SEABROOK – As cities around the country continue to brace themselves for possible ICE raids looking to capture illegal immigrants, U.S. Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Md.) proposed a bill that will protect asylum-seekers and other “vulnerable populations” by providing them legal services.
The former lieutenant governor introduced the Equal Justice for Immigrants Act on July 16 that would extend the right to counsel to all people in the country, including immigrants in the court system.
According to Brown, people going through the immigration court system will have the right to request a government-appointed attorney to represent them during court proceedings.
The bill would also strike down the “no expense to the government” provision included in The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 and reverse United States of America President Donald Trump’s current Migrant Protection Protocols that ask all asylum-seekers coming through the southern border must to in Mexico as they wait for their court case.
“By providing legal representation, ending the ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy and increasing transparency in the adjudication and appeals processes, Congress can equip America’s immigrant communities with a legal defense strong enough to withstand the Trump administration’s most craven, inhumane policies,” Brown said.
If passed, the bill would give asylum seekers under age 21, seniors older than 60, those who identify as LGBTQ, pregnant and nursing individuals and those with special religious considerations the right to legal counsel.
The new $720 million proposal would allow asylum seekers to stay in the country during the proceedings. Lastly, the screening process would fall under the guidelines of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services employees.
Brown’s proposal comes as multiple reports have suggested that Trump and ICE officials have been preparing for weeks to start raids into specific towns and cities throughout the United States.
As of June 22, there has been no official notice of a raid in Maryland, but there have been rumors throughout the community that ICE officials were seen in Takoma Park last week.
The Baltimore Sun also reported on July 18 that immigration officials were considering opening a new detention center in Baltimore, making it the fourth facility in the state. ICE and federal immigration officials did not return calls for an answer or comment.
“The president’s attacks on America’s immigrant communities are more effective when people in our broken immigration system do not have a guaranteed right to counsel,” said Brown.
Prince George’s County implemented a similar program in 2018 through the County Council and Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition (CAIR) that provides legal services to its immigrant residents.
According to Councilmember Deni Taveras (D-District 2), as part of the county’s Immigration Services and Language Access (ISLA) Initiative, the partnership allows those who have been detained, facing deportation and possible family separations to receive legal counsel for free or at a discounted rate.
On Dec. 7, 2018, the partnership celebrated its one-year anniversary by announcing that the program was extended into 2019.
“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.
Meanwhile, County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, in conjunction with Prince George’s Police Department (PGPD), announced on June 26 that they would not assist ICE with noncriminal, civil deportations.
One of the first juristictions to announce their non-cooperation with ICE, Alsobrooks said the county will only contact the agency when an undocumented immigrant with gang-related or violent crime charges is set to be released by the department of corrections.
PGPD Chief of Police Hank Stawinski said that local police never serve civil detainers and is planning to work together with local Latino organizations to get the message out that PGPD is looking out for the safety of all county residents, regardless of status.
Recently, the department made their training video on how officers handle situations with undocumented immigrants with civil and criminal warrants public as one of the ways to earn the residents’ trust, Stawinski said.
“We plan to spend the rest of the year speaking to the public about what we have done, what we always have done and why we clarified this,” Stawinski said. “I am going to own our message in a way that we haven’t, and that will foster far more trust between this institution and some components of our community that have not heard this from me in the past.”
The bill already has seven co-sponsors in the house, including Reps. Adriano Espaillat (D-NY.), Darren Soto (D-Fla.), Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), Hank Johnson Jr. (D-Ga.) and Juan Vargas (D-Calif.) as well as Washington, D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton.
It has also received support from immigrant advocacy groups Immigration Hub and Langley Park-based CASA.
“CASA stands with Rep. Anthony Brown for proposing the Equal Justice for Immigrants Act to the US Congress,” CASA Executive Director Gustavo Torres said. “We are excited to fight for this important piece of legislation that would remove barriers and provide protections for immigrants seeking the American Dream.”
If it passes the House of Representative, it is unknown if Republican lawmakers will work with Democratic Senators to pass the bill in the Senate and it will have enough votes to surpass a veto by Trump.