ACLU-DC: Art Spitzer: 202-601-4266 

CARECEN: Abel Nuñez 202-328-9799
ACLU, CARECEN, and Coalition Partners Support Legality of DC’s Proposed Immigrant Defense Fund
Civil and Immigrant Rights Organizations Cite State’s Rights in Defense of Providing Immigrant Facing Deportation with Legal Counsel
The organizations listed below sign onto this open letter supporting Mayor Bowser’s Immigrant Legal Services Grant Program, which commits $500,000 in District monies to fund programs that provide targeted services and resources to the DC immigrant population and their family members.
The Mayor’s Plan, announced in response to concerns raised by DC’s immigrant community, is one crucial step in addressing a critical need for legal services among some of the most vulnerable residents of the District. Immigrants facing deportation proceedings need the assistance of counsel. Most immigrants speak English only as a second language, and legal proceedings are challenging even for native speakers of English. All defendants in non-petty criminal cases are entitled to lawyers, at government expense if necessary. Yet in many instances, the consequences of a deportation order will be more devastating than a criminal conviction. This program signals a commitment from our Mayor and our community that DC will protect the rights of all of its residents. 
In a January 25 letter to Mayor Bowser, Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) claims that her plan to use DC funds to pay for the legal representation of individuals subject to deportation proceedings “appears to be in conflict with existing federal law,” citing Section 292 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), 8 U.S.C. § 1362, which provides that “In any removal proceedings . . . the person concerned shall have the privilege of being represented (at no expense to the Government) by such counsel, authorized to practice in such proceedings, as he shall choose.”

Representative Chaffetz's statement that DC funds cannot be used to provide legal services in removal proceedings is merely his interpretation of Section 292. We disagree. In our view, the law does not prohibit the District from using its own local funds to represent people in deportation proceedings. In providing that representation would be “at no expense to the Government,” the drafters of the statute obviously meant at no expense to the federal Government, because Congress has no constitutional power to prohibit state and local governments from spending their money to provide legal representation to whomever they wish. It follows that Congress did not have the DC government in mind when it enacted that law.
Moreover, under the DC Local Budget Autonomy Act, the local portion of the annual budget is submitted to Congress in the same manner as other local legislation, subject to congressional disapproval through the legislative process. If not disapproved, the budget becomes effective. In our view, there is no “existing federal law” that conflicts with the Mayor’s announced plan.
Representative Chaffetz’s letter also demands the production of voluminous information about the Mayor’s plan by the DC government. While the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has broad investigative powers, we fail to see the need for any investigation here. The Mayor’s plan is public, not secret. Imposing a burdensome “investigation” on the local government is a transparent attempt to interfere with DC matters on ideological grounds that have nothing to do with the legality of the program.
Congress should not interfere with the DC government’s plan to give immigrants a fair opportunityto present an application for immigration relief or a defense in ongoing deportation proceedings. This is not the first time the Congressman has attempted to interfere with local government laws. Representative Chaffetz should respect the wishes of the over 650,000 residents of the District of Columbia that pay federal taxes, have democratically elected a municipal government, and who did not elect him to represent them.
Signed by:
Alianza Americas
The American Civil Liberties Union of the District of Columbia (ACLU-DC)
Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition
Central American Resource Center (CARECEN)
District of Columbia Latino Caucus (DCLC)
The Family Place
Kids in Need of Defense (KIND)
Latin American Youth Center (LAYC)
Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC International)