Despite being denied by city council, Fresno gets legal fund for undocumented after all

Fresno has its first-ever legal aid fund for undocumented immigrants, but unlike other cities across the country, the fund was established without the help of the city council.

The Faith in Fresno organization announced the creation of the Fresno Legal Defense Fund on Friday. The fund will provide legal representation to immigrants who are threatened by deportation but can’t afford an attorney.

Numerous cities have dedicated public money to similar efforts in the face of increased immigration enforcement under the Trump administration, including Los Angeles and Chicago. But the Fresno City Council voted down a proposal in June to contribute public money to such a legal defense fund.

“Even so, our community did not leave that day feeling defeated. We felt empowered,” Faith in Fresno organizer Sukaina Hussain said at a news conference outside the Fresno County Courthouse. “People are afraid to pick up groceries or drop off their kids at school. Our goal today is to offer hope and protection and allow our community to breathe a sigh of relief.”

Activists plan to take the proposal back to council and to ask the Fresno County Board of Supervisors to contribute as well. With the help of the Latino Community Foundation, the Sierra Health Foundation, Wells Fargo and “several individual Fresnans,” the fund has $30,000 in “seed funding.” Officials say it will take much more than that, and are calling on community members to donate on their website.

“Denying immigrants the ability to defend themselves against deportation and have their day in court violates both international human rights and the U.S. Constitution’s right to due process,’ said Chet Hewitt, president and CEO of the Sierra Health Foundation, the fiscal sponsor of the project.

Jesus Martinez, chair of the Central Valley Immigrant Integration Collaborative, said that while the region is home to many undocumented immigrants, legal resources are lacking.

“A year ago, we began to see an unprecedented amount of demand from immigrant families in the Central Valley who were afraid of what was going to be taking place with the new administration,” Martinez said. “We realized the region as a whole does not have sufficient legal infrastructure to provide defense for people who are detained.”

Mackenzie Mays: 559-441-6412, @MackenzieMays