Funding Increase for Immigrants’ Representation Means Keeping More Families Together

July 1, 2019

Advocates heralded a nearly 50 percent funding increase signed by Governor Murphy in the FY2020 budget for a program to provide legal counsel to immigrants detained in New Jersey facing deportation. In 2018, New Jersey became the second state to provide legal representation for detained immigrants facing deportation unable to afford an attorney.

“The growth in this program could not come at a more critical time,” said ACLU-NJ Senior Staff Attorney Farrin Anello. “New Jersey must stand strong against the Trump Administration’s politically-motivated attacks on immigrant communities, and we urge Governor Murphy and the Legislature to continue to work toward the day when everyone in New Jersey has a lawyer standing beside them in immigration court.”

The FY2020 allocation of funding devotes $3.1 million toward this successful program, $1 million more than the FY2019 allocation of $2.1 million. The new funding will provide lawyers to hundreds of immigrants who otherwise would have to go to court alone.

More than 2,000 immigrants are detained and face deportation every year in New Jersey, and without access to appointed counsel, nearly two-thirds of immigrants fight their cases without any representation.

“With this increase in funding for legal representation for detained immigrants, New Jersey continues to rise as a national leader on immigrants’ rights,” said ACLU-NJ Policy Director Sarah Fajardo. “By showing our commitment to equality under the law – despite harmful attacks on our immigrant communities by the current presidential administration – we can continue our march toward a fairer, more just Garden State.”

According to a report by Seton Hall Law School, those lacking legal representation are three times more likely to lose their case, ultimately resulting in separation from their families. Detained immigrants are particularly vulnerable: only 14 percent of detained immigrants in New Jersey were able to avoid deportation without legal representation.

More than a dozen localities across the country and New York State have launched universal legal representation programs – akin to public defender systems – for low-income, detained immigrants. The first such program, the New York Immigrant Family Unity Program, increased detained immigrants’ chances of avoiding deportation by 1100 percent.

Ensuring access to counsel decreases taxpayer dollars spent on detaining immigrants, supports the economy by keeping immigrants in the workforce, and creates a more efficient and just legal system.

The ACLU-NJ worked in partnership with other members of the New Jersey Coalition for Immigration Representation in advocating for the creation and expansion of the program, and will continue working toward full access to representation.

Category: Immigrant Rights

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