A newly-announced “pause” in federal grants to legal aid organizations around the country will end provision of legal rights information to individuals arrested by the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as of April 30.
The Trump administration action would cut off in mid-year a $285,000 United States Department of Justice grant to Legal Services of New Jersey (LSNJ), leaving unfulfilled America’s promise of “equal justice under law” and posing difficulty for Garden State families.
“The Legal Services Corporation tackles the ‘justice gap’ at its most elementary level,” says Lisa McCormick, who is calling on her primary election rival for the Democratic nomination, Senator Bob Menendez, to fix the problem or answer to voters.
“I am disappointed in Senator Menendez for failing DACA recipients by voting to end the Trump Shutdown without addressing the end of a program that protected almost a million Dreamers, but pulling out the rug on the sole organization offering detainees in New Jersey information about their legal rights is just too much,” said McCormick. “With barely any notice, people who may face death or worse if they are sent back to tyrannical regimes could go into a complicated process without the right to an attorney.”
Representatives of the lawyers’ organization expressed serious concerns.
“From our experience at least 85% of those attending our legal rights presentations have been NJ residents,” said Raquiba Huq, chief attorney of LSNJ’s Immigration Representation Project.
“Most have at least one family member in the state.”
“In 2017, 2,996 people were detained and placed into removal proceedings in NJ,” Huq said. “Of these, 40% continued in detention, with the remainder released on bond pending their removal proceeding.’
the federal grant enabled 2,051 detainees to get basic information from LSNJ about their legal and procedural rights within a few days of their detention in 2017.
At any given time there are 1,000 to 1,200 people detained under ICE custody at the Elizabeth Detention Center and at county correctional facilities Essex and Hudson.
“Simple explanation of their legal rights is the most basic element of the fundamental fairness – due process – that should be afforded anyone suddenly arrested and incarcerated in the United States,” said Melville D. Miller, Jr., president of LSNJ.
“These arrests and detentions are all taken under the explicit, sole authority of federal law,” said Miller. “To suddenly tear these people from their families, and then without justification or notice abruptly suspend the very program that offers them some level of guidance and hope, is cruel, unwarranted and an affront to American values.”
“We hope that nationally voices of criticism will lead to an early reversal of this decision,” Miller stated. “In the meantime, LSNJ will seek every means within its power to continue this work and provide the information. In humanity and decency, we can do no less.”