A majority of U.S. undocumented immigrants live in just six states, and New Jersey is one of them, according to the latest data from the Pew Research Center.
That’s why the Medford Friends Meeting decided to host an immigration attorney and activist last week to share information about the state’s population.
“To be honest, we were surprised at our own lack of knowledge of the full scope of this work. As members of one of several Quaker Meetings in South Jersey, we felt there was a need to have the Nicole come and speak to more of us,” said Meeting member Carol Suplee.
On Aug. 4, Nicole Miller, the legal services director for the American Friends Service Committee Immigrant Rights Program, was invited by the Meeting’s Peace and Social Concerns Committee to “help both meeting members and the broader community to bridge an information gap and better understand the scope and depth of issues facing many New Jersey families.”
“So many of us have felt frustrated, angry, and powerless to do anything to address the inhumane treatment of families by our government and its representatives, ” said Linda Matlack, clerk of the Peace and Social Concerns Committee. “Ms. Miller’s deep knowledge and extensive experience will allow us to come away with some ideas and tools to help make a positive impact on this tragic situation.”
As an attorney, Miller leads a large legal team in Newark that provides vital representation to indigent immigrants. She has represented immigrants facing removal before the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service, is a current member of the Working Group on Immigrant Representation seeking increased access to immigration legal services in the state, and is a member of the New Jersey Consortium for Immigrant Children.
The latter group is a collaboration of nonprofits and law schools, with key law firms and corporate partners working to provide free legal representation to unaccompanied children. About 5,000 such children have been sent to New Jersey by the federal government, according to the group.
“We see in the news every day the big immigration policies of this administration, kind of their impact on a national level, but how does that trickle down to New Jersey?” said Miller.
She discussed different state and national agencies that a new immigrant would interact with in both southern and northern New Jersey. One of those is U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and another is U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which is where immigrants apply for such things as a green card. Both of those agencies are located in only two areas of the state – Newark and Mount Laurel Township.
Two of the state’s immigration courts are in northern New Jersey, both near Miller’s office in Newark. Since January 2017, when President Trump issued a number of executive orders involving immigration, Miller has seen a framework that increases the number of people in detention centers, as well as limits people’s ability to achieve legal status.
“Immigration enforcement takes place every day and in all different parts of the state,” said Miller. “There’s been a huge increase in the number of arrests here in New Jersey.”
The state has arrested more than 3,400 people during the 2018 fiscal year, according to a report from ICE. In 2017, there were more than 3,100 arrests. The year before, 2016, totaled 2,200 arrests.
More information can be found on the Meeting’s website, medfordfriendsmeeting.org. For information about ways to help the rights of immigrants, visit AFSC’s website, afsc.org.