Seattle is setting aside $1 million worth of legal aid for undocumented immigrants and refugees, council member Lorena Gonzalez announced Thursday.
The money will come from the city's general subfund, distributed to the city's Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs and be available to access as early as June, Gonzalez said. That doesn't include the $250,000 mayor Ed Murray announced in November to help Seattle Public School students and their families with immigration. The legal defense fund comes as part of a resolution to declare Seattle a "welcoming city," which council members approved unanimously on January 30.
"If we don't give these rights to the immigrants, it's not giving them a fair chance to show what they can bring to this country, what they can contribute to this country," said Elizabeth Sanchez, who immigrated from Mexico at the age of 16 and spoke at the City Hall press conference Thursday.
The Pew Research Center estimated about 250,000 undocumented immigrants living in the state as of 2014. More than 28,000 youth in the state were part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, according to the city.
Gonzalez said the money would be used for civil cases and distributed as a grant program to organizations that have developed relationships with undocumented immigrants. But she said there's no guarantee those seeking aid would be protected from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
"It’s painful for me to say this ... but there is nothing that we can do to prevent ICE from coming into this community and ripping families apart," Gonzalez said. But she said the legal defense fund would help undocumented immigrants get "the best fighting chance that they could have." Immigrants are 10.5 times more likely to be able to stay in the country with legal representation, according to the city.
King County Council also announced plans to provide $750,000 in legal aid for immigrants in February, but the members have yet to approve it or elaborate on how the funding would be used.
Gonzalez's press conference follows one day after Seattle mayor Ed Murray announced plans to sue president Donald Trump's administration over its threat against "sanctuary cities."