The Los Angeles Justice Fund (LAJF), a public-private partnership, shielded vulnerable immigrant families from separation due to deportation and strengthened the deportation defense infrastructure of the Los Angeles region.
Established in 2017, LAJF is a public-private partnership created in response to the harmful policy priorities enacted under the Trump administration that includes the County of Los Angeles, the City of Los Angeles, the Weingart Foundation, and the California Community Foundation (CCF). The Fund was designed with the objective of protecting Angeleno families from the impacts of deportation by providing access to counsel. Research shows that legally represented immigrants are likely to fare better at every stage of the court process, yet challenges to obtaining legal representation exist. This is especially true for vulnerable immigrant populations who may face additional barriers to accessing resources. As such, LAJF was designed to assist some of the most vulnerable immigrant populations, including unaccompanied minors, victims of domestic violence, immigrants seeking asylum, immigrants in detention, and LGBTQ+ immigrants. However, one limitation of the program design was that the requirements to access the Fund excluded certain immigrants due to residency requirements and prior criminal backgrounds – an exclusion that disproportionately impacts Black immigrants. Designed as a two-year pilot with an initial expiration date set in 2019, the Fund was extended temporarily until June 2021. LAJF consisted of 11 organizations that provide direct legal services for adults and children; six additional organizations that provide technical support and training; CCF who administered the program; and the Vera Institute of Justice, Center on Immigration and Justice (Vera) who conducted an evaluation. Although there were some lessons to be learned during the pilot phase of the fund, LAJF nevertheless played a critical role in ensuring that vulnerable immigrant communities were able to navigate a complex court system with adequate support and resources; protected families from separation; and strengthened the removal defense pipeline in the City and County of L.A.
In 2021, after much advocacy from numerous stakeholders, including Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees (GCIR) who proposed a four-pillar framework for a new iteration of LAJF, the County passed a motion to adopt the new framework. In May 2022, the City voted to do the same and included other recommendations. One key component of the framework is incorporating a merits-blind approach to providing representation by removing the criminal background requirement. Learn more about the new program, Represent LA here. To read ERI’s reports on the bridge funding phases of LAJF click here. Read the Nonprofit Finance Fund’s report about lessons and recommendations from the LAJF’s pilot phase here. Read the Vera Institute of Justice’s Year 2 evaluation of LAJF here.
Photo credit: California Immigrant Policy Center
The California Values Act seeks to demonstrate the state’s commitment to protect the rights of undocumented and immigrant Californians.
As a result of ongoing grassroots advocacy, the state passed the California Values Act (SB 54), prohibiting state and local law enforcement agencies from using resources for immigration enforcement purposes. The bill includes prohibitions on immigration holds, arrests on civil immigration warrants, inquiries about an individual’s immigration status, sharing personal information with ICE, and notifying ICE of release dates. Furthermore, this law requires state facilities, including courts, to implement policies outlining their commitment to protect Californians regardless of status, ensuring these places are accessible to all.
A report by Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus, University of Oxford, and Border Criminologies found that within the first five months of implementation there was an immediate reduction in immigration arrests in local jails, however some agencies are still not in compliance with this law. In addition, some advocates noted that this legislation falls short of protecting all immigrants as exemptions and loopholes in SB 54 are often used by local law enforcement agencies to continue to work with immigration enforcement agencies. A 2019 analysis of Orange County’s immigration policies by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Resilience Orange County, and the University of California, Irvine, found that law enforcement agencies in Orange County were continuing to work with ICE. One example discussed in the report, confirms instances where Orange County law enforcement turned over undocumented immigrants arrested on minor offenses to ICE, despite state law prohibiting this practice.
Despite the positive achievements of SB 54, organizations including the Youth Justice Coalition (YJC) and Silicon Valley De-Bug still call for greater protections. YJC withdrew its support once protections were removed. For example, SB 54 exempts the state prison system and immigrant youth tried as adults who have been transferred to ICE rather than released after many years in prison and deported to countries they have no connection to. YJC, De-Bug, and others – as organizations impacted by crimmigration policies – believe protections should not be exclusive and preserve every family's unity. You can read a De-Bug member’s take here.
To learn more about the impact and limitations of SB 54, read Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus, University of Oxford Centre for Criminology, and Border Criminologies’ full report here. Read the report discussing Orange County law enforcement’s relationship with ICE here. To learn more about the ICE out of CA campaign, click here.
Photo credit: Peg Hunter