Cambridge Offers ‘How-To’ Legal Guide For Illegal Aliens

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CAMBRIDGE — Late last month, one of the Bay State’s most progressive cities quietly started offering a new service on its website, an “immigrant concerns” resource page aimed at assisting “undocumented people living in Cambridge.”  

The move to launch the page was adopted by the full City Council in February. The adopted order repeatedly refers to President Donald Trump’s new policies aimed at cracking down on illegal immigration.

“As President Trump continues to issue Executive Orders intended to round up and deport undocumented immigrants, people in diverse, progressive communities like Cambridge have been growing increasingly alarmed at the prospect of themselves, their friends, or their neighbors being subjected to harassment and/or intimidation from Immigration and Customs Enforcement [ICE] officers,” the order reads in part.

A minor detail — Cambridge is not as diverse as its proponents seek to claim.

The most recent data available from the U.S. Census Bureau, compiled in 2015, shows that Cambridge remains more than 71 percent white, with Asian-Americans making up and additional 17 percent of the population and African-Americans comprising 12 percent.

Meanwhile, a recent Boston Globe report headlined “Cambridge welcomes refugees, but few are resettled there” found that “well-meaning residents and local politicians have hit a brick wall — not President Trump’s travel ban, but the city’s high cost of living.”, a website launched in 2010 that bills itself as a “leading online search engine for rental housing,” crunched the average rent rates and found that as of June 2017, the average monthly rent for an apartment in Cambridge was $2,941, with one-bedroom apartments averaging $2,558 and two-bedroom apartments averaging $3,242.

According to the State Department, approximately 233 Syrian refugees were resettled in Massachusetts — with none making their homes in Cambridge, the Globe report found.

Refugees notwithstanding, the new tab on Cambridge’s website features a link to the city’s Commission on Immigrant Rights and Citizenship and listings of legal resources.

“The City supports the efforts of other service providers and reaffirms Cambridge’s commitment to diversity and supporting immigrants by providing information about available services and resources for new immigrants,” the new page states.

According to the City Council order, “increasing numbers of Cambridge residents have been anxiously reaching out to City representatives in greater frequency, seeking advice on what legal rights and legal protections they may have if they do encounter ICE officials.”

City Councilor Nadeem Mazen suggested there exists “a potential need for a legal defense budget” to fund an immigrant liaison post, as “some 50 percent of undocumented folks facing deportation or other proceedings will not have legal representations” — which he said can cost “$5,000 or less per case.”

“I don’t think it will be outrageously expensive,” he added, noting that an additional policy order will be launched “in that vein.”

Vice Mayor Marc McGovern said the “only” amendment to consider regarding the proposal was an initiative to create, print, and distribute the website’s information.

City Councilor Jan Devereux then tracked back to Mazen’s comments regarding a potential legal defense fund for illegal immigrants, noting that she hopes the city can “provide all of these people a city lawyer on speed dial.”

McGovern said he and Mazen have already met with city officials to discuss how to hire such a lawyer but noted that the city solicitor’s office would not be conducting the hiring — it would be “contracting with legal organizations that do.”

In April, New York City officials announced the creation of a $10 million immigrant legal defense fund

The order to launch the website, along with the amendment calling for printed materials, was adopted unanimously.  

Cambridge City Council has yet to revisit the legal defense fund proposal.

Ahead of the City Council vote to launch the resource page, resident Aubra Berkowitz voiced her support for the measure in her public comments during the council meeting. Berkowitz, who said she teaches at a two-year college, told the council she has a “fairly sizable population of students with a variety of immigration statuses” and added that she “can tell you firsthand that these students are very scared.”

“I can’t support enough the fact that all of us deserve to be able to live in safety and in dignity,” Berkowitz noted.

She suggested that the resources should not only be accessible in different languages, but also be printed out “and handed out at restaurants.”

Berkowitz later talked about a training session she attended that was led by Muslim Advocates, a nonprofit that describes itself as a “national legal advocacy and educational organization that works on the frontlines of civil rights to guarantee freedom and justice for Americans of all faiths.”

Berkowitz said the session was titled “What To Do If The FBI Comes To Your Door.”

“When I got there I thought, it seems like we’re catastrophizing here, but a lot of people with Muslim-sounding last names, whether they practice Islam or not, have had the FBI knocking on their door,” she said. “We do need to have trainings which let people know what to do and know their rights.”

“I can’t support enough any measure that offers clear, visible, appropriate, and accessible support to undocumented persons — these are the fabric of our community.

“Without them we wouldn’t have the city that we have.”