As the Federal Government Divides Families, NJ Takes a Step to Ensure Due Process and Family Unity with $2.1 Million in Budget for Legal Defense

July 3, 2018

In response to the passage of the New Jersey FY2019 Budget, which allocates $2.1 million in funding to expanding legal services to individuals who are detained or facing deportation, immigrants' rights leaders, advocates and leading legal service providers issued the following statements:

“As immigrant families are being torn apart at the border and right here in New Jersey, our state is standing up to protect our families and to make sure we don’t have to fight deportation alone. We thank Governor Murphy and the New Jersey State Legislature for this key first step. As an immigrant mother of three daughters, tonight I’ll rest easier knowing that immigrant families like mine will have a fair day in court,” said Olga Armas, member leader of Make the Road New Jersey.

“We applaud Governor Murphy and the State of New Jersey for allocating desperately needed funds to initiate a legal representation program for immigrants facing detention and deportation.  Now more than ever, no one should face the prospect of family separation and deportation without a lawyer by their side to ensure that they are afforded basic due process.  With this significant first step, New Jersey joins with other states in treating our immigrant members with dignity and fairness,” said Lori Nessel, Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Social Justice, Seton Hall University School of Law.

“Deportation separates families and can be a death sentence for refugees fleeing persecution or torture.  In the face of increasingly abusive federal immigration enforcement tactics, New Jersey is taking a groundbreaking first step toward ensuring that no one is forced to defend their life or their family without a lawyer standing beside them,” said Farrin Anello, Senior Immigration Attorney of the ACLU of New Jersey.

“While the funding will not be enough to ensure representation for all of the more than 2,000 immigrants currently detained in New Jersey detention facilities, it is a promising first step towards protecting the due process rights of both long-time New Jersey residents with deep ties to our communities and who have families who would be devastated by their detention and deportation, as well as recently arrived immigrants fleeing violence and persecution in their home countries,” said Nicole Miller, Legal Services Director for the American Friends Service Committee’s Immigrant Rights Program (AFSC) in Newark, NJ. “AFSC has been representing immigrant detainees for over 20 years in New Jersey and we have seen firsthand the significant impact that legal representation has on a detainee’s ability to present their case to an immigration judge. It also ensures that detainees are treated with dignity and respect as they navigate a dehumanizing immigration system that tears families and communities apart.”

“We will continue to advocate on behalf of immigrant detainees and look forward to a day where the state of New Jersey fully funds a universal representation program that provides access to counsel to all immigrants detained in New Jersey and facing deportation,” stated Chia-Chia Wang, AFSC’s Director of Organizing and Advocacy.

“Creating a pilot program for universal representation for detained immigrants will have a positive impact for New Jersey, as deportation not only hurts individuals and families but also local economies,” said Erika Nava of New Jersey Policy Perspective.

The lack of adequate legal representation for immigrants facing deportation in the Garden State has had an alarming impact on immigrant families. Only 1 in 3 detained immigrants has legal representation in deportation proceedings. More than 87.5 percent of immigrants in New Jersey have U.S. citizen children. According to a report by Seton Hall Law School, those lacking legal representation are three times more likely to lose their case and be separated 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.

Over the past several years, 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 has successfully increased detained immigrants’ chances of avoiding deportation and staying united with their families 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.

With the current budget allocation, New Jersey is poised to become the second state in the country to create a pilot publicly funded deportation defense program for detained immigrants.

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