Passed resolutions increase funding from $750,000 to $900,000 per year for legal services to undocumented detainees in Essex County Correctional Facility

(Newark, NJ) – On July 9, 2020, the Essex County Freeholder Board approved resolutions to increase funding for legal services to undocumented detainees currently held in the Essex County Correctional Facility (ECCF). Although the detainees are housed in the ECCF, they are in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Last year, through Freeholder President Brendan Gill’s advocacy, Essex County committed to providing $750,000 per year to three legal service organizations for the provision of legal services to the detainees. This year, the grant will increase from $750,000 to $900,000.

The three organizations providing legal services, the Center for Social Justice at Seton Hall University School of Law, Legal Services of New Jersey and Rutgers University Law School, will remain the same. They will provide counsel and services to detainees who seek various forms of relief, including securing bond, cancellation of removal, asylum, withholding, and Convention Against Torture Claims. The three organizations have long standing commitments to immigration justice and detainees at the Essex County Correctional Facility. As part of the grant agreement, Counsel to the detainees shall report aggregate data consisting of the numbers of clients accepted and rejected, the outcomes for clients accepted, and the principal categories of defense.

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The access to legal representation is something that is often taken for granted. It is important to note that incarcerated undocumented detainees in deportation proceedings are not provided a court appointed attorney if they cannot afford one. Immigration detention is considered civil, not criminal, and the due process protections that exist in criminal court, including the right to counsel for indigent defendants, do not apply in civil immigration proceedings. For this reason, the increase in funding to the undocumented detainees is a vital and necessary measure for the detainees, their families, and advocates to their cause.

With one year of experience working with this process, and an additional $150,000 of funding, each organization feels positive that improvements will be made in the services they provide. Raquiba Huq of Legal Services of New Jersey stated, “We have been able to give very thorough and extensive legal advice to the (ECCF) detainees. There is always more work to be done, that’s why we really appreciate the increase (in funding) and the commitment and dedication from the county in allowing us to do this.”

Freeholder President Gill was pleased with the increase in funding, while also acknowledging the need to continue working towards universal legal representation for all undocumented ICE detainees in Essex County. “While we have a contract with ICE in place, there is no question in my mind that we should be spending the money from that contract to make sure we provide universal representation to the detainees who need it.” He continued, “We have not reached this goal yet, but to place this initiative in the proper context it must be noted that Essex County provided $750,000 for legal services to ICE detainees last year, while the entire state of New Jersey provided 2.1 million dollars. This year, we have increased our funding to $900,000, which shows a substantial commitment to provide detainees with legal assistance.”