Legal aid may soon be available for immigrants in Bexar County
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Legal aid may soon be available for immigrants in Bexar County

Bexar County is moving a plan forward to provide legal representation to immigrants unable to afford it, despite the reservations of the lone Republican on Commissioners Court.

In a 3-1 vote Tuesday, commissioners agreed to seek proposals from nonprofits to provide legal services to indigenous immigrants in detention, facing deportation or at the risk of losing their immigration status. The action follows the approval in July of $1 million for the legal defense of indigenous immigrants.

On ExpressNews.com:

New county agency seen as a ‘game changer’ on indigenous legal defense

The county‘s Managed Assigned Counsel, which oversees indigenous defense services, will collect competitive proposals from nonprofits to serve immigrants “who reside or intend to reside in Bexar County,” according to a county staff memo.

The MAC office also hopes to formalize a relationship with the Vera SAFE Cities Network, joining other Texas communities affected by immigration issues. Involvement in the network could cover up to $100,000 in startup costs for the new fund.

One of the fund’s core functions is to “really protect and keep families together” that would otherwise be split up through deportation, said Jim Bethke, director of the MAC.

Commissioner Grant Moody, a Republican serving an uncompleted term on the North Side, said he couldn’t support a program that might use taxpayer funds to pay legal defense costs for immigrants facing criminal charges. He said he could support a program supported through private funds.

“This is a bridge too far for me,” Moody said.

Officials of the MAC said there would likely be more than one nonprofit chosen to implement the new immigrant legal defense fund. Many undocumented residents have connections to the community, such as children who are US citizens and are paying taxes and working toward citizenship themselves, MAC officials said. Immigrants charged with an aggravated felony as defined under deportation law are not eligible for legal relief, they said.

The county estimates nearly 7,000 “detained and non-detained immigrants currently in need of legal representation.” When commissioners initially approved the creation of the legal defense fund in July, interim Commissioner Marialyn Barnard, a Republican and Moody’s predecessor, cast the only vote in opposition. She supported the concept but felt the county had too many other needs.

Commissioner Rebeca Clay-Flores, who is Black, Hispanic and has US-Mexico dual citizenship, said she leads services every Saturday afternoon at the city’s worship Migrant Resource Center and has often heard “heartbreaking” stories of people there from Mexico, Central America and overseas nations such as Iran and Nigeria.

“I think it is so important to have this kind of fund here in Bexar County,” she said.

On ExpressNews.com:

County looking to improve indigenous legal defense

Commissioner Tommy Calvert, presiding over Tuesday’s meeting while County Judge Peter Sakai was preparing for knee surgery, said he’d like more information provided to commissioners on the varying challenges and situations of indigenous immigrants. He said he supports the new fund as “the right thing to do” for a compassionate community, even though the issues surrounding it are complex.

“This is a hot-button issue,” Calvert said.

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