Should Fresno use taxpayer funds to defend immigrants against deportation?

Immigration advocates will ask the Fresno City Council to contribute $200,000 to launch a public/private legal fund to help defend undocumented immigrants against deportation.

Faith in Fresno, a coalition of clergy from a range of religious affiliations across the city, plans to make its pitch during the council’s budget hearing session on Wednesday. The hearing begins at 10 a.m. at Fresno City Hall.

The Sacramento City Council last month voted to contribute up to $300,000 to support a network of nonprofits to help residents with immigration problems. Several other California cities have also approved funds to provide legal assistance in the face of increased enforcement actions by federal agents against undocumented immigrants.

But in Fresno, advocates likely face more of an uphill climb. While they believe they can count on support from Council Members Esmeralda Soria and Oliver Baines, and interest from a third councilman, any motion to put up the money will take at least four votes from the seven-member council to pass. And Mayor Lee Brand already rejected a proposal last month for a city-supported legal defense fund.

If Fresno’s council approved the funds, it would “send a resounding message to our immigrant community, prospective private and philanthropic partners, and to the broader public,” according to a Faith in Fresno letter signed by two dozen Roman Catholic, Christian, Jewish and Muslim clergy and sent to city leaders on Monday.

“Several individuals and foundations have expressed interest in supporting” the defense fund, said Andy Levine of Faith in Fresno. “So, regardless of whether the city chooses to support us or not, we will be pushing for the creation of this fund on the private/community side over the coming weeks.”

The Latino Community Foundation, in a letter to the mayor and council, has pledged $10,000 to the fund. And Sukaina Hussain, a community organizer with Faith in Fresno, said there is “clear interest from other foundations as well as dozens of our member congregations who will be contributing to the fund, as well.”

Related stories from Fresno Bee