Fresno won’t chip in to defend undocumented immigrants

The city of Fresno will not contribute public funds to help establish a legal defense fund for undocumented immigrants facing possible deportation by the Trump administration.

By a 4-2 vote Tuesday, the Fresno City Council shot down a proposal by Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria to include $200,000 in the city’s 2017-18 budget for a public-private fund advocated by local immigration and civil rights advocates.

Soria offered the motion, backed by Councilman Oliver Baines, last week after more than 40 people offered impassioned pleas for council members to consider a segment of the population that many described as some of the community’s most vulnerable residents. They said the fund, which would include donations from private foundations, would ensure representation in immigration court to prevent families from being separated by deportations of immigrants who have no criminal record.

Soria and Baines were the two council members who voted yes, but they were outnumbered by councilmen Garry Bredefeld, Steve Brandau, Paul Caprioglio and Clint Olivier. Councilman Luis Chavez abstained.

Chavez said he abstained because of uncertainty over how the money would be used or who would be eligible for the funds. “I couldn’t support tax funds for drug traffickers, gang members or violent offenses,” Chavez told The Bee. “If it had been written with specific guidelines, I would’ve been open to supporting it.”

Dozens of immigration advocates who attended the meeting to hold signs supporting the proposal left the council chambers disappointed, but determined.

“We know we didn’t get the necessary votes to get an investment from the city, but this doesn’t stop the legal defense fund at this time,” said Sukaina Hussain, a representative of Faith in Fresno. “It’s going to be both a public and private initiative, so we have had interest from different foundations, different donors and community groups that are wanting to see this come to light and have already pledged investments.”

The Latino Community Foundation, in a letter to the City Council, pledged a $10,000 contribution.

“We are committed to protecting vulnerable families no matter what,” Hussain added. “It just might take a little longer.”

Related stories from Fresno Bee