TRENTON — Gov. Phil Murphy’s budget plan disappoints immigration activists who want people to be provided coronavirus aid even if they’re not legal residents. But it does include another $2 million increase in funding for legal services for unauthorized immigrants facing deportation.

Murphy introduced the program in his first year in office and has gradually increased its budget. The current state budget provides $6.2 million in funding, and he proposes bringing that to $8.2 million.

“Over the last three years, this program has provided representation to hundreds of people detained in New Jersey,” said Ami Kachalia, campaign strategist for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey.

“Data from a recent report on the first year of implementation shows that detained individuals represented by these attorneys are almost three times more likely to be released from immigration detention as compared to detained immigrants without legal representation,” she said.

“This program gives hope not only to individuals it serves but also to their spouses and their children, often U.S. citizens who are struggling to cope with family separation,” Kachalia said, at a public hearing held by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.

In the program’s first year, 39% of individuals represented by one legal-services provider who were released from detention were able to reunite with immediate family inside the United States, Kachalia said.

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Kachalia urged lawmakers to commit to full funding for the program, which she said would cost approximately $15 million a year. She said that based on typical detention rates, the funding in the proposed 2022 budget would provide lawyers to around 55% of immigrants facing deportation.

“Despite a change in leadership at the federal level, countless individuals continue to be detained and deported in New Jersey and around the country, tearing apart families and continuing to instill fear in immigrant communities,” Kachalia said.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at

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