ROCKVILLE, Md. — Dozens signed up to speak and seats were hard to find at a hearing on Tuesday night for a plan to set aside $373,000 in legal aid money for low income Montgomery County immigrants facing deportation.
“The resolution specifies that no county dollars will be used to fund representation for county residents that have a final criminal conviction for certain serious felonies,” County Council President Hans Reimer explained.
“We are working closely with the State’s Attorney’s office, the Capital Area Immigrants Rights (CAIR) Coalition (and) the Office of the Public Defender on this list of restrictions and it will continue to be refined.”
There was loud applause and cheers for people sharing their views both in favor and against the plan.
Gabriela Kahrl spoke in support, on behalf of the University of Maryland School of Law Immigration Clinic.
“By now the council is well aware of the dangerous and inhumane policies issued by Mr. Sessions under Trump (sic), such as ramping up detention and enforcement at the border and in our communities,” Kahrl said to jeers from some in the audience before Reimer interrupted to ask people to quiet down.
Wei Wong, who described herself as a legal immigrant and county resident, opposes the plan.
“Is just like telling people who respect U.S. immigration laws, ‘You are dumb. You are gullible for following our laws,'” Wong said.
Claudia Cubas with the CAIR Coalition described the people she sees in detention centers where immigrants facing deportation proceedings are held.
“I’m seeing Dreamers being detained despite … having approved DACA paperwork. I’m seeing parents without any criminal histories whatsoever arrested at home, worried about how their U.S. citizen children will cope when they find out that they are gone.” Cubas said.
“I am seeing your neighbor, that nice guy who’s daughter plays with your child and who works hard every day to provide for his family being arrested after having paid, in a timely fashion, his traffic violation ticket.”
An opponent of that view, Amy Waychoff, called it “morally wrong to take money out of the hands of U.S. citizen taxpayers and give it to illegal immigrants who should not be in the county in the first place.”
Michael Friedman, President of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, disagreed.
“Undocumented immigrants are members of our communities, attend school with our children, and provide the goods and services on which we rely,” Friedman said. “There are steps we can and should take to improve their lives and to benefit the communities in which they live. Passing this special appropriation is just one of these steps forward.”
Pam Smith said the money used to fund the legal aid for immigrants could be allocated elsewhere.
“Paying for legal representation for illegal immigrants is simply another show of defiance against President Trump’s immigration crackdown,” Smith said. “Do you know that 746 teachers could get $500 each for classroom supplies with this money?”
No vote has been scheduled on the plan yet, but Reimer said a date would be set soon.