bond hearings in the county, they said.

 

Commissioners Brandon Johnson (1st), Alma Anaya (7th), Bridget Gainer (10th) and Frank Aguilar (16th) were also at Wednesday’s event to show their support.

“I stand in complete support and solidarity of this effort to not just call for the investment into this dynamic opportunity to defend immigrants, but calling for the redirecting of funds that have gone into incarceration and the further criminalization of Black folks in America into investments that can actually transform lives,” Johnson said.

Aguilar said he believed it was in the county’s interest to provide the attorneys, saying small businesses run by immigrants create jobs and “billions” of dollars in revenue for the county.

“They pay their share; it’s about time they get representation,” Aguilar said.

Gainer preempted criticism of public funding of immigration attorneys for non-citizens, saying, “Those are always the arguments that get in the way of justice, because the people who make them don’t need it.”

Karla Castanon’s husband was arrested by U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents when he came home from work in early December.

“I heard by son yell, ‘mommy, mommy, the policia is taking my daddy,” said Castanon, who arrived in the country in 2003 and is protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

“It was the worst day of my life.”

Castanon said she was fortunate enough to obtain a lawyer who was able to secure bail for her husband so they can continue to fight his deportation case. But not all are as lucky, she said.

“There are thousands of families who go through these situations similar to mine,” Castanon said. “We all deserve access to justice. We all deserve access to a lawyer.”

 



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