For Immediate Release: Tuesday, September 29th, 2020
Contact: Eva Chaitman, American Friends Service Committee, (973) 854 - 0260
Paloma Aguas, ACLU-NJ, (973) 854-1702
The NJ Coalition for Immigrant Representation (NJ CIR)* applauds Governor Murphy and the New Jersey Legislature for approving $6.2 million in the FY2021 budget to expand a publicly funded program providing access to counsel for indigent immigrants detained and facing deportation in New Jersey. This funding — a $3.1 million increase from last year for the state’s Detention and Deportation Defense Initiative (DDDI) — will provide urgently needed legal representation for hundreds of individuals in New Jersey who would otherwise fight deportation alone. Providing access to counsel for low-income immigrant detainees is particularly crucial as New Jersey fights the pandemic and will save lives both in and out of detention by securing the safety of those who are most at risk of contracting COVID-19 in deadly immigration detention centers. The following advocates and legal service providers issued statements on the release:
“We are thrilled to see New Jersey’s ongoing commitment to our immigrant community. We applaud the Governor and Legislature for standing by, and increasing, their commitment to ensuring that immigrants have access to pro bono counsel when facing deportation and family separation,” said Lori A Nessel, Professor of Law, Director, Immigrants’ Rights/International Human Rights Clinic, Center for Social Justice, Seton Hall University School of Law.
“At a time when immigration detention can literally be a matter of life or death due to COVID-19 outbreaks, providing legal representation to people detained by ICE is vital to public health and human and constitutional rights. The expansion of the Detention and Deportation Defense Initiative, a critical program that extends access to counsel to low-income people detained in our immigration detention centers, will double the capacity of the program to save lives and keep families together. We thank the Governor and the Legislature for this lifesaving investment, which is a much-needed step towards providing universal representation and due process to those in need,” said Amol Sinha, Executive Director, ACLU-NJ.
“We have seen countless examples of how far we have to go until there is truly justice for all in the US. CWS Jersey City applauds the steps taken towards due process for all in New Jersey by supporting representation for those in immigration detention,” said Courtney Madsen, Director, Church World Service Jersey City Immigration and Refugee Office.
“We are thrilled to hear that the state of New Jersey is demonstrating not only a continued commitment to the well-being of immigrants but, indeed, a heightened commitment. This increase in funding will allow us to double the number of immigrants we serve and is another important step in making sure that no detained immigrant goes without representation or without the due process that such representation ensures. We are honored to be a part of this crucial project,” said Anju Gupta, Professor of Law and Director of the Immigrant Rights Clinic at Rutgers Law School in Newark, NJ.
“I was detained in February at Essex County Correctional Facility. I thought that I was going to be deported because I couldn’t afford a lawyer. It’s very difficult to fight your case alone. During the pandemic, new people continued to arrive in the detention center and we didn’t know who was sick. We had to use the same bathrooms and sometimes we didn’t even have soap. I have two young children who live with me in New Jersey. Because of the support I received from an attorney at American Friends Service Committee I was able to leave detention and return to my family. I hope to now build a better future for my children,” said Ronaldo, a formerly detained client of American Friends Service Committee represented through public funding of the State of New Jersey.
"When observers look back at this time in New Jersey and America's history and to our various responses to immigration and immigrants, it will judge the Trump administration's mass detentions and deportations with disbelief and disgust. It is our firm religious and spiritual conviction that, thanks to actions like continued and increased funding for universal legal representation, New Jersey's legislature and immigration advocates will be counted among the righteous during these exceedingly troubled and dangerous times," said Rev. Rob Gregson, Exec. Director, Unitarian Universalist FaithAction NJ.
Only the second such state-level program nationwide, DDDI has already made a significant impact in lives of immigrants in New Jersey, helping long-time residents reunite with U.S. citizen children, partners and other family members and asylum seekers and others attain protection from violence or persecution in another country. Amid the ongoing public health crisis, immigration enforcement has continued putting all New Jerseyans at heightened risk. As COVID-19 has spread rapidly in detention centers, jails, and across New Jersey, DDDI has ensured that attorneys are able to fight for the release of their clients before they fall ill or die. Detained immigrants represented by DDDI-funded attorneys are three times more likely to win release than those without an attorney.
In light of the ongoing threats to New Jersey’s immigrant families from the federal government, the need for access to counsel for immigrants who are detained while facing deportation is all the more critical at this moment. Providing legal representation for detained immigrants also intersects with ongoing struggles for racial justice in New Jersey and across the country. Recent research finds that, as with the criminal legal system, the immigration system is marked by systematic discrimination against immigrants of color. Thus, DDDI helps keep together families and communities who are criminalized and targeted by over-policing and increased immigration enforcement.
DDDI ensures due process and fairness to individuals who would otherwise be forced to navigate complex court proceedings alone. By creating the DDDI, New Jersey has played a leading role in the broader movement for universal representation - the idea that counsel should be appointed for all detained immigrants who cannot afford a lawyer as a matter of due process. NJ CIR has estimated a $15 million cost to fully fund a statewide program that provides appointed counsel to all low-income immigrants who are detained and face deportation in New Jersey.
*Members of the emerging 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.