The budget Gov. Phil Murphy signed this weekend includes $3.1 million for immigrants fighting deportation — a boost of more than $1 million from the last budget.

But it still falls far short of the $15 million advocates told Murphy earlier this year they need to cover all of the more than 2,000 low-income detainees in the state.

Murphy had initially proposed maintaining a $2.1 million fund for legal assistance to immigrants facing deportation, as well as authorizing an additional $1 million for Legal Services of New Jersey, the group through which the original $2.1 million was distributed. Those extra funds could potentially have been used for assistance to immigrants facing deportation as well.

A budget sent to Murphy by the state legislature lumped all those funds together for legal assistance.

“While we are very grateful of that really great first step to expand representation to immigrants in New Jersey, the reality is that in this climate, the $2.1 million  is simply just not enough to meet the needs and demands for representation, especially under the Trump administration and its attacks on immigrants,”  Laura Rodriguez, a senior detention attorney for the American Friends Service Committee, testified in March.

Pina Cirillo, a staff attorney at the Rutgers Law School Immigrant Rights Clinic, said at the time more funding is needed because there isn’t a right to appointed counsel in deportation proceedings, like there is in criminal court.

“Often described as death sentence penalties at a traffic court pace, immigration court doesn’t extend the same due process rights to immigrants that are detained and deprived of their liberty,” said Cirillo, who called the state funding a “much-needed step towards building a due-process army to defend the rights of our state’s immigrant population.”

A 2016 report by Seton Hall Law School found that 14 percent of detainees who didn’t have lawyers avoided deportation, while those with attorneys were granted asylum in nearly half of cases. In 2015, roughly two-thirds of detained immigrants didn’t have lawyers.

In a statement issued after Murphy signed the legislature's budget Sunday — cutting some funding and holding back some more for now —Republican state Sen. Steve Oroho and Assemblymen Parker Space and Hal Wirths said Murphy's administration "does not have its priorities straight."

“Our towns are going to see property taxes increase as a result of this budget and the cuts to school aid while taxpayer dollars are being funneled to groups to help illegal immigrants who are already receiving preferential treatment," they said. "Time and time again, our taxpayers have been asked to pay more out of their own pockets to fund Governor Murphy’s liberal agenda.”

 

— With previous reporting by Michael Symons

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