PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) – This week Portland City Council approved a $500,000 dollar grant to Catholic Charities of Oregon and Multnomah County is matching that amount.
It’s funding that will go toward paying for attorneys and legal services for potential deportees.
Margaux Weeke, a communications specialist in the Office of Commissioner Chloe Eudaly told FOX 12 Friday the funding which is being called the “Universal Representation Project” will be for immigrants who may not be able to afford an attorney during legal proceedings.
It’s services that Jordan Cunnings, a staff attorney at Innovation Law Lab, said are crucial in winning cases.
“For many people it's sort of the most frightening most monumental experience they're going to have in their life and there's just an incredibly limited number of resources for folks who can't afford attorneys,” Cunnings said.
Innovation Law Lab is an immigrant-rights organization in Portland.
Cunnings said the organization will have a direct hand in the implementation of the program.
“Innovation Law Lab in collaboration with a group of legal service providers and community organizations has been brainstorming and dreaming about universal rep for over a year and meeting to sort of plan and making the funding ask and we're going to be serving as sort of the strategy point and the hub for coordination of the program,” she said.
“We're going to be the tactical center for the direct service attorneys so we're going to be representing people in removal proceedings in the Portland immigration court and providing case support and strategy with a goal of winning every case.”
Cunnings said about half of the thousands of Oregonians who are in removal proceedings in court currently have no representation.
“Immigration court is one of the only court proceedings where the government always has a lawyer at their table and the respondent often doesn't have a lawyer at the table,” Cunnings said. “The stakes are also incredibly high so you're basically stacking the deck against people by having them in what's often a life or death situation for them in the case that they're fighting.”
But with that funding Cunnings told FOX 12 immigrants will have a voice and a chance to stay in the U.S.
“Whether or not you have a lawyer in immigration court is ultimately the most determinant factor in whether or not you win your case,” Cunnings said. “It's a very emotional experience and we're just really thrilled to now have the opportunity to sort of step in and support people who are at risk of removal here in Oregon.”
The city said this a pilot program and after a year the council will evaluate its success.
The $500,000 dollars from the city is general fund dollars and every tax payer FOX 12 polled Friday night said they’re in favor of the program.
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