“To our local immigrant community, I want to be clear: Your local leaders do not agree with the actions being taken by our federal government,” Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said today at the City-County Building in downtown Madison. “In Dane County, we welcome you, we respect you, we stand with you and we are here to assist you through these challenging times.”

Dane County officials and the Dane County Immigration Coalition announced at a press conference today a new initiative today to provide legal representation to immigrants facing deportation hearings. Dane County was chosen as one of twelve jurisdictions to be part of the Vera Institute of Justice’s national initiative called the Safety and Fairness for Everyone (SAFE) Cities Network.

“Dane County is one community made up of many. While we are diverse, we are also one. When you pick on one of us, you pick on all of us … and we don’t like bullies,” Parisi said. “Unfortunately, today there are too many bullies masquerading as political messiahs. But we’re not buying what they are selling. This is Dane County and we still hold to the truth that all people are created equal and we still stand by the promise of our nation inscribed on the Statue of Liberty: ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses … yearning to breathe free.’ This is what defines us. This is America. This is how every single one of us who are not Native American got here.”

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi

The Vera Institute of Justice is an independent nonprofit national research and policy organization working with governments to build and improve justice systems that ensure fairness, promote safety, and strengthen communities. They are awarding $100,000 to two area legal service providers: Immigrant Justice Clinic at the UW-Law School and Community Immigration Law Center (CILC). Dane County worked closely with the Immigration Coalition to compete for this national funding. According to a press release from the county, it represents Dane County’s commitment and belief that regardless of whether an immigrant will ultimately stay in the U.S. or leave, the fairest and most efficient way to uphold due process is to ensure legal representation for those whose future may well depend on it.

“Earlier this year, I proposed the creation of a County Immigration Specialist along with seed money for a legal assistance fund in order to serve our immigrant community in the face of increasing hostility from the federal government,” Parisi said. “I’m grateful to the county board of supervisors for approving this request and for further increasing funding to this legal fund.

“These actions demonstrate a unity of purpose between myself and the board of supervisors. This was also a statement of support from our greater community to our immigrant neighborhoods. We are setting a clear message that we care about our immigrant community and stand with them not only in word, but in deed,” Parisi added. “Especially, as they endure unprecedented hostility from our federal officials.”

Centro Hispano Executive Director Karen Menendez Coller

Karen Menendez Coller, executive director of Centro Hispano, said that the mission of Centro is to empower youth, strengthen families and engage community. “When that mission is threatened, we take that threat very seriously,” she said. “Since last fall’s election, we’ve started to organize ourselves to collaborate community groups to provide the utmost protection for our families. That includes church allies who are seeking to help in any way they can, crisis response teams made up of community members that are willing and able to be present whenever is needed.

“Most important today and always will be making sure that our families are protected and that our kids will be able to have a life that really values them as human beings,” Menendez Coller added. “We are here today to say that we are going to stand with our immigrant community when it comes to their legal needs.”

Earlier this year, Parisi proposed the creation of an Immigrant Assistance Fund and the County Board of Supervisors embraced and augmented funding for this proposal, including reaching out to the Vera Institute for their support and expertise. The purpose of the Dane County Immigrant Assistance Fund, which is managed by the Madison Community Foundation, is to assist immigrants with the many emergency issues they’re currently facing, including, but not limited to, legal assistance, help with gaining citizenship, refugee-related issues, abuse and exploitation.

Dane County Board Chair Sharon Corrigan

The Vera Institute is also providing the Dane County Immigration Coalition and independent legal service providers with technical assistance and support, including providing information on best legal practices, opportunities to share best practices with other jurisdictions, and data collection and research support, with an eye toward evaluation.

“The president’s orders have really disrupted our communities and disrupted our workplaces and families and schools in this county. It’s wonderful to be able to have this grant,” said County Board Chair Sharon Corrigan. “By working together and identifying problems that make residents in our community vulnerable and trying to make sure that residents in our community are successful … that’s what this fund does. The Vera Institute grant provides us with funds to help with deportation defense. The fund itself that was created at the Madison Community Foundation will provide additional services. Folks in the community are welcome to contribute to that to help our neighbors be successful in the community.”

Community members can donate to that fund here.