Governor Kate Brown unveiled a $23.6 billion state budget proposal for the next two years this morning, prioritizing the hot-button issues addressed during her recent re-election campaign. While the plan outlines major spending on those top items, like $2 billion to help Oregon's floundering school system and $54 million in permanent supportive housing programs, the budget also flags a few million bucks for a brand-new budget priority: A legal defense fund for immigrants facing deportation.
Brown promises $2 million to pay for attorneys to represent Oregon immigrants navigating the United States' labyrinthine federal immigration court.
According to her office, this is the first time Brown has specifically set aside money in the state's budget for immigrant defense.
In her budget proposal, Brown notes that almost half of all defendants in Portland's immigration court lack legal counsel, either due to the high cost or the lack of resources to find an attorney.
This immediately stacks the odds are against them. Those who receive legal representation are five times more likely to win their cases and avoid deportation, according to a 2011 study by the American Bar Association.
Brown's promise comes two months after Portland City Council passed an ordinance placing $500,000 city dollars into a similar immigration defense fund. The fund, spearheaded by City Comissioner Chloe Eudaly, will specifically allow Catholic Charities of Oregon to hire attorneys to represent at least 60 immigrants living in Portland. The Multnomah County Commission matched the city's contribution, doubling the promise.
Based on this estimate, Brown's proposed fund could cover attorney's fees for at least 240 immigrants.
Brown's proposed fund can be seen as a somewhat indirect response to the Trump Administration's unending push to arrest and deport all undocumented immigrants whose only crime is not obtaining citizenship. Another piece of her budget offers a more direct response to the White House's general overreach. Brown's "Oregon Defense Fund" will put $2 million toward any legal action the state may take against the federal government "to support Oregon values and prevent retaliatory practices in response to these actions."