Sixty Leading NJ Faith, Community and Advocacy Organizations Send Letter to Gov. Murphy Urging Full Funding for Legal Defense for Detained Immigrants
New Jersey currently provides funding for legal services that serve about one quarter of the detained immigrant population
Newark, NJ, February 7, 2020 – Sixty leading faith, legal and advocacy organizations signed onto a letter urging Governor Murphy to fully fund a universal legal representation program offering free counsel for all low-income immigrants who are detained and facing deportation in New Jersey. Last year, the state legislature included $3.1 million in the FY2020 budget to expand this critical initiative, launched by the Murphy administration in 2018. While a groundbreaking achievement, this funding is just a step toward guaranteeing representation for the more than 2,000 immigrants detained in the state who cannot afford a lawyer. Current funding only provides access to counsel for about a quarter of immigrants who are detained and facing deportation in the state through a consortium of non-profit legal service providers. You can see the letter and signatories here.
The letter calls on Governor Murphy to fully fund legal defense for detained immigrants in New Jersey: “As an alarming number of immigration arrests continue to occur across the state, we call on you to fully fund the universal legal representation program so that every individual who is detained in the state and cannot afford a lawyer during deportation proceedings has access to high quality legal counsel.”
Sophia*, from Jamaica is a long-time New Jersey resident and a survivor of domestic violence. After being recently detained at a New Jersey detention center, Sophia met a free lawyer from American Friends Service Committee through public funding from the State of New Jersey. Because of the legal representation she received, Sophia was able to quickly win release from detention and will be able to apply for a green card, or lawful permanent resident status.
“I am so lucky to have been able to receive lawyer after I was detained. There are so many other people that are in detention who do not have lawyers and cannot afford a private attorney. The law, especially immigration law, is so complicated and its incredibly difficult to go to court by yourself and know how to fight your case,” said Sophia, a formerly detained client of American Friends Service Committee represented through public funding from the state of New Jersey.
“By supporting universal representation, we show the respect that is due to each immigrant and their families within our state. The cost to the state to ensure access to a lawyer and due process for all is a small price to pay when reflected in the many lives that it can help”, said Fr. Timothy Graff, Director, Social Concerns Office, Archdiocese of Newark.
“In the wake of increasing anti-immigrant rhetoric at the national level and in our state, New Jersey must stand firm in its commitment to immigrant communities. Because deportation proceedings can result in family separation and threats to personal safety, legal representation for those who are detained is critical. We must extend the most fundamental of American values – due process and fair treatment – to all people,” said Ami Kachalia, Campaign Strategist, ACLU-NJ.
“It is crucial that our elected officials fund a Universal Representative Program to help immigrants stay together, to have right to appointed counsel, to ensure due process and help support the economy. Many immigrant families of Haitian descent are facing systemic problems and are fleeing for political and economic reasons to the USA for a better life. This initiative will benefit immigrant families seeking protection through our legal system and improve fairness in our immigration system,” said Reverend Jean Maurice, Temple of Unified Christians Brick Church, President, Haitian Pastors Association.
The cost to the state of ensuring legal representation for every immigrant detainee in New Jersey is estimated at $15 million. In New Jersey, immigrants are three times more likely to prevail in their cases and avoid being needlessly separated from their families when they have a lawyer. Detained immigrants are particularly vulnerable when they do not have access to competent legal representation: only 14% of detained immigrants in New Jersey were able to avoid deportation without legal representation.