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COLLEGE PARK – The Prince George’s County Council and the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition (CAIR) celebrated its first anniversary of their partnership to provide legal services to county immigrants by hosting a press conference and an immigrant advocate roundtable with immigrant advocates, local elected officials and service providers on Dec. 7.
The goal of the arrangement, which is a part of the council’s Immigration Services and Language Access (ISLA) Initiative, was to help county residents who have been detained, facing deportation out of the United States and limited family separations. The partnership with the CAIR Coalition and the county is set to continue heading into 2019, according to officials.
“I think (the partnership)’s extremely exciting and bold,” CAIR Coalition Managing Attorney Abigail Moyer said. “I loved being able to watch leaders in the Prince George’s County Council and local government think about ways to stand up and show solidarity with all residents of Prince George’s County.”
“Prince George’s County’s willingness to finance legal services for its immigrant residents who are swept up into detention pending deportation is a critical bulwark for their rights and a model for other jurisdictions to look to follow,” Attorney Lucia Curiel said.
The program, spearheaded by Council Member Deni Taveras (D-District 2), has three different sections covering translation services, eliminating language barriers restrictions and legal representation.
Taveras established the ISLA program after receiving two calls from two area mothers requesting help after being detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and lacking the funds for an attorney in 2016. According to the council member, the county did not have an established program or resources that can could best help their situation.
As a child of Dominican immigrants with limited financial resources living in Harlem, New York, Taveras said she understood the need to make resources available for those who cannot afford it.
“We were motivated by the idea that immigrants should not feel as though they are strained alone in a country or a county,” Taveras said. “Any resident should have access to services including the right to due process and trust in their local government.”
The County Council approved $50,000 for the 2018 budget to support the ISLA Initiative through the Office of Community Relations. An additional $100,000 grant with the Vera Institute of Justice added more funds to support ISLA as a public-private partnership.
The CAIR Coalition has provided legal services for immigrants, primary though at risk of detention and deportation, in the Washington, D.C. region since establishing itself as an independent non-profit in 1999. They were selected as the legal arm of ISLA last year following a lengthy application process. CAIR’s selection was made official on Sept. 30, 2017.
Currently, Prince George’s County residents make one of every three cases in the state pending in immigration court, Taveras said.
Many families cannot afford an attorney, so the need for programs like ISLA is vital in a county where 21 percent of its residents are foreign-born, and 22 percent speak a different language other than English in their home.
Under the program, CAIR works directly with county immigrants in detention centers already in deportation proceedings to provide pro bono representation, according to Moyer.
As they work the residents’ cases, members of the coalition met with the council daily to provide updates on how the program is working. CAIR reports the detention of families living in the county has impacted 20 children, 10 partners and 104 close family members.
“People in Prince George’s County, like all across the United States and in Maryland, often live in mixed-status families,” Moyer said. “Having a family member or a loved one or neighbor or business owner that is detained and facing deportation or at-risk of deportation really puts at risk the health of families and communities.”
The partnership has been very vital since the start of Donald J. Trump’s presidency. Under his Administration, programs that granted immigrants work or living visas, like Temporary Protected Status (TPS) or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), have been terminated and has left immigrants in precarious positions.
The number of arrests made by ICE climbed to a three-year high in 2017 following an executive order by President Trump stepping up enforcement, according to the Pew Research Center.
“Numbers of people being subjected to deportation proceedings have been going up, and you can see that here locally as well,” Moyer said, adding that the enforcement policies are also subjecting immigrants who normally would not have been on ICE’s radar for deportation during the Obama Administration for “humanitarian factors” or no criminal history.
Moving forward, as immigration continues to be a leading topic in the political realm, both Taveras and Moyer hope the extended partnership will continue to be a useful tool for immigrant residents to combat their deportation. The United States was built on backs of their labor, and they should have the opportunity to live in this country without fear, Taveras said.
“It is time to stop breaking up families, and residents should not be fearful of their local institutions,” Taveras said.