N.J. finalizes $2.1M in aid for immigrants, Murphy says

Activists block a street as police officers look on during an immigration protest outside of a detention center, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017, in Elizabeth, N.J. The activists were taken into custody after they refused to clear the street. (Julio Cortez/AP Photo)

Activists block a street as police officers look on during an immigration protest outside of a detention center, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017, in Elizabeth, N.J. The activists were taken into custody after they refused to clear the street. (Julio Cortez/AP Photo)

New Jersey allocated more than $2 million to help immigrants facing deportation, Gov. Phil Murphy said Monday.

The first-year Democrat said in a statement that the $2.1 million grant agreement called for in this year’s budget was finalized Monday.

“Families who came to New Jersey for a better life do not deserve to be torn apart by the federal government’s cruel and discriminatory policies,” Murphy said in a statement.

The idea was unveiled early this year but was finalized as legal groups argue in federal court against the Trump administration’s ban on asylum for anyone who illegally crosses the U.S.-Mexico border.

The agreement calls for $925,000 to go to Legal Services of New Jersey and the American Friends Service Committee. Legal Services is a nonprofit that helps low-income residents. The Friends committee is a Quaker, immigrants-rights organization.

Rutgers and Seton Hall’s law schools will also each get $125,000.

A copy of the agreement was not provided, but Murphy said the money will help provide legal aid to detained, low-income residents facing deportation.

It’s unclear how far the money will go.

The Friends Service Committee estimated that the annual cost of legal representation for immigrants in the state’s detention centers is about $15 million. Immigration and Customs Enforcement holds immigrants at jails in Bergen, Essex and Hudson counties. There is also a facility in Elizabeth.

ICE doesn’t release information on how many immigrants are detained in New Jersey.

Chia-Chia Wang, the director of organizing and advocacy at the American Friends Service Committee estimates that there are roughly 1,200 people detained in New Jersey. The Pew Research Center estimates that New Jersey has about 500,000 immigrants who are in the country illegally.

New Jersey joins other Democrat-controlled states like New York and California that offer legal help to poorer immigrants. Last year, a public-private partnership to help immigrants was announced in New York, whose immigrants are detained at the Bergen and Hudson county facilities in New Jersey.

New Jersey Republicans criticized the expenditure on Monday.

State Sen. Kristen Corrado said she’s concerned about Murphy constraining Legal Services’ ability to help residents, including seniors and veterans, by requiring the organization spend on immigration aid.

“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,” she said.

Assemblyman John DiMaio was more critical, saying that state funds should not be used toward immigrants in the country illegally when school funding is a constant concern.

“The spending choices of this administration are indefensible and irresponsible,” DiMaio said in an emailed statement.

President Donald Trump had issued a proclamation earlier this month to deny asylum to migrants who enter the country illegally as a caravan of Central Americans slowly approached the U.S.-Mexico border.

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