Gov. Jerry Brown has earmarked an extra $15 million in the California budget to expand legal defense services for people battling deportation, according to a newspaper report Sunday.
The one-time cash infusion would boost the state government's financial aid for those in the country illegally to $33 million. Immigrant rights groups and lawyers hailed the increased funding, saying it's a sign the state is committed to protecting families.
The move could be interpreted as a response to the Trump administration's broadened immigration enforcement orders, The Los Angeles Times reported.
While the total funds are enough to support existing services, policy analysts told the newspaper that lawmakers might need almost double this amount to fund the other new legal initiatives under consideration at the state Capitol.
"We urge the Legislature to deepen its investment in programs," said Ronald Coleman, government affairs director for the California Immigrant Policy Center. "It is going to be key given that California can be ground zero for the devastation that we would face from Donald Trump's deportation policies."
Improving legal defense for immigrants has been a significant part of a legislative package proposed by Democrats, in an attempt to assist more than 2 million people living in the state illegally. Among the proposals is a $14-million request to provide legal training, written materials, mentoring and technical assistance to county public defenders on the immigration consequences of criminal convictions.
Another bill seeks to create a $12-million legal defense program for immigrants facing deportation who do not have a violent felony on their records. A third bill would increase legal counsel for deported veterans, depending on available funding in the annual budget.
Opponents to the programs have argued against using taxpayer money to help offenders in the face of potential funding cuts from the federal government. And debate in Sacramento has simmered over who should be served with the limited resources.
Proponents say the legislative proposals come as lawyers and advocates across the country have sought to increase government-funded access to counsel for immigrants.
Brown's office declined to comment on the funds, and any changes on the use of the dollars must be hashed out with the Legislature.
Laura Polstein, an immigration senior staff attorney at Centro Legal de la Raza, called the new money a "game changer" for immigration lawyers struggling to provide adequate representation on the ground.