State and local governments have set aside at least $5.6 million to pay lawyers for illegal immigrants who are fighting deportation this year, says a report by an immigration reform group.
The report by the Immigration Reform Law Institute was detailed by The Washington Free Beacon on Tuesday. The institute looked at 22 state and local governments partnered with the SAFE Initiative program. According to the Beacon, the program is operated by the nonprofit Vera Institute of Justice, which provides legal help to those noncitizens facing deportation.
Lora Ries, a senior research fellow for Homeland Security at the Heritage Foundation, told the Beacon that the public funding conflicts with the Immigration and Nationality Act, which "states that an alien in removal proceedings has the privilege of being represented by counsel, but at no expense to the government."
"Because removal proceedings are civil, not criminal, there is no constitutional right to a publicly funded attorney in immigration court," Ries said. "U.S. citizens do not receive publicly funded attorneys for civil proceedings so to provide that generous benefit for deportable aliens treats them better than U.S. citizens."
Ries added: "This is a fiscal bottomless pit. American taxpayer funds should instead be used for U.S. citizens and lawful residents."
The institute said questions were raised by the study on whether state and local governments are adequately supervising the legal aid centers.
Meanwhile, a report in November stated less than a third of immigration cases processed during the final three months of that fiscal year resulted in deportation.
Department of Homeland Security officials told The Washington Times that the lower deportation numbers were the result of a push to expand the reach of "prosecutorial discretion" — meaning thousands of migrants were released even though judges did not rule in their favor.
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