Legal aid groups welcome proposed funding

LANSING – The Whitmer administration proposes spending $8 million in the upcoming fiscal year to fund legal services that could be lifesaving for immigrants seeking asylum.

The money would help pay for attorneys to represent them in immigration proceedings.

Asylum is a legal form of protection that allows immigrants to live in the United States if they fear persecution in their home country, according to the UN Refugee Agency.

That protection gives asylum-seekers a set of rights that other non-citizens are ineligible for, such as the ability to work and apply for social security and Medicaid.

In addition, they can request asylum for some immediate relatives.

The proposed budget would provide more money for nonprofit legal services directly impacting them.

Without a lawyer, statistically only one out of 10 applicants wins an immigration case, according to Transitional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University. In Michigan, only 32% of all immigration cases had legal representation as of December 2023.

“You’re twice as likely to get asylum if you have some type of representation,” said the chief executive officer at Freedom House in Detroit, Elizabeth Orozco-Vasquez.

“I get calls every day from people who need legal help, who have called every nonprofit in the state. I have to turn them away because our docket is full,” said Sabrina Balgamwalla, the director of the Asylum and Immigration Law Clinic at Wayne State University.

Since 2019, the number of backlogged immigration cases has tripled nationally, according to the clearinghouse. That means an increased need for representation, advocates say.

“These surges and backlogs could be better managed if we were willing to reconsider the huge number of resources poured into border enforcement. We could explore other policy solutions instead,” said Balgamwalla.

Applicants who are denied asylum can be put in removal proceedings that could ultimately deport them back to their home country.

“If someone is sent back, many times it means certain death for them. Some people who seek shelter at Freedom House are still receiving death threats from either their governments or opposing (political) parties,” said Orozco-Vasquez.

She said many of the residents at Freedom House’s shelter who won asylum expressed gratitude for the safety provided by the U.S.

“For the employers in our community, it’s a great boost,” said Orozco-Vasquez.

The proposed budget acknowledges that asylum-seekers can help grow Michigan’s population, which is a key factor in boosting the economy and shared prosperity across the state.


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