Metro

City announces immigrant defense fund

Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh spoke at a protest against President Trump's executive orders restricting immigrants earlier this year.
Keith Bedford/Globe Staff/File 2017
Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh spoke at a protest against President Trump's executive orders restricting immigrants earlier this year.

The city this week announced a new defense fund for immigrants, refugees, and temporary status holders — an effort, Mayor Martin J. Walsh said, to keep the city’s families together despite the Trump administration’s efforts to restrict immigration.

“We can bury our heads under our pillows for the next four years and hope that it’s not that bad, or we can step up,” Walsh said, citing President Trump as a catalyst for the assistance.

At a Wednesday press conference, Walsh announced about $1.4 million for the Greater Boston Immigrant Defense Fund, a program aimed at providing legal support and education for immigrants in the country legally or illegally.

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The public-private partnership would allow nonprofit immigrant support organizations to apply for grant money starting this week.

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Studies show that detainees with legal representation have a higher success rate in court than those who do not have lawyers.

The fund was created, officials said, through a national network of foundations, Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees.

Local philanthropic, corporate, and legal partners have contributed, they said. The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation will serve as the fiscal sponsor and distribute the funds to organizations, and the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute will coordinate civic aid.

“It will help us make sure that our neighbors do not have to go through the disruption and trauma of being deported unjustly,” Walsh said.

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In February, City Councilor Tito Jackson — Walsh’s top opponent in this fall’s mayoral race —proposed a similar defense fund for immigrants.

In a brief interview, Jackson pointed to Walsh’s comments earlier this year, in which the mayor called it a “slippery slope for the city to start getting involved in the business of paying for legal representation.”

“Cities like New York, like Los Angeles, as well as Chicago have already put forward and begun immigrant legal defense funds,” Jackson said. “It is high time that Boston caught on.”

Walsh said the program has been in the works for about seven months.

In January, after Trump threatened to pull federal funding to sanctuary cities, Walsh offered to shelter immigrants in his office, or “any office in [City Hall]” as a last resort.

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On Wednesday, Walsh invoked his own immigrant roots, saying, “immigrants like my family literally built this city.” More than 28 percent of the city’s population is foreign born, officials said.

“Over the years their contributions have grown. These are our friends, our co-workers . . . the people who keep our city running, and the reality is, many of them live in fear today,” he said.

Natasha Mascarenhas can be reached at natasha.mascarenhas@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @nmasc_