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Cambridge Mayor Marc C. McGovern and the Cambridge Community Foundation announced the creation of the Cambridge Legal Defense Fund for Immigrants in a press conference Monday afternoon.
The initiative grants money to nonprofits that provide legal services to immigrants. The fund focuses on helping immigrants that are especially vulnerable like DACA recipients, asylum seekers, victims of sexual violence, and families with minors, President of the Cambridge Community Foundation Geeta Pradhan said Monday.
After the Trump administration’s decision to end programs that protect immigrants like Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Temporary Protected Status, thousands of undocumented individuals are currently at risk of deportation. David Mijares, the director of the Somerville Boys and Girls Club, is himself a DACA recipient. At the press conference, he urged people to act in the face of anti-immigrant policies.
“The time for talk is over. Let’s do something about it,” Mijares said. “I’m tired of people’s fear being used as a catalyst for hate. I’m tired of the ignorance being spread by short-sighted views. I’m tired of the limbo my life is in.”
Pradhan similarly stressed the pressure placed on immigrants and their families because of the Trump administration’s repeals.
“We don’t have time to lose. The urgency of this issue—it is immediate. People are losing their families. They’re getting torn apart,” Pradhan said. “We need to do something, we need to act, and we really need to act now.”
Leslie T. DiTrani, an immigration attorney at DiTrani Law in Boston, agreed that deportation is an issue now central to many immigrants’ lives.
“Our immigrant communities have not been this vulnerable since World War II. I have not seen this level of fear across everyone in our communities since a very long time,” DiTrani said at the press conference.
According to the Cambridge Community Foundation’s website, only 14 percent of all detained immigrants have access to a lawyer. Yet detained immigrants are four times more likely to be released if they have access to legal counsel, DiTrani said.
“Having an immigration attorney is critical to our immigrants being able to access the justice that we just take for granted,” she said.
DiTrani is also a member of the Cambridge Commission on Immigrant Rights and Citizenship, which the city established in 2016 to work with other city bodies to provide free monthly legal consultations for immigrants.
Executive Director of CIRC Nancy B. Schlacter wrote in an emailed statement that the new legal defense fund is another way the city will work to help immigrants.
The city of Cambridge has a history of supporting immigrants in opposition to recent changes to federal immigration policies. Last March, the City Council voted in favor of withdrawing from federal immigration enforcement training.
Cambridge also maintained its sanctuary city status in Mar. 2017 despite threats of grant cuts from the Department of Justice. This status, which allows undocumented Cantabrigians to live without fear of deportation, should also come with tangible steps to protect immigrants, McGovern said.
“Although the symbolism of being a sanctuary city is important because it makes it clear that Cambridge is a city that respects all who live here and is a place where all immigrants—undocumented or documented—can be safe, symbolism itself is not enough,” McGovern said at the press conference.
McGovern emphasized the role of local governments in standing against what he referred to as the federal government’s “xenophobic” policies.
“The White House and Congress may be failing to act, failing to protect our fellow residents who are American in every way except on paper, but Cambridge cannot fail to act,” McGovern said. “Cambridge and other municipalities across the state must take steps to ensure that all our residents are protected from the harsh policies coming out of Washington.”
Boston instituted a similar measure last year. Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh established an immigration defense fund to provide monetary support for immigrants in Sept. 2017, the Boston Globe reported.
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