Austin council set to vote on $200,000 for immigrant legal services

The Austin city council is set to vote on a contract to give $200,000 to a local non-profit for immigrant legal help.

The council approved a resolution in December to look for funding for immigrant legal services. On Thursday, the council could approve a $200,000 contract with the Catholic Charities of Central Texas.

The non-profit gives legal help for immigrant court cases. Spokesperson Justin Estep says they would not represent someone in criminal court.

The non-profit would most likely sub-contract with the American Gateways, another non-profit that specializes in deportation law.

“It’s really important to have an advocate throughout the entire process to make sure nothing goes wrong,” interim director Robert Painter said.

Painter says recently they’ve had a lot more people come in and they can’t see everyone. They have to turn away around 25 people a week. He says that $200,000 would cover those people and let them see 100 more people a month.

“It’s always difficult to look at a case that seems strong on the merits or that would be worth following through on and then having to just say no I can’t right now,” Painter said.

These are people like Hugo, a client who didn’t want to give his last name. He’s from Honduras and recently got a U-Visa because he was a victim of a crime.

“Without it he probably wouldn’t have obtained help,” Hugo said through an interpreter.

Hugo doesn’t speak English and had an attorney interpret for him in the American Gateways office Wednesday.

“He says there’s a lot of people that need help just like he needed help,” the interpreter said.

Some are not happy about Austin spending that amount of taxpayer money on this. Austin council member Ellen Troxclair said in a statement, “Like so many other things that this city spends your money on, this is a completely inappropriate use of taxpayer dollars.”

However, Hugo said it’s important.

“It’s necessary for the work that we do and also certain cases it’s not just an individual it’s a whole family,” Hugo said through the interpreter.

American Gateways, Catholic Charities of Central Texas and council member Greg Casar will hold a press conference at 9 a.m. Thursday to advocate for the contract.