An Immigrant Education and Defense Fund

A new community response led by Open Society Institute-Baltimore

(Read the Baltimore Sun story about Safe City Baltimore)

In response to the President’s executive order, “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States,” and a series of raids in the Baltimore region by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials, Open Society Institute-Baltimore will launch SAFE CITY BALTIMORE: An Immigrant Education and Defense Fund.

The executive order and increased ICE activity have sown widespread fear in local communities, kept children out of schools, and broken up families. The fund will work to educate our region’s immigrant communities about their legal rights before, during, and after such raids, help those with legal claims to stay in the US, and provide representation for those detained and facing deportation.

In establishing this fund and carrying out this work, OSI-Baltimore is working closely with the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant and Multicultural Affairs (MIMA) and the many community and advocacy groups already working on the ground.

This work is aligned with the experience and priorities of both the Open Society Foundations (OSF) and the Baltimore office.  Open Society has long held that fundamental fairness as well as recognition of the important role of immigrants in the national and regional economy require comprehensive immigration reform.  The current administration is hostile to that vision; instead, we are seeing a surge of immigration enforcement activities that do not focus on those immigrants who have committed serious crimes and that often violate individuals’ rights. Local immigrants—often longtime residents—wake up each day fearful, afraid for themselves and for their families. Like so many others, we want to respond to the excesses we see at the national level that deeply affect local communities, so, when MIMA approached us, we were eager to help by establishing SAFE CITY BALTIMORE.

OSI-Baltimore is well positioned to work closely with local community and advocacy groups, the Mayor’s office, and pro bono lawyer organizations and also to benefit from the experience and network of Open Society Foundations’ national immigration team, which is working on the front lines of this issue. OSI will make sure that organizers, educators, and advocates have the most up-to-date information about national policies and developments.  This program will be led by Tracy Brown, OSI-Baltimore’s deputy director, who has a long history of leadership in the Baltimore community and significant relationships with the legal services community from 14 years serving as the executive director of the Women’s Law Center.  Most recently, Ms. Brown led OSI-Baltimore’s grant-making effort to support the needs of unaccompanied immigrant children.

The Problem

The President’s executive orders signed in January require the Secretary of Homeland Security to increase the number of ICE officials and develop agreements that engage state and local law officers in the enforcement of federal immigration law. The executive orders aim to increase the detention of immigrants through more aggressive enforcement and creation of new detention facilities, to limit the availability of parole and asylum through new regulations, and to accelerate deportation. ICE officials are to detain and potentially deport undocumented immigrants—many of whom have viable claims to remain in the U.S.—on the mere suspicion of a broad range of offenses, including traffic violations and missed court appearances. In February, ICE officials began acting on the orders, conducting raids throughout the country, including in Baltimore.

Catalina Rodriguez-Lima, director of MIMA and a member of OSI-Baltimore’s Leadership Council, notes that the city has confirmed that many Baltimore City residents have been detained in ICE raids in recent weeks, wreaking havoc on the lives of their families and communities. CASA de Maryland have been contacted by more than 50 families seeking legal representation. In addition, the raids have had very serious ripple effects, as described in a March 8 Baltimore Sun story about the detention of two fathers in East Baltimore.

Attendance dropped at some Highlandtown-area schools the day after Paucar and Rodriguez were arrested. Some businesses are seeing fewer customers. Health workers say fewer immigrants are seeking medical services and picking up medications…

Dr. Sarah Polk, co-director of Centro SOL, a health center for Latinos run by Johns Hopkins, said an 11-year-old visited her center this week contemplating suicide because of “how frightening it is to see ICE in the neighborhood.”

Breaking families apart is not what our country stands for.  Here in Baltimore, we are seeing children afraid to go to school, parents afraid to drop off their children at school, parents being separated from their children, and community leaders placed in deportation proceedings.

One particularly harmful reality is that those detained often cannot access or afford legal representation. A soon-to-be-released report by the Center for Popular Democracy analyzed the cases of people who appeared before immigration courts in Baltimore from June 2010 through May 2015:

  • Over 80 percent of immigrants detained in Baltimore had no legal representation
  • Detainees without lawyers were only successful in their cases seven percent of the time
  • People with lawyers were four times more likely to have a successful outcome

As ICE steps up raids in the Baltimore area, there is a clear need to educate immigrant communities about their rights, to support immigrants who have viable claims to stay in the U.S., and to provide legal support to those facing deportation.

The Strategy

Following multi-tiered efforts that New York, Chicago and other major cities have implemented, the Immigrant Education and Defense Fund will underwrite three levels of support:

  • Level One: Community Education

Protecting immigrants residing in our region requires broad dissemination of information on immigrants’ rights. Effective community education will also disrupt the ripple effect that aggressive enforcement actions and anti-immigrant rhetoric cause in our communities, such as eroding trust in local law enforcement, destabilizing schools, and increasing dependence on child welfare services. On this level, we will aim to reach all immigrant communities in Baltimore, building on the work done by CASA, Esperanza, and other groups, so that all immigrants know their rights and the rights of their children.

  • Level Two: Legal Assistance and Family Safety Plan Preparation

While many local immigrants have feasible legal claims to stay in the United States, those claims will almost certainly fail without community education and legal representation. We will help immigrants document claims that can prevent detention and deportation. For example, claims may include requests for asylum (protection from persecution in the country they have left) and protection from human trafficking and domestic violence. We will also help immigrant families take immediate steps to protect family members, such as applying for passports for citizen children and executing a power of attorney to others for children’s care.

  • Level Three: Deportation Defense Services for Families who Cannot Afford an Attorney

When Baltimore area immigrants are arrested by ICE, they are transferred to one of ICE’s detention centers located in Frederick, Howard and Worchester counties.  The detention process can be lengthy, often leaving families in the dark about loved ones for days.  In addition, families’ efforts to locate the person can take time due to language barriers and limited knowledge of the detention system. This decreases detained immigrants’ access to proper legal representation and due process.  In this level, we will support rapid response services to locate the person, collect documentation, advise the family, and coordinate access to legal counsel to support detained individuals with grounds for defense.

With the monies contributed to SAFE CITY BALTIMORE, OSI-Baltimore will implement this three-tiered strategy by engaging the most qualified organizations in our region to carry out these levels of support. OSI-Baltimore will work with MIMA and its broad range of community contacts to establish the most efficient and effective way to deliver these services.

Funds will promote grassroots public education campaigns to inform immigrants of their rights.  Lawyers and paralegals will help determine the rights of those who may have legal claims to stay in the United States, coordinate pro bono services, and provide legal services and critical advice on how immigrants who may be deported can protect their families.  To the extent that funds allow, OSI-Baltimore will also engage partners to provide education and legal support to immigrants living outside of the Baltimore region.

Background on Baltimore’s Immigrant Communities

Baltimore’s New American community has nearly doubled in the last decade. As of 2014, more than 46,000 foreign-born people call Baltimore home; less than one-third are undocumented. The largest group has come from Latin American countries, including substantial populations from Mexico, El Salvador, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and growing numbers from South America. While the Hispanic community is spread throughout the city, it is heavily clustered east of downtown around Patterson Park and Highlandtown. The city also has more than 10,000 immigrants from Asia, with significant populations from China, Korea, India, and the Philippines clustered around Johns Hopkins’ Homewood and medical campuses, as well as in downtown and midtown neighborhoods.

Baltimore has been a city that has embraced its immigrants; efforts to strengthen the city are guided by the principle of inclusion—creating communities that prosper because everyone feels welcome, including immigrants and refugees.  Over the last decade, Baltimore has served as a beacon of hope and opportunity for immigrants and refugees in search of a better life. Communities across Baltimore have experienced firsthand the cultural and economic benefits to all residents when people feel included and safe in their communities.

The Funding

SAFE CITY BALTIMORE provides an opportunity for all Baltimoreans and those concerned for our immigrant neighbors to contribute as a way to stand in solidarity with those threatened by overzealous and unwarranted immigration raids, anti-immigrant rhetoric and deportation. Open Society will contribute $100,000 on a matching basis:  for every two dollars contributed to the fund, Open Society will provide a dollar.

Many feel powerless to address new national policies that essentially aim to make some residents feel secure and valued by diminishing others, paving the way for disrespect, divisiveness, and hate incidents. Working locally to ensure that the legal rights of immigrants in the Baltimore region are protected is one way for all of us to take action—and to build a safe city in the process. OSI-Baltimore welcomes all contributions to SAFE CITY BALTIMORE: An Immigrant Education and Defense Fund to meet this urgent need. The level of support that we are able to offer to our immigrant communities will be dependent on the level of funding that we are able to raise.

About OSI Baltimore

Open Society Institute – Baltimore is a public charity and the sole field office of the Open Society Foundations’ U.S. Programs. We focus on the root causes of three intertwined problems in our city and state: drug addiction, an over-reliance on incarceration, and obstacles that impede youth in succeeding inside and out of the classroom. We believe that discussion and debate are critical to making positive, lasting changes. This site is a testing ground where ideas can be considered and discussion can be fostered.