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Baltimore To Move Forward With Program To Provide Legal Assistance For Undocumented Immigrants

BALTIMORE (WJZ)-- Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh is supporting a program that will provide legal assistance to undocumented immigrants who are at risk for deportation.

This is all part of a mayoral initiative to let undocumented immigrants know that the city stands behind them.

The City says this is a direct response to immigration arrests across the country and some of those immigrants had no attorneys. ICE says it's prioritizing known criminals.

"The mayor's position is everyone should have access to due process. everyone should have the opportunity to tell their story in front of a judge with access to an attorney," said Catalina Rodriguez, director of the Mayor's Office of Immigrant and Multi-cultural Affairs.

The City said a fraction of the money, about 15 percent over a period of two years, will come from tax payers, but the overwhelming majority of the $600,000 program will come from a grant.

Some tax payers approve.

"Our taxes go to a lot of things and I think helping people who don't have a lot of money is one of the best things it can be used for," one man said.

"America is all about letting people in and not keeping them out, and people who are deserving should definitely one hundred percent be here," Blair Levin of Baltimore said.

There is opposition to the program.

"I thought it was a joke,"said Baltimore resident and activist Nicolee Ambrose.

She said the city should contribute zero dollars when it comes to helping undocumented immigrants.

"We keep being told in Baltimore that we cannot keep community neighborhood schools open, that we can't keep rec centers open, that we can't hire enough police officers and I want solutions that solve our city's problems instead of worrying about people who are not even citizens of this country," Ambrose said.

CASA, an immigration advocacy group, says financial assistance will give people a better shot in court.

"Many people go and try to represent themselves frequently in a language that is not their own in a legal system that is very complicated even for trained immigration attorneys. So it's no wonder that those folks who go unrepresented have very poor chances," Elizabeth Alex of CASA said.

Both the mayor and police commissioner Kevin Davis have said undocumented immigrants are more likely to speak up on crimes in their neighborhoods if they trust people in power.

Mayor Pugh believes the program will help build that trust.

City officials say the grant will be provide by the Vera Institute of Justice and undocumented immigrants can start applying for aid some time in the new year.

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