Mayor Walsh, local funders, Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC) and the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (MLRI) today announced the Greater Boston Immigrant Defense Fund, a public-private partnership and funding collaborative that seeks to strengthen the Greater Boston area's capacity to protect and defend its many immigrant communities, refugees, and temporary status holders by increasing education and access to legal services. Subsequently, MLAC released a Request for Proposals (RFP) calling for nonprofit organizations in the Boston area to enhance legal service capacity, strengthen community education and outreach, and build network infrastructure with the over $1 million dollars already pledged from local funders to carry out the mission of the Defense Fund.
"Boston would not be the thriving city it is without its immigrant community, past and present," said Mayor Walsh. "Through this initiative, funding will be made available for legal service providers in order to increase legal representation for those facing deportation and who cannot afford the cost of a lawyer. Additionally, funds will be distributed to organizations with strong community engagement programs in order to connect legal representation with community education and outreach."
The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC), the largest funding source for civil legal aid programs in Massachusetts, will serve as the fiscal sponsor for the cross-sector initiative. MLAC will directly distribute funds to both legal service providers and community outreach organizations, which will be awarded after the competitive application process. The Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (MLRI), a statewide poverty law and policy center, and legal services Immigration Coalition convenor, will serve as the network coordinator. The Mayor's Office for Immigrant Advancement will track and evaluate the impact of the initiative over the course of a two-year pilot period.
"Civil legal aid plays a vital role in protecting the rights of individuals and families that come to the United States in search of economic opportunity and freedom from violence and persecution." said Lonnie Powers, Executive Director of MLAC. "We are deeply grateful for this much-needed funding, which will enable legal aid programs to partner with community-based agencies to educate, empower, and provide legal support to vulnerable immigrants and refugees in the Greater Boston area."
"As a first generation immigrant, the daughter of immigrants who came to the US seeking a better life, I can speak to the importance that the American Dream holds to all who believe the United States is the beacon of justice, hope, and opportunity," said Georgia Katsoulomitis, Executive Director of MLRI. "It is that promise that has brought millions to our shores. On behalf of legal aid programs that serve low income and vulnerable immigrants, I want to express sincere gratitude to Mayor Walsh and to all the funders who have supported the Greater Boston Immigrant Defense Fund."
The fund is made possible by Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees (GCIR), a national network of foundations working on issues related to immigrant integration, as well as by contributions from local philanthropic, corporate and legal partners. The design of the initiative is the product of a collaborative effort between the Mayor's Office for Immigrant Advancement, Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation and Massachusetts Law Reform Institute with input from local funders and immigration advocates. Local foundations and corporate partners contributing to the fund include the Barr Foundation, the Klarman Family Foundation, the Boston Foundation, the Fish Family Foundation, the Herman and Frieda L. Miller Foundation, Foley Hoag, Mintz Levin, and the Hyams Foundation, the lead funder for the initiative.
"Last week, the Trump Administration threw the lives of 800,000 young people into turmoil and uncertainty with the stroke of a pen," said Dr. Jocelyn Sargent, Executive Director of the Hyams Foundation. "In an era of volatile federal politics and a growing nationalist movement, it is our collective and moral responsibility to ensure that Boston continues to serve as a sanctuary for all. More than 22% of Greater Boston's 800,000 immigrants and refugees do not have immigration status. This initiative will allow us-as philanthropists, government, and nonprofits-to stand in solidarity against the discrimination, hostility and painful uncertainty experienced every day by our fellow Bostonians."
"There is a severe justice gap when it comes to protecting the rights of immigrants and their families, who remain among the most vulnerable people in our society," said Martin W. Healy, Chief Legal Counsel and Chief Operating Officer of the Massachusetts Bar Association. "This welcome infusion of funding will help expand legal aid at this critical time where it is most needed."
"We are grateful to Mayor Walsh and the Fund partners for this ambitious effort to increase access to justice for some of the most vulnerable members of society," said Mark Smith, Boston Bar Association President. "We are acutely aware of the need for legal representation in this area, and we stand ready to assist and support attorneys and organizations who commit their time and talent to this important cause."
Through their contributions to the cultural, social and economic landscape of the city, immigrants play an essential role in Boston's unique civic life. Foreign-born Bostonians account for 28.4% of City's population, and nearly half of Boston's children under that age of 18 lived with at least one foreign born parent in 2015. Immigrants generate nearly a quarter of the economic output of Suffolk County. In 2014, immigrants contributed $2.3 billion to the regional economy, generating more than $116.1 million in state and local tax revenues and approximately 15,000 jobs. Additionally, a high proportion of foreign born Bostonians are self-employed, which has helped revitalize and reinvigorate many of Boston's neighborhoods.