With New Immigration Experts and a Legal Defense Fund, St. Paul and Ramsey County Aim to Serve Vulnerable Residents

With the goal of helping the east metro’s growing immigrant populations in a changing legal environment, St. Paul and Ramsey County are taking a two-fold approach toward immigrant services.

They have received a matching grant for a new $250,000 legal defense fund, which will soon be used to hire a private law firm to support defendants in immigration cases.

And the city and county have each hired an immigration expert to work in-house and assist their legal offices.

Both strategies stake new ground for St. Paul — where one in five residents is foreign-born — and Ramsey County, which have never before waded so deeply into the flashpoint issue of immigration. Among other responsibilities, the experts will provide guidance to policymakers on how city and county services — including prosecution — might impact some of the region’s most vulnerable residents.

Edmundo Lijo, an immigration attorney who once served as a prosecutor in the border community of El Paso, Texas, will join the St. Paul City Attorney’s office June 3.

Lijo’s role is still being defined, but he’ll likely advise city departments, as well as the 47 assistant city attorneys in the office, on how their work impacts immigrants.

That means, in part, informing city prosecutors about “collateral consequences” of prosecution, such as deportation, City Attorney Lyndsey Olson said in an interview Friday.

“He is not representing private clients,” Olson said. “He will be assisting prosecutors in advising on collateral consequences for folks facing criminal prosecution … and how we can as a city better serve immigrant populations. For instance, wage theft. They’re vulnerable to being taken advantage of through employment, and they’re at higher risk for crime, because people know that if they’re in certain immigration statuses, they might not report (crimes against them to authorities).”

By Frederick Melo for TWEIN CITIES

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