‘We Live In A Terrible Country,’ Somerville City Councilor Says During Discussion of Free City Legal Services For Illegal Immigrants

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2022/11/07/we-live-in-a-terrible-country-somerville-city-councilor-says-during-discussion-of-free-city-legal-services-for-illegal-immigrants/

A Somerville city councilor called the United States “a terrible country” during a recent discussion about what accounting method the city should use to provide public funds to pay for legal services for immigrants who are not in the country legally.

“You gave a little bit of information on being able to acquire legal services for extended periods of time. Of course, immigration cases are not – they’re not done quickly. We live in a terrible country. And that holds up a lot of folks’ lives in an awful way,” said Charlotte Kelly, an at-large city councilor, during a meeting of the Somerville Finance Committee on Thursday, October 20.

Kelly used the comment to set up a question for Meredith Gamble, deputy director and language justice coordinator of the SomerViva Office of Immigrant Affairs, which is a city government department.

“Has there been any discussion within the immigrant affairs office about having in-house legal counsel? Or is it just more sustainable to right now have outside legal counsel and pay them through a stabilization fund?” Kelly said. (Her comments begin at 1:00:11 of the video of the meeting posted on the city’s web site.)

NewBostonPost contacted Kelly by email this past weekend, but did not hear back.

Kelly was elected an at-large councilor to the 13-member city council in November 2021. She describes herself as a socialist on her campaign web site

Responding to Kelly’s question, Gamble said city officials have no plans to hire a staff lawyer to handle cases of illegal immigrants, and plan instead to continue to use outside lawyers.

The city immigrant-services department’s web landing page lists a director, a deputy director, a legal services coordinator, and five other coordinators. The budget for SomerViva for fiscal year 2022, which ran from July 1, 2021 through June 30, 2022, was $668,677.

The discussion during the finance committee meeting stemmed from requests from the mayor’s office to create an Immigrant Legal Services Stabilization Fund, transfer $60,000 from a line item in the SomerViva budget to the fund, and appropriate money from the new fund to try to help immigrants achieve permanent residency, particularly in long-running asylum cases.

“The purpose of this is really to make sure that those funds are available to support immigration cases that may take a very long time. A lot of the immigration cases that we are supporting are multi-year efforts, and it is a way for us to be able to commit funds throughout the duration of those cases, and be able to commit to that as well with the vendors that we are working with,” Gamble said.

The mayor’s requests drew no opposition from the four finance committee members who attended the meeting.

One city councilor, Judy Pineda Neufeld, asked if $60,000 is enough.

“We are prepared to ask for more money and are keeping an eye on that,” Gamble said.

The finance committee chairman, Jake Wilson, who is an at-large city councilor, said he had the same question. He added that he supports the request.

“I’ll just say:  I consider this us literally putting our money where our mouths are,” Wilson said.

At the end of the meeting the finance committee members voted 4-0 to support all 21 requests the mayor made, including the three concerning legal services for immigrants.


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