Politics

Taxpayers Paying Illegal-Immigrant Legal Fees

U.S. Border Patrol agent Carlos Rivera guides migrants to be processed after they attempted to cross the border from Mexico into Sunland Park, N.M., September 17, 2021. (Paul Ratje/Reuters)

U.S. taxpayers in cities nationwide will pay an estimated $5.6 million towards illegal immigrants’ legal defense against deportation this year, according to a report released Tuesday by the Immigration Reform Law Institute.

The right-leaning nonprofit found that “deportation defense” programs relied on public funding in 50 jurisdictions, 22 of which worked with the left-leaning Vera Institute of Justice.

IRLI compiled data from those 22 state and local governments and estimated that taxpayers will foot a $5.6 million bill in 2022 for the programs, which include any initiatives that offer representation and/or other legal services to a non-citizen facing deportation proceedings, typically at reduced or no cost to the defendant, according to the report. 

Illegal immigrants and other non-citizens facing deportation orders do not have a right to legal representation under U.S. law because immigration law is a civil matter, not a criminal one.

Dale L. Wilcox, executive director and general counsel at IRLI, said the programs are “an insult to every law-abiding American citizen and legal resident.” 

“Our laws clearly state that non-citizens charged with civil offenses do not have a right to legal representation,” Wilcox said in a statement. “Yet we have radical anti-borders groups starting these programs and sticking unknowing citizens with the bill. It’s outrageous.”

The Vera Institute of Justice, a progressive non-profit based in New York City, has served as the “main catalyst” for the proliferation of the programs, the report says. Vera provides one-time grants to localities to kickstart the programs with the aim of making these programs permanent. Taxpayers are then often forced to pick up the tab.

Philadelphia mayor Jim Kenney announced the creation of the city’s program, the Pennsylvania Immigrant Family Unity Project (PAIFUP), in 2019. It launched with $100,000 from city taxpayers and another $200,000 from Vera and the Samuel S. Fels Fund.

IRLI found that officials in Philadelphia “admitted that they administered no oversight over its deportation defense program, despite funding it with hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars.” While the program was almost cut in 2020 as Covid-19 put financial strain on government budgets, the city’s leaders ultimately decided to not only continue the program, but to double taxpayer committment to $200,000 for the next fiscal year, the report says.

Meanwhile, the program has “no eligibility criteria other than income and a lack of private counsel” and does not “exclude individuals based on prior criminal convictions, residency, or any other reason,” PAIFUP’s website says.

Meanwhile, Vera has set a goal of universal representation for individuals in immigration court.

The organization told Fox News that providing legal representation to immigrants is “widely supported and in line with our most fundamental shared American values.” 

“No one should appear in immigration court without a lawyer, especially when the consequences include possible deportation and separation from one’s family and community,” the statement added. “It’s the government’s responsibility to protect the fundamental rights, health, and security of everyone in our communities, including immigrants who are targeted by our expanding federal enforcement system.”

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