As the United States becomes increasingly unfriendly to immigrants at the federal level, the Cambridge Community Foundation (CCF) is working to support immigrants within the bounds of the city.
The CCF supports projects that help Cambridge residents from all backgrounds. The nonprofit, founded in 1916, has provided help to immigrants in the community for years—by supporting local literacy and language programs, for example—but with the changing landscape for immigrants in the U.S., the group determined that there’s a growing need for legal help.
Cambridge residents are known for extending “their kindness and sense of community,” to immigrants, says CCF President and CEO Geeta Pradhan. “But the issue we saw not being supported was the need for legal defense.”
The CCF partnered with the city to form the Cambridge Legal Defense Fund for Immigrants earlier this year. The program is designed to help local immigrants, especially those with low incomes, get the funds they need to work through legal issues surrounding their immigration statuses. Larger cities like Boston, New York, and San Francisco have similar programs in place.
The fund will help pay for immigrants’ legal defense expenses, as well as the many and varied fees that many immigrants who are not U.S. citizens face—such as the $200 fee for a legally required doctor’s exam if you are called to immigration court, and the $465 application fee for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
“The people need to know their rights,” Pradhan says, including the right not to incriminate themselves when questioned, which some people may not understand without proper legal advice. Many immigrants also need translators, she says, and there is such a backlog of cases right now that there are organizations specifically training attorneys with other areas of expertise how to handle immigration status cases. The goal of the legal defense fund is to cover as many of these needs as possible for local immigrants by supporting local non-profit organizations.
In Massachusetts, there are about 19,000 students eligible for DACA status, over 12,000 workers with Temporary Protective Status, and thousands more people who are seeking asylum, according to the CCF.
The organization has no city-specific data on undocumented immigrants in Cambridge, but the data it does have shows that 27 percent of residents are foreign-born and 40 percent of children living here have at least one foreign-born parent. Estimates also show that 25 percent of high school students are part of the DACA program.
“A small donation can make a big difference, even a few dollars,” Pradhan says, explaining that those funds could go toward covering a required fee or the cost of a translator for a person or family facing immigration court.
The fund was kickstarted with a seed donation of $50,000, and organizers hope to raise $500,000 through a GoFundMe.
When Mayor Marc McGovern announced the fund’s formation earlier this year, he said that despite the city’s long-standing status as a sanctuary city, “symbolism is not enough,” according to the Cambridge Day. Instead, he argued, being a sanctuary city means protecting all the members of the Cambridge community from “xenophobic policies.”
McGovern said he hoped that Cambridge would step up the same way residents did after the devastating Berkshire Street fire in December 2016. The community raised more than half a million dollars within days of the fire that damaged 18 buildings and displaced more than 100 people.
The GoFundMe page raised more than $150,000 as of mid-July, far shy of the $500,000 target that would allow four non-profit legal organizations to add another full-time employee, each of whom could represent 400 to 500 people, as well as help 200 DACA students pay their application fees or post bail. CCF will give the money to other organizations that are already working to help immigrants with these needs.
While Pradhan says she is confident that the people of Cambridge want to help, she says many may not realize that “there is a tremendous need here.”
To donate to the GoFundMe, visit gofundme.com/immigrant-legal-defense-fund.