The District of Columbia is doling out $500,000 in special grants to 10 area organizations looking to offer legal help to illegal immigrants, including an $84,000 grant to a city charter school that caters to immigrants.
“Our students have been coming to us, and many of our students are really fearful of what’s happening on the national level as far as immigration policies, and so this was a way of being able to help our students know what their rights are, and to provide direct services to our families,” Christie McCay, executive director of the Briya Public Charter School, told WAMU.
“If our families are feeling like it’s not safe to come out of their homes,” she added, “they won’t be able to come to school.”
The school’s student services coordinator, Raquel Farah-Robison, said the grant will allow school officials to expand on what they’re already doing. In just the last month, Briya hosted 250 families for three “Know Your Rights” information fairs and connected dozens with a local immigration attorney for detailed advice.
“In recent months there’s really been an increase in the requests from families for immigration services. We continued to refer them to our partners, but when we saw the grant, we thought it might be an opportunity to bring services in-house,” she said. “That way folks aren’t having to go to a new place, speak to someone they don’t know, maybe they have to pay fees. We thought we would go out on a limb, take a chance on this grant.”
The grants are part of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s quest to defy President Trump’s crackdown on illegal immigration and maintain the city’s “sanctuary” status in the face of threatened federal budget cuts.
“This is certainly an effort to address what we have seen as anxiety and fear among D.C. residents and we want them to have the tools that they need to feel safe in D.C.,” Bowser told Fox 5 when she announced the grant program in January.
A press release from her office stated the Immigrant Justice Legal Services grants are designed to funnel funding to groups that help those in D.C. with green cards to gain citizenship, renew application to President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, conduct “Know Your Rights” seminars, and represent illegals in deportation or child custody proceedings.
The grants also fund work to file lawsuits challenging DACA denials, file applications for special visas, and to reconnect families of illegal immigrants living in D.C., according to Fox 5.
Most of the 600 Briya charter school students at the school’s four campuses in the city are immigrants, and about 80 percent are from Latin America, though it’s unclear how many are living in the country illegally.
“In January, the Republican-led House Oversight Committee launched an investigation into the program, saying that it might violate a federal law that prohibits the use of federal government resources in providing representation to people involved in immigration proceedings,” WAMU reports. “City officials have turned over documents about the program to the committee, but have not heard anything further on the investigation.”
Briya was the only school to receive a grant through the mayor’s program, though students at Mt. Pleasant’s Bancroft Elementary are also eligible to receive legal help through the program, according to the news site.