Two years after OSI-Baltimore and the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs officially launched the Safe City Baltimore program, designed to provide education and legal representation to immigrants facing deportation, the impacts are very real. Service providers educated a total of 1,650 people—most of whom were parents—about services and resources available to them. More than 1,500 received legal consultations. Thirty-six residents detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)—61% of all Baltimore City residents arrested by ICE—were assigned an attorney. Many of these cases are still working their way through the courts, but we know that detainees with representation are 10 times more likely to have a positive outcome.
“I am grateful to OSI-Baltimore for having the vision to support Safe City Baltimore,” says Catalina Rodriguez Lima, director of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs and a member of OSI-Baltimore’s Leadership Council. “Thanks to the program, thousands of residents have been educated about their rights and many have been able to access critical legal services that would have been inaccessible. The benefits extend to the thousands of children who fear being separated from their parents. More importantly, the program sends a clear message to our communities that they are not alone and that Baltimore stands with them.”
The impetus for the program was an executive order President Donald Trump signed on January 25, 2017, five days after he took office, which vastly broadened the categories of immigrants to be detained and deported and called for ICE to expedite enforcement. Subsequent raids in Baltimore resulted in parents being separated from their children—sometimes while the children were at school—and deported without due process. Since immigration offenses are civil, not criminal, those threatened with deportation are not entitled to representation and more than 80 percent of immigrants detained in Baltimore had none. Even though many detainees have claims to stay in the US, those without lawyers are only successful in their cases seven percent of the time. People with lawyers were 10 times more likely to have successful outcomes.
Soon after the executive order and raids, Rodriguez Lima approached Diana Morris, then the director of OSI-Baltimore, and asked OSI to partner on a project to provide educational resources to immigrant communities in Baltimore and legal representation to local immigrants facing deportation.
Three months later, Morris and Rodriguez-Lima stood on the steps of Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Southeast Baltimore to announce the launch of the $500,000 Safe City Baltimore initiative.
Open Society Foundations and Baltimore City each contributed $100,000 to the fund and the city’s contribution was matched by the Vera Institute of Justice, which added Baltimore to its SAFE Cities Network. OSI-Baltimore raised the additional funds from a wide range of local foundations, including the Abell Foundation and Baltimore Community Foundation, and more than 50 individual donors.
“This was truly a city-wide effort,” says OSI’s Acting Director Tracy Brown, who oversaw the grant-making process for Safe City Baltimore. “At Open Society, we pride ourselves on being able to respond to emerging needs. In this case, we were able to do that particularly well because so many from the funding and advocacy communities and individual donors stepped up to make it happen.”
In November of 2017, the two-year Safe City Baltimore grants were announced to the following organizations:
- Catholic Charities Esperanza Center would provide immigrants legal consultations about their rights, legal representation to access available remedies, and family safety planning.
- Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland would provide consultations and referral services at the Baltimore Immigration Court and recruit, train and coordinate pro bono attorneys.
- The University of Maryland Carey School of Law Immigration Clinic would provide representation in immigration bond hearings and develop a statewide immigrant legal defense fund.
- Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights (CAIR) Coalition would provide legal representation to immigrants facing deportation hearings.
The Safe City Baltimore grantees began delivering services in March, 2018 and hundreds of Baltimore residents have benefited from them, including more than 1,600 children recorded during intakes.
In August, 2019, Baltimore Mayor Jack Young announced that Baltimore will continue to fund legal education and representation when the Safe City Baltimore grants expire, which, as Brown notes, is crucial.
“Immigration policies continue to threaten and scare immigrants and, thanks to these services, more people are aware of their rights and there is a more robust infrastructure to provide legal representation,” she says. “OSI was happy to provide the support and funding to help city government and legal advocates respond to a community need in a timely and lasting way.”