Editorials

City Council should not fund legal services for undocumented immigrants

Luis Ojeda leads demonstrators with a chant of ‘undocumented, unafraid’ while protesting Mayor Lee Brand’s decision against making Fresno a sanctuary city for undocumented immigrants outside Fresno City Hall on Jan. 27, 2017.
Luis Ojeda leads demonstrators with a chant of ‘undocumented, unafraid’ while protesting Mayor Lee Brand’s decision against making Fresno a sanctuary city for undocumented immigrants outside Fresno City Hall on Jan. 27, 2017. The Fresno Bee file

Community activists are asking the Fresno City Council to provide $200,000 to seed a public-private legal defense fund for undocumented immigrants facing deportation.

While we understand the need to stand up against the Trump administration’s scapegoating of undocumented immigrants, we believe that using taxpayer money for this purpose is bad policy. We ask that the City Council turn down the request.

Assisting those facing deportation and educating undocumented immigrants about their legal rights are noble causes – causes that we support. But this assistance should be funded by private groups and by businesses that employ undocumented residents.

Agriculture and the hospitality industry benefit greatly from the hard work of undocumented immigrants and the lower wages that they accept. These sectors should step up and show that they are not simply exploiting these workers by making significant contributions to the proposed legal defense fund.

In addition, all 50 Mexican consulates in the United States launched legal assistance centers in March. The $50 million effort involves forming partnerships with nonprofit groups and lawyers to help undocumented immigrants who are Mexican citizens and face deportation from the United States.

We encourage people who want to help undocumented immigrants facing deportation to donate to the crowd-funding account set up by Faith in Fresno.

We recognize that people will disagree with our position and that critics likely will cite two facts to buttress their opposition.

First, other California jurisdictions have set aside taxpayer money for legal defense funds.

They include Sacramento and Oakland, which are each providing $300,000; San Francisco, which is allocating $200,000; and Santa Clara County, which will spend $1.5 million over two years. Los Angeles city and county officials have talked about giving a combined $5 million to a $10 million fund, with nonprofit groups supplying the remainder.

However, just because others are funding these efforts does not make it good policy.

Another argument cited by legal defense supporters is that undocumented residents pay taxes that contribute to government coffers. Our rebuttal is that those taxes pay for police and fire protection, schools, roads, parks and medical services used by undocumented immigrants.

The bottom line is the legal defense fund should be funded privately. The Fresno City Council should not approve the $200,000 request.

(This editorial was updated at 5:01 p.m, June 14, 2017, to clarify that Mexican consulates only help Mexican citizens and not undocumented immigrants who are in the United States from other countries.)

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