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The LA Justice Fund Is Reality

Here’s who to thank… or not.

Photo via Immigrant Youth Coalition

On June 23, activists and advocates celebrated the creation of the Los Angeles Justice Fund. With a vote of 11 to 1, the City Council agreed to contribute $2 million to provide legal counsel to immigrants facing the threat of deportation.

As I mentioned last week, Garcetti was pushing for carve-outs that would bar any immigrant with certain convictions from getting assistance, no matter how much they may have reformed or how righteous their case. The Board of Supervisors baked that same Trumpian nonsense into their own Justice Fund contribution, but the Council, hallelujah, defied the Mayor’s Office and refused hard carve-outs in the fund. In the city’s version the lawyers get to actually do their jobs and decide whether a person has a valid case in spite of their convictions, rather than excluding them outright.

The Justice Fund, which adds up to $10 million with county and private contributions, falls short of the permanent Public-Defender-for-immigration that I’d love to see, but this is an undeniable win for immigrants’ rights.

There’s a lot of credit to go around — Ground Game was just one small part of the Coalition for Universal Representation, alongside groups like Youth Justice Coalition, National Day Labor Organizing Network, Public Counsel, Immigrant Defenders, and a little outfit called the ACLU, don’t know if you’ve ever heard of them, they’re kind of a thing — but some of your elected officials deserve special thanks.

…and some of them tried their hardest to fuck things up for everyone. Who do you need to resent? Read on.

Thumbs Down: Mayor Garcetti

No one lobbied harder against universal representation than Eric “I’m not sure what a Sanctuary City is” Garcetti. The mayor’s approach to the existential threat of the Trump administration has been to talk about solutions while watering down his policy as much as possible — homeopathic resistance, one might say.

The Mayor’s office was a constant force against an inclusive Justice Fund, taking a bold stand against immigrant families, advocates for the undocumented, immigration and civil rights attorneys, and literally everyone who gives a damn about creating a Justice Fund in the first place. Why? He wants to tell people he helped GOOD immigrants, yes, but not those BAD CRIMINAL immigrants. He’ll call out Trump’s “dangerous rhetoric” on immigration and repeat that rhetoric in the same breath, forever playing both sides.

Someone needs to sit down with the Mayor and explain to him, in a soft, soothing tone, that he’s never going to be the goddamn president. The ’90s are over, my guy. We saw what happened to Martin O’Malley’s campaign, which dissolved into a puff of stale air as soon as it was exposed to direct sunlight. These days it’s not enough to be a centrist white man with a respectable haircut and no obvious sex crimes. He’s not going to whip a milquetoast tightrope-walking mayonnaise-ass Third Way agenda into an Inauguration Day ball, and the sooner he realizes that the better.

Thumbs Up: Supervisor Sheila Kuehl

Even though the Board of Supervisors imposed hard carve-outs on their contribution to the Justice Fund — more on that in a second — Supervisor Sheila Kuehl took time before the vote to call for the defense of all immigrants. The compromises made to get the Justice Fund through the Board took universal representation off the table, but Kuehl still used her platform to make it clear what was at stake: fairness and due process.

“Many people have paid their dues to society — have paid their price and served their time,” she said. “I simply want to speak up for those people.”

As the Coalition argued time and time again, no one should be shut out from the protection of the laws because of their lowest moments; when due process is guaranteed to only some — to only the “good,” only the “right people” — the principle itself is stripped of meaning. Supervisor Kuehl got it.

Many activists in the Coalition told me how grateful they were that Kuehl would stand up for the rights of the most marginalized, and we at KNOCK echo that sentiment. Well done, Supervisor.

Thumbs Down: Supervisor Hilda Solis

With an ally like Kuehl speaking out, why didn’t the Board agree to representation for all? One big reason was Supervisor Solis, who from day one was dead set against extending the fund to anyone she wouldn’t want to invite over for dinner. Like Garcetti, she fought the Coalition at every turn — again, to be clear, against the wishes of the very people the fund is meant to protect — and at one point threatened to torpedo the entire thing.

And then — this blew my goddamn mind — in a bizarre, self-serving HuffPo editorial, Solis tapped into a deep well of reverse-racism doublespeak to actually call activists “racist” for asking for universal representation.

Ah yes. Not ICE, not Trump, not Border Patrol. The families broken up by deportation and exile: racists. The folks facing deportation who have never known a home other than America: racists. The ACLU and ImmDef and Public Counsel: racists. Even the concept of equal protection under the law itself, just another impediment to the false rationality of neoliberal hair-splitting.

A friend told me that he was shocked that, in the age of Trump, politicians who hold themselves out as liberals would refuse to support these reforms. The threat is so present, and the moral argument so clear — he felt betrayed by the leaders who had promised to (hashtag) resist.

All I can say is that if they weren’t fighting for you before November 8th, you can’t count on them to fight for you after.

Thumbs Up: Councilman Gil “Second Chance” Cedillo

A few months ago, when Joe Bray-Ali forced Cedillo into a runoff election, it looked as though the Councilman was headed for an upset defeat. Bray-Ali’s grassroots campaign was growing in momentum, driven by a strong volunteer network and an LA Times endorsement. Even Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, seeking to rebuild his clout with a new alliance, made the unusual (and, in retrospect, hilarious) decision to endorse the challenger.

Bray-Ali’s campaign imploded in stunning fashion after LAist found his account on Voat — which, if you’re not familiar, is a site that was literally fucking founded to be more open to racism and harassment than Reddit. When a non-apology failed to quash the growing scandal, Bray-Ali tried the utterly novel tactic of confessing years of marital infidelity and tax-dodging. This worked just as well as you’d expect, and Councilman Cedillo survived his electoral near-death-experience.

Perhaps he saw a glimpse of the other side as his career floated towards the light. When it came to the Justice Fund, he made full use of his second chance. The struggle over the Council’s bill became heated after the Board’s vote, with intense lobbying and daily surprises. Staffers for several council members, however, assured the Coalition that the council would take its cues from Cedillo. Sure enough, Second Chance Cedillo held the line against hard carve-outs, putting the common-sense case before the City Council:

“We have an imperfect legal system, and we’re recognizing that, and within an imperfect legal system we’re going to allow attorneys to do what they’re trained to do, which is to make judgment as to whether a case has merit to be heard before a judge.”

While Cedillo wasn’t the only councilman to earn praise from the Coalition — Mike Bonin drew particular note for his passionate speech, openly discussing his own struggle with drug addiction — everyone that I spoke to was thankful that he was willing to take the lead. Will he continue to advocate for the most vulnerable? Cedillo, the luckiest man in LA politics, has a new lease on life; we hope he’ll make the most of it.