City Council expands a program providing free legal representation to immigrants, but also approves funding for a Business Improvement District that would unfortunately increase police surveillance.
Every week, Knock LA provides live coverage of Los Angeles City Council meetings from our Twitter account. While you can follow along live, we’ve also put together this breakdown of what’s happening at the highest levels of power in our city for those who don’t have 12 hours a week to spend on City Council meetings (including regularly absent city councilmembers).
LA Justice Fund
In the United States, if you’re charged with a crime, the 6th Amendment of the Constitution grants you the right to a lawyer. If you can’t afford one, the government will provide you a public defender.
This applies only to criminal cases, not civil ones. There is no federal right to an attorney in immigration court.
Immigration law is so complex that it is “nearly impossible to prevail in immigration proceedings – even with a strong claim – without legal representation,” according to a recent report from USC. Of immigration cases filed in LA in the last 90 days, just around 11% of immigrants have secured an attorney.
According to the LA nonprofit law firm Immigrant Defenders, 24 cities across the country fill the representation gap locally by providing universal representation to immigrants facing detention and deportation. Those cities include Philadelphia, Chicago, San Diego, San Francisco, Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio.
In 2017, the city and county of Los Angeles partnered with the Weingart Foundation and the California Community Foundation to develop the LA Justice Fund, a limited pilot program providing free legal representation to some immigrants.
On May 10, City Council voted to expand the program.
The motion had initially — against the wishes of the community organizations currently providing legal representation — called for the exclusion of immigrants convicted of certain crimes.
Several public commenters expressed that this equates to double punishment for people who have already served time for their convictions. Immigrant Defenders director Lindsay Toczylowski said that the eligibility exclusions are not only unjust, but also far less efficient than providing universal representation. On the day of the vote, Kevin de León introduced an amendment to remove the exclusions, and the amended motion passed.
Business Improvement Districts
On May 10, as it frequently does, City Council approved taxes to fund a Business Improvement District (BID), this time in the neighborhood of South Park. While the item description seems mundane, one public commenter quoted at length from a report that painted them as far more nefarious. From the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition’s report Automating Banishment:
“BIDs make use of LAPD’s relationship to localize and narrow the focus of policing against individuals. BIDs have been around since 1994, currently numbering around 40.
While BIDs appear to be public, they are in fact privately-run, funded by 501c3 nonprofits that depend on tax donations from real estate developers.
BIDs form direct communication links between police, prosecutors, and real estate developers. Many BIDs hire private security that double as personal police forces for local property owners as well as auxiliary police force for the LAPD.
The efforts of BIDs in harassing unsheltered people extends beyond what goes on in the streets, directly into the systems through which the state power is distributed. For all these reasons we reject any new establishment of BIDs.”