County Council Approves Funds for Immigrant Legal Services

County Council Approves Funds for Immigrant Legal Services

Also took initial vote on proposal to speed up development review process for Amazon or another large company

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The Montgomery County Council on Tuesday unanimously approved dedicating $370,000 in county funds to pay for legal representation for low-income immigrants in the county who face civil deportation proceedings.

The vote came after the council’s initial plan to direct the money to the nonprofit Capital Area Immigrant Rights’ Coalition fell through Monday when the coalition withdrew its request for about $374,000 in county funds to represent detained immigrants. The nonprofit cited the lengthy list of exclusionary criminal convictions added by the county to the appropriation as the reason why it no longer wanted the money. Advocates said the list would prevent the coalition from adequately representing detained immigrants who may have a criminal record in civil immigration proceedings.

On Tuesday, council member Nancy Navarro issued a motion approved by the council that will enable any group providing legal representation to immigrants who live in the county and who are facing deportation to apply for the funding.

“The council understands that more public and private resources are needed to provide legal representation as immigration law is complex and the immigration court system is not an independent branch of government,” Navarro said. “These services are needed both for people who are detained as well as those who have not been detained.”

The council voted to maintain the recently expanded version of criminal convictions that would exclude an immigrant found guilty of such crimes from receiving county-funded legal aid. The exclusionary crimes range from murder and rape to fraud and burglary.

The proposal to provide money for immigrants’ legal aid pitted some residents against immigration advocates and other supporters. During a public hearing earlier this month, some residents said the county shouldn’t be providing funding to people who may have broken federal immigration law. Meanwhile, the advocates said providing the money is a way to stand up to federal immigration policies that they believe are breaking up families who have lived peacefully in the community for years.

Linda McMillan, a council legislative analyst, said in an email the funding will be appropriated to the Department of Health and Human Services, which will determine how to contract organizations to provide the legal aid.

Council also approves Amazon-related development policy change

The council on Tuesday also gave its initial approval to the proposed changed in county zoning rules that would allow speedier approval for a “signature business headquarters” development. The regulation cuts the county’s development approval process from 120 days to 60 days or fewer—but only for companies that plan to employ a large workforce near a Metro stop.

The council voted to reduce the number of employees from 25,000 to 20,000 that a company would be required to employ at the new site in order to qualify for the expedited process.

The change was first proposed by County Executive Ike Leggett in early April as a way to make the process more efficient in case a major employer—such as Amazon—chooses to locate in the county. The county is among 20 places shortlisted for Amazon’s second headquarters project, which could bring 50,000 workers to the location Amazon chooses, according to the company. Amazon is expected to name its choice later this year.

The zoning rules change would also enable a company to submit for approval one overall plan rather than a site and sketch plan as well as to build taller buildings than allowed under current zoning. Under the policy, the height of a proposed building could be increased by up to 100 feet if it’s in a zone where buildings can be taller than 150 feet, although the height couldn’t exceed 300 feet. The county’s Planning Board approved the policy change earlier this month.

The council is scheduled to formally adopt the change at its meeting Thursday.

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