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As Congress moves forward with immigration reform, we take a look at how this issue connects to culture, business and families in the Northwest.Our region is home to a unique blend of immigrants who work in all parts of our economy — from high-tech to agriculture. This population already has a deeply-rooted history here. And its ranks are expanding rapidly.Proposals for comprehensive immigration reform address border security, employment verification, guest-worker programs and pathway to citizenship for an estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the US.

King County exec proposes legal defense money for immigrants

Immigrants and refugees in King County could soon benefit from more free legal services and education. This week King County Executive Dow Constantine proposed $750,000 in new legal defense funds.

Backers gave a preview of their proposal earlier this week at a Seattle public health center. Some of the money will go to strengthen community groups already working with immigrant and refugee communities. The groups will work as contractors for the county, and help refugees and immigrants with know-your-rights workshops, free legal representation and information on reporting hate crimes.

Northwest Immigrant Rights Project executive Director Jorge Baron says immigrants facing criminal charges will still have to see their cases through court.

Baron: “We have criminal justice system that addresses criminal matters. Everybody in the county is subject to that, so this is not about protection for people from the criminal justice system.”

Instead, King County Executive Dow Constantine says the funding will help people feeling intimidated by their legal status or who want to become citizens.  

Constantine: “There are many, many in our community, who are eligible to get on a path to legal residence or citizenship, but don’t know how or don’t have the resources to move through that process.”

Constantine called the extra funding an emergency action following President Trump’s travel ban and rising fear in immigrant and refugee communities.