Immigrants being detained in New Jersey and facing deportation hearings will soon begin getting lawyers paid for by the state.

Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration announced Monday it had allocated $2.1 million for that purpose to two organizations: $925,000 each to Legal Services of New Jersey and the American Friends Service Committee and $125,000 each to the law school clinics at Rutgers and Seton Hall universities.

Amol Sinha, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, called the funding a great step forward because it will help people at risk of losing their livelihoods and families.

“The Constitution says that we can’t deprive people of their life or their liberty without due process, yet we do that routinely in the immigration system,” Sinha said.

Sinha says there are a lot of children who are American citizens but whose parents face deportation – meaning they could be separated or have to move a country they’ve never known.

“Anybody that cares about due process or fairness or respect for rights and dignity I think would support this program,” Sinha said.

But the program isn’t without its critics. Senator Kristin Corrado, R-Passaic, said restricting the $2.1 million to immigration matters means it comes at the expense of other low-income residents needing lawyers.

“When Legal Services already turns away many people who are desperate for help due to resource limitations, we shouldn’t limit how new funding can be used,” Corrado said. “We shouldn’t say that deportation cases are more important than supporting victims of domestic abuse or workers who were hurt on the job.”

Melville “Dee” Miller, president of Legal Services of New Jersey, said it’s a fair point to say funding shouldn’t be earmarked but that immigration is an area that is starving for resources.

“The consequence of incarcerating somebody and then moving them to deportation without any representation is a pretty basic affront to due process and the legal system,” Miller said.

Miller said the federal government should at least share the financial burden for such attorneys but doesn’t.

“It becomes kind of inescapably, if New Jersey won’t pay attention to people who are being confined within their borders, who will?” Miller said.

Sinha of the American Civil Liberties Union called the funding “a great start” but says that much more will be needed to help everybody needing assistance.

“We need at least $10 million, maybe $14 million, to be able to provide a program that will be adequately staffed, that will provide for attorneys for every single person that’s facing deportation,” Sinha said.

Assemblyman John DiMaio, R-Warren, said that even at $2.1 million the program is “indefensible and irresponsible.”

“It is a wonder how school funding and property tax relief can take a backseat to defending illegal immigrants,” DiMaio said.

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