New Jersey Moves Toward Universal Representation for All Detained Immigrants

June 29, 2021

The NJ Coalition for Immigrant Representation applauds Governor Murphy and the New Jersey Legislature for approving $8.2 million in the FY2022 budget to expand a publicly funded program that provides access to counsel for indigent immigrants who are detained and facing deportation in New Jersey. Launched in 2018, the state’s Detention and Deportation Defense Initiative (DDDI) has already had a life-saving impact on hundreds detained in the state. The funding – a $2 million increase from the previous year for DDDI – will provide urgently needed legal representation for New Jerseyans who would otherwise fight deportation alone.  

Legal counsel is critical to ensuring due process and a fair day in court as immigrants navigate the complex and dehumanizing system of immigration enforcement. By allowing people who are detained to have a meaningful chance at release and the opportunity to continue fighting their cases from home, access to representation helps shorten detention times, keeps families together, and mitigates the widespread suffering – for those detained and the broader community to which they belong – associated with detention.  

In the first year of the initiative, detained immigrants represented by a state-funded attorney were three times more likely to win release than those who went unrepresented. Without a lawyer, people in immigration detention are significantly less likely to secure their release and return to their families in New Jersey.  

The following advocates and community members offered statements on the funding: 

“This program has saved so many people. Not just the people who are in immigration detention but also their families who rely on them for economic support and wellbeing. I was detained during the pandemic and during this time, we couldn’t communicate with our families or hug our children. The treatment of the people in the immigration detention center was inhumane. Many people don’t have a dollar to pay for legal representation. When I finally received a lawyer from American Friends, she did an excellent job with my case. I am so grateful for the support I received, said Luis (a pseudonym), a formerly detained client who was represented by a state-funded attorney through American Friends Service Committee.  

“As ICE continues to detain and deport people at alarming rates, it’s critical that New Jersey continues to expand the Detention and Deportation Defense Initiative that provides much-needed legal counsel to detained immigrants who are unable to afford a lawyer. The increased funding in this year’s budget will allow this program to grow to serve more detained individuals and their families. We applaud Governor Murphy and the Legislature for their ongoing commitment to this program, and look forward to working with them to ensure that all detained individuals have a right to counsel,” said Ami Kachalia, Campaign Strategist, ACLU-NJ. 

“We applaud the state legislature and Governor Murphy for their ongoing support of the New Jersey immigrant community. New Jersey’s Detention and Deportation Defense Initiative offers free legal representation to detained immigrants, thus ensuring that they have access to due process of law. We are excited to continue to serve the New Jersey immigrant community and help keep families together,” said Lori A Nessel, Professor of Law, Director, Immigrants’ Rights/International Human Rights Clinic, Center for Social Justice, Seton Hall University School of Law. 

“CWS Jersey City is proud of New Jersey’s continued leadership in providing access to representation for detained immigrants. New Jersey has a long history of welcoming immigrants, and this partnership with legal advocates is a bright spot in that history. CWS Jersey City looks forward to another year of welcoming those who receive relief through this program,” said Courtney Madsen, Director – Jersey City Immigration and Refugee Office.  

Just this week, ICE transferred several detained immigrants at the Essex County Correctional Facility to other, as yet unknown facilities, creating a new set of challenges for DDDI to continue representing their clients, and underscoring the need for continued advocacy and commitment to ensuring legal representation for all New Jersey residents regardless of where they are detained. 

Members of the NJ Coalition for Immigrant Representation include American Friends Service Committee Immigrant Rights Program, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, Seton Hall Law School Immigrants’ Rights/International Human Rights Clinic, Rutgers Law School Immigrant Rights Clinic, Make the Road New Jersey, New Jersey Policy Perspective, Unitarian Universalist FaithAction NJ, First Friends of NJ & NY and Church World Service (CWS) Jersey City Immigration and Refugee Office. 

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