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Why Won’t LA Protect Its Immigrant Families?

We shouldn’t have to ask this at all, you might think.

We shouldn’t have to ask this at all, you might think.

In a city defined by waves of immigration, where 40% of the population is foreign-born, you’d think the government would feel morally compelled to make the safety of those millions a top priority. You’d think the Democratic #resistance would rush to the front lines and take a stand against the open racism of our anti-immigrant president. You’d imagine that a county like ours, which would shudder to a stop and collapse without the labor of one million undocumented Angelenos, would try to protect them out of vulgar economic self-interest if nothing else.

No, obviously that’s not happening.

Instead, we’re faced with a remarkable failure of leadership. ICE is openly terrorizing our immigrant communities, targeting parents on their way to school and staking out courthouses for the undocumented. Reports of sexual assault and domestic violence in the Latinx community plummeted in the first quarter, with victims too frightened of deportation to call the police.

The people of Los Angeles know what’s up — we have taken to the streets in protest, occupied LAX to fight the ban on Muslim travelers, and rallied to defend our friends and neighbors from ICE. Our mealy-mouthed Mayor Garcetti, on the other hand, stammers like Porky Pig any time someone so much as thinks the words “sanctuary city” (“I’m still not sure what one is,” he told NPR, vowing to work with President Trump). His lukewarm approach to immigrant rights is a bizarre contrast with his constituents. Maybe now that his dream of a 2024 Olympics is fading — and with it his need for Trump’s federal dollars — he’ll find the courage to do the right thing. Something. Anything.

The City Council and County Board aren’t acquitting themselves much better. They’ve been talking about an LA Justice Fund since January, and the idea is admirable: right now no one gets a lawyer in immigration court unless they can afford the thousands of dollars needed to hire one. People go in blind and alone, with no knowledge of their rights, against a federal attorney whose job is to keep them in jail until they can be thrown out of the country. Guaranteeing a lawyer to every person in deportation proceedings would be massive, a profound shift in the way we protect our immigrant communities. San Francisco and Alameda counties took this step earlier this year, and have already hired attorneys to start providing those much-needed services

So what’s the hold up? Well, unlike our northern neighbors, our local government is afraid that the fund — and here they clutch their pearls in horror — will go to the defense of UNWORTHY immigrants. They’re insisting that the fund include “carve-outs,” disqualifying people from legal assistance if they have ever had certain convictions on their records — the sort of folks, that, were you orange and awful, you might refer to as “bad hombres.”

This bizarre policy would accomplish one thing and one thing only: it would deny due process to immigrants with valid legal reasons to stay in the United States. What Los Angeles is saying is that they don’t care how long ago a crime was committed or how much you’ve reformed; they don’t care about how long you’ve been in the US, about the children you’d leave behind, or about the community that you’re part of; they don’t give a damn if you have a legal defense that entitles you to stay. They’ve decided that some people simply don’t deserve a day in court. Goodbye, good luck, and get out.

What remains to be answered is why this Trumpian nonsense is being pushed on us when there’s no constituency for it in the first place. Why is Mayor Garcetti pressuring the City Council to water down due process? Who is out there telling the Board of Supervisors that universal representation is a non-starter? There are no lawyers out there asking to waste time and money vetting clients instead of representing them. There are no immigrant’s rights groups begging the city to protect just some families.

To make it through the next four years we need to find genuine solidarity with our neighbors. We do not accomplish this through equivocating, half-measures, or empty words, but by standing up for our principles and protecting the vulnerable. We stand for a welcoming and universal Los Angeles, a sanctuary, a leader in the fight against injustice. The path is clear. Why is our government so afraid to walk it with us?