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You Paid For It: Columbus' Immigrant Legal Defense Fund

COLUMBUS (WCMH) -- Columbus City Council is helping immigrants fight deportation.

In October, city councilors unanimously voted to form the Columbus Families Together Fund.

It is a first-of-its-kind legal defense fund for immigrants and their families facing deportation.

The fund uses $185,000 in taxpayer dollars over the next three years, and is matched with an additional $100,000 from the Vera Institute of Justice.

The funds go to three central Ohio nonprofits that help immigrants get legal representation and educate them on their rights to stay in America.

Columbus city Council member Elizabeth Brown is the driving force behind the fund. Brown said the funds will be favored to go to immigrants with children facing what she calls, "Aggressive deportation tactics."

"Many of them actually have meritorious claims to make to stay in this country," Brown added. "Here in Columbus, 1 in 10 residents are born outside this country."

Brown's reasoning behind establishing the fund lay with both keeping Columbus family units together and helping to stabilize Ohio's economy.

According to the New American Economy, which tracks US Census Data, the Ohio immigrant community contributes $345 million in tax dollars every year and some $2.8 billion in spending power.

"Aggressive deportation doesn't just disrupt our economy, by interfering with these economic contributors, but it also tears parents from children," Brown said.

But spending tax dollars on immigrant lawyer fees is not sitting well with everyone.

"That is a cause that we all should be doing out of our private pockets, not out of taxpayer dollars," Matt Mayer, a public policy expert with Opportunity Ohio, said.

"We are going to use taxpayer dollars on this when we have schools that are not performing, we have roads and bridges that are not performing, public safety, lots of other vital services need funding," Mayer added.

Immigration policy is set by the Federal Government and written into the US Constitution.  Mayer argues this fund appears to oppose that policy. "Using taxpayer dollars to fund opposing the constitution is deeply problematic," Mayer said.

Councilmember Brown argues that local governments play a role in the overall picture of immigration, "It plays within the rules, it plays within Federal law," Brown said of the Columbus Families Together Fund.

For Brown the $185,000 tax dollars used for this purpose sends a message from Columbus of inclusion rather than division.

"I believe in the diverse group of needs that we provide in the city, this belongs in that picture." Brown continued, "There is no such thing as immigrant Columbus and non-immigrant Columbus. We are all in this together."

The bulk of the funds went to the nonprofit Advocates for Basic Legal Equity Inc., part of the Legal Aid of Western Ohio. The organization tells NBC4 the money provided "know your rights" presentations and legal representation to immigration detainees who are Franklin County residents, at the Butler County Jail. The Council on American Islamic Relations and Catholic Social Services' Our Lady of Guadalupe Center also received funding.


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