Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer wants taxpayers to spend $8 million to cover the legal bills for immigrants seeking asylum in Michigan. The plan is one of several spending priorities for immigrants put forth by Whitmer.

Immigration legal aid groups are applauding Whitmer’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year that includes $8 million to fund legal services they contend are critical for immigrants to apply for and receive asylum, a form of protection from deportation that allows them to apply for Social Security benefits and Medicaid, Capital News Service reports.

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Sabrina Balgamwalla, director of the Asylum and Immigration Law Clinic at Wayne State University, pointed to a backlog of immigration cases that has tripled nationally since 2019, and suggested lawmakers divert funds from border enforcement to address the issue.

“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,” she told the news service. “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.”

The taxpayer-funded legal aid follows a “newcomer” rent subsidy program approved by Democrats last year that provides $500 per month to immigrants seeking asylum. Republicans last week requested an audit of the program, citing several questionable eligibility loopholes.

Republicans noted 97% of all asylum applications are defensive asylum applications in 2023, filed by immigrants who were caught in the country illegally.

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“Gretchen Whitmer’s rent subsidy program makes handouts available to illegal aliens who were caught in the country and then claimed asylum to avoid deportation,” Republican House Leader Matt Hall said. “They could get a year of taxpayer-funded housing – an incentive to stay in the country and in Michigan after making a frivolous asylum claim. Michiganders shouldn’t have their dollars taken to reward those who broke our immigration laws.”

Elizabeth Orozco-Vasquez, who works to support and empower asylum seekers as CEO of Detroit’s Freedom House, told Capital News Service “you’re twice as likely to get asylum if you have some type of representation.”

Data from the Transitional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University shows only one in 10 asylum applicants win protections without an attorney. In Michigan, about 32% of the 22,769 backlogged immigration cases involved an attorney, according to the clearinghouse.

Whitmer’s budget suggests asylum-seekers could play a key role in stemming Michigan’s population decline.

Other spending from her administration includes $700,000 in state grants for ethnic organizations to support refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants root themselves in Michigan communities, the Mining Journal reports.

That money comes from the New Michigander Fund run through the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity, and is funded in part by federal tax dollars. The spending is aimed at making Michigan “the state of choice for many newcomer populations,” according to a news release.

The spending comes as immigration remains the “most important problem” ahead of the November presidential election, with 28% of adults polled by Gallup in February concerned about the issue.

“A separate question in the survey finds a record-high 55% of U.S. adults, up eight points from last year, saying that ‘large numbers of immigrants entering the United States illegally’ is a critical threat to U.S. vital interests,” Gallup reports. “The prior high was 50% in 2004.”

In Michigan, the consequences of illegal immigration have become obvious with multiple murders in Grand Rapids tied to illegal immigrants in just the last year. Others have been accused of soliciting sex from minors in Shiawassee County, sexually assaulting two teen girls in Sturgis, and other crimes so far this year.