Report: Trump’s immigration policies a local threat

The Trump administration’s ever-tightening immigration rules are putting the lives and livelihoods of thousands of local residents in danger and threatening the social cohesion and economic well-being of local communities, according to a new report by the Boston Foundation and the Greater Boston Immigrant Defense Fund.

More than 12,000 Massachusetts residents with Temporary Protected Status could be forced to leave the country because of President Trump’s policies, breaking apart families and depriving towns of homeowners and taxpayers, said the 32-page report, “The Growing Wave of Federal Immigration Restrictions: What’s at Stake for Massachusetts?”

New restrictions have a “chilling effect” on many immigrants, instilling fears that can lead them to avoid seeking government benefits. “People are chilled out of accessing programs for the public good that really are essential for all the children in our communities,” said Iris Gomez, senior staff attorney at the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute and co-editor of the report. Read more in the Boston Globe.

City allocates $50,000 towards Immigrant Defense Fund

By Mia Cathell and Joel Lau

Mayor Martin Walsh’s office announced Saturday that the proposed 2020 fiscal year budget will allocate $50,000 to support the Greater Boston Immigrant Defense Fund, which helps fund education and legal services for Boston’s immigrant communities.

The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation and the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute launched a two-year pilot program of the defense fund in 2017, which was supposed to end in Dec. 2019, according to the press release. However, the $50,000 dollars allocated by Walsh would “jumpstart” the defense fund’s third year by paying for counsel for approximately 30 Boston immigration cases, according to the press release. Read more in The Daily Free Press.

Editorial: A long-awaited expansion for Boston’s immigrant defense fund

Tucked into Mayor Marty Walsh’s proposed budget for next year is a new pot of public money dedicated to help immigrants facing deportation pay for legal representation. While not a groundbreaking policy idea, it nonetheless represents a progressive step in the right direction. Read more in The Boston Globe.

The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation distributes immigrant defense funds to legal aid organizations and community organizations that assist immigrants in the Greater Boston area.

New MLAC Leader Talks the Legal Aid ‘Walk’ – Podcast

For attorney Lynne Parker, the 20th Annual Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid on Jan. 24 at the Massachusetts State House will be her first as the new executive director of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC). But Parker is no stranger to the world of legal aid, having worked more than three decades advocating on behalf of low-income residents, most recently in New Hampshire. In this episode, Parker talks with host Jordan Rich about MLAC’s role as one of the primary funders of civil legal aid organizations in Massachusetts and why funding for legal aid — the drive behind the Walk to the Hill event — is so vital to low-income Massachusetts residents facing life-changing legal challenges. Listen to the podcast here…

Civil legal aid saves money and is right thing to do

By Justine A. Dunlap
Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC) is seeking $26 million in fiscal year 2020 to provide legal services. Fully funding the MLAC request is more than an issue of justice—it is also a very cost-effective expenditure. Read more…

Hundreds of Lawyers Rally for Increased Civil Legal Aid Funding at Walk to the Hill

Hundreds of lawyers gather at State House to call for more legal assistance funding

Just one day after Governor Baker filed his budget proposal, many attorneys are calling for more legal assistance funding for low-income residents. Read more…

Hundreds of Lawyers Rally for Increased Civil Legal Aid Funding at Walk to the Hill

Equal Justice Coalition chair Louis Tompros addresses the Walk to the Hill participants.

By Gray Christie
Attorneys, law students, and bar association leaders packed the Massachusetts State House Hall of Flags January 24 for the 20th Annual Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid. Led by Chief Justice Ralph Gants of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, more than 650 people assembled at the Equal Justice Coalition’s annual lobby day to advocate for a state budget increase of $5 million for civil legal aid programs in Massachusetts.

“Civil legal aid is not only a moral obligation; it is a sound investment,” said Chief Justice Gants, noting the money invested in legal aid yields savings for the Commonwealth by preventing homelessness, saving medical costs, and recouping federal benefits.

Chief Justice Ralph Gants

Ralph Gants, Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, delivers his remarks at Walk to the Hill

Fred Connelly, a teacher and construction worker from Quincy, told the story of how lawyers with Greater Boston Legal Services helped his family avoid homelessness when they were facing eviction from the home they have lived in for nearly 40 years. Injured and out of work, he couldn’t afford a lawyer to help him keep the house he built himself. Without the help of GBLS, “I know for a fact I would not have my house back today,” he said.

In his budget filed the day before the walk, Gov. Charlie Baker included level funding for civil legal aid programs in Massachusetts – an appropriation of $21 million dollars. While appreciative of the governor’s continued support, Walk to the Hill speakers stressed that more funds are needed to ensure that the civil justice system is accessible to all. Last year, two thirds of eligible applicants for legal aid were turned away.

Fred Connelly

Fred Connelly explains how Greater Boston Legal Services helped him keep his house

Lawyers from nearly 40 law firms and in house-legal departments and more than 30 bar associations gathered for the event, in addition to lawyers and staff from legal aid organizations, and students and faculty from New England Law, Boston University School of Law, Northeastern University School of Law, and two busloads of students from the University of Massachusetts School of Law. Chief Justice Gants urged them: “Ask your legislators if they believe that we as a Commonwealth can succeed when so many are struggling and being left behind … Discuss the families who will need legal help in the coming fiscal year because their lives have been upended by opiate addiction, by the threat of deportation, by eviction, by elder abuse, by wage theft, or by domestic violence.”

Louis Tompros, chair of the Equal Justice Coalition, invoked the Massachusetts justice system’s rich history: “It was here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts that we developed the rule of law, it was here that we recognized its incredible power, and it was here that we recognized that equal access to the legal system—regardless of ability to pay—is a necessary condition to a free and just society … If we are serious about ‘liberty and justice for all,’ it is up to us to make it a reality.”

Lynne Parker, executive director of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, noted that while the economy is improving for some, there is still a serious need for legal assistance: “Increases in housing costs often drive struggling tenants farther from their jobs. A job layoff, a medical emergency, the denial of hard-earned benefits, or the loss of health insurance can often be catastrophic to individuals and families who are already struggling to make ends meet. Access to civil legal aid can make all the difference.”

Lynne Parker

Lynne Parker, executive director of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, speaks at Walk to the Hill

Jonathan Albano, president of the Boston Bar Association (BBA), stressed both the proven economic benefits of investing in legal aid and the current inability to meet the state’s full need. He cited a BBA report which showed that civil legal aid “produces a positive return on investment—in housing cases, in taking on intimate-partner violence, and in securing rightful federal benefits, to name just a few vital areas.” He also stressed that “roughly 45,000 eligible Massachusetts residents are turned away each year. Plus, given recent developments at the federal level, including changes to immigration policies and cuts to antipoverty programs, the need for state legal aid will likely continue to grow.”

President of the Massachusetts Bar Association Christopher Kenney argued that the shortfall in legal aid funding amounts to a crisis: “More than 66 percent of eligible people in Massachusetts are forced to face life-changing legal matters alone, making it less likely they’ll succeed and more likely that they’ll require other state resources and add to the state’s fiscal burden.”

Created in 1999 in a collaboration between the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, the Boston Bar Association, and the Massachusetts Bar Association, the Equal Justice Coalition leads an annual campaign to increase appropriations for legal aid in Massachusetts.

Antihunger groups tell Governor Baker to craft ‘disaster plan’ for emergency food requests amid shutdown

Leading antihunger groups in Massachusetts on Wednesday called for an end to the partial federal government shutdown and urged Governor Charlie Baker to prepare a “disaster plan” for a likely spike in emergency food requests if the stalemate grinds on past February…The statement was put out by the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, Greater Boston Food Bank, Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, Merrimack Valley Food Bank, and Project Bread. Read more in The Boston Globe.