Months after Chicago officials established up a $1.3 million fund to boost legal services for immigrants facing deportation, there’s been a big spike in immigrants with legal representation, a study has found.
The percentage of immigrants represented by lawyers at deportation hearings jumped from 30 percent in May to 57 percent in August, the Chicago Tribune reported citing a Syracuse University study. Over 1,500 Chicago residents have received free legal screenings, while immigrants have had representation in court for 766 cases.
Syracuse University officials called the spike “sudden” within a short frame time.
Chicago was among several cities nationwide that beefed up legal services for immigrants as a response to Donald Trump’s election to the presidency and his aggressive promises to crack down on illegal immigration.
Chicago approved the fund in December before Trump took office. Among other things, his administration has since tried to withhold federal funds from so-called “sanctuary cities” such as Chicago that he argues don’t follow federal law, but the matter is being challenged in court.
Immigration advocates argue legal representation is crucial because immigrants aren’t guaranteed a lawyer in immigration court and only about 37 percent of those in deportation proceedings have legal representation, according to a report last year by the American Immigration Council.
The Chicago fund, dispersed to nonprofit groups like the Chicago-based National Immigrant Justice Center, is designed to help with legal screenings, education and legal representation.
Mary Meg McCarthy, the group’s executive director, said immigrants without lawyers are far more likely to be deported.
“The more representation we have in court, the more we have a balanced system,” she said.
There was little opposition to establishing the one-year fund, with one City Council vote against the plan. Some questioned why Chicago would divert money to the fund that had been set aside for little-used homeowner rebate program. City officials have said they plan to seek private money to continue the fund.