By Ryan Grewal, city editor
Boston City Councilor and mayoral candidate Tito Jackson (D-7) submitted legislation Wednesday to create a pilot program for the Immigrant Legal Defense Fund, which would provide financial assistance to immigrants facing charges in Boston Immigration Court.
In a press conference in the lobby of the City Council Chamber in Boston City Hall, Jackson announced the hearing order at a press conference Wednesday morning, where he argued that funding immigrants’ legal defenses is vital to the economic health of the city.
“Our universities, hospitals, tourism, hospitality, biotech and life sciences and IT industries […] all depend on documented and undocumented immigrants,” Jackson said. “The national government is literally jeopardizing our entire economic well-being.”
Jackson specifically highlighted the importance of preserving the large consumer base of international students at Boston’s academic institutions.
“Northeastern has 7,000 international students. Boston University has about 5,000 international students,” Jackson said. “On average, they spend at least $55,000 a year to come here. That represents $660 million alone in tuition and expenses.”
Jackson seeks to emulate the funding structure of similar initiatives in Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington D.C. and Oakland.
“We look to have this as a public-private partnership,” Jackson said. “Cities across the United States of America […] have organized money to ensure individuals would have legal representation.”
Liza Ryan, the director of organizing of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, joined Jackson to announce the proposal. Ryan described a judicial system in which those without legal representation are very unlikely to win their cases—an inequity that deprives the unrepresented of due process under the law, she said.
“It is not the merit of a case that determines whether or not a person receives a just outcome, but whether or not they are afforded due process,” Ryan said. “It is our assessment that if Boston is to live up to its historical legacy as a city where every man, woman and child is equal under the law, all of its residents should have access to fair representation.”
The Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center (ISBCC) issued a statement supporting the proposal, which Jackson read aloud at the press conference. Immigrants from seven Muslim-majority nations were targeted by President Donald J. Trump’s travel ban, which he issued via executive order on Jan. 27.
“[A]t a time when the immigrant community in the United States is especially vulnerable, we hope that the defense fund will be a practical step toward creating a safety net for the most vulnerable, one that protects the rights of individuals and families in the City of Boston,” the ISBCC said in a statement.
Jackson submitted an order for a hearing to be held in City Council after his announcement. He will work with the council to schedule an expedited hearing, according to a statement from Jackson’s office.