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(File photo: Bill Klotz)
(File photo: Bill Klotz)

Bar Buzz: St. Paul metro signs on for immigrant rights

St. Paul and Ramsey County have joined a growing list of U.S. communities participating in a nationwide program that provides legal representation to immigrants facing deportation.

The city and county both have kicked in matching funds for a $250,000 local Vera Institute of Justice program, the Safety and Fairness for Everyone (SAFE) Network, which provides lawyers for immigrants dealing with removal orders.

The cities of Philadelphia, Dallas, San Francisco, New Haven, Conn., and Long Beach, Calif., signed on at the same time, according to a July 16 Vera press release.

That brings the total number of participating U.S. communities to 18, the organization says. Minneapolis is not currently participating.

St. Paul will kick in $50,000 for the program while Ramsey County will add $100,000, according to Elizabeth Tolzmann, Ramsey County’s director of policy and planning. The Vera Institute will throw in another $100,000 in “catalyst funds,” she said.

According to Vera Institute data, there are 270 residents in Ramsey County alone who face removal from the country without legal representation, Tolzmann said. “This will help that,” she said.

The SAFE program is dedicated to “providing publicly-funded universal representation for people facing deportation.” It is a response to the Trump administration’s draconian immigration policies.

In a press release, St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter said federal authorities are generating fear while discouraging immigrants from exercising their due process rights.

“It is incumbent on local governments to address that fear and apprehension with support and resources to residents who are fighting to keep their families together and safe,” Carter said.

Tolzmann, interviewed Thursday, said the Ramsey County matching funds still need to be formally approved by the county’s board of commissioners.

That is likely to happen on Tuesday. The city and county have already signed a joint powers agreement for immigrant and refugee services, which was approved in February.

Tolzmann said she expects that the Vera Institute will run a request for proposals and conduct needed marketing and outreach to get local attorneys on board. She said anyone with a law license who practices in the area of immigration locally can apply.

The program should not strictly be seen as a way to keep people with removal orders inside the United States. It’s more about protecting immigrants’ constitutional rights, she said.

“I would say that this is really about due process in light of everything that is going on right now,” she said. “It’s not deciding when people get to stay or not. It’s about giving them their rights and due process to have that opportunity to defend their case.”

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About Kevin Featherly

Kevin Featherly, who joined BridgeTower Media in mid-2016, is a journalist and former freelance writer who has covered politics, law, business, technology and popular culture for publications and websites in the Twin Cities and nationally since the mid-1990s.

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