New Jersey should create a publicly-funded program to provide free appointed counsel to low-income immigrants in our state who are detained and facing deportation. Deportation tears apart families, costs NJ taxpayers millions of dollars and devastates our communities. Deportation is one of the harshest consquences an individual can face but because it is a CIVIL case, immigrants do not have the right to appointed counsel. Forcing a child or adult with no legal training to stand alone in court while a trained government lawyer argues the case against them violates the most basic principles of fairness and due process.
A pilot program in NJ, launched in 2015 by AFSC, provides universal legal representation for individuals detained at the Elizabeth Detention Center. The program has reported a 76 percent success rate in cases that have gone to trial. The benefits of a universal representation program reach beyond individuals and families. Deportations can also negatively affect businesses, whose immigrant employees are vulnerable to deportation, and the overall NJ economy, where immigrants contribute an estimated $6.5 billion in state and local taxes.
Currently New York State provides universal legal representation for low-income detained immigrants. NJ must take action to ensure access to justice and to keep NJ families together.