CBS Reports: “Groups that were helping the most, were hurt the most.”

Millionares, movie stars, and prestigious universities weren’t the only ones affected by the Berni Madoff $50 billion Ponzi investment scandal.  Dozens of public interest organizations have been hit by the disastrous collapse of Madoff’s scheme, including the Heartland Alliance, which runs the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) and lost one-third of its funding.

NIJC received a $720,000 grant this year from the JEHT foundation, a New York organization that funded groups working to reform the criminal justice system. However, the Madoff scandal has forced the JEHT foundation to halt all grant making-leaving NIJC without two thirds of the money it was banking on.

The Chicago-based group advocates for the legal right of non-citizens and is currently in the middle of a six-year project to reform how immigrants in detention are treated.

Mary Meg McCarthy, the group’s director said:

“We’ve made a lot of progress in that we’ve raised awareness regarding the treatment of immigrants in detention, including a number of deaths and the fact that they are not given access to lawyers, even though the Constitution states that prisoners should get them…We’ve made some inroads, but a lot more work needs to be done.”

In response to the recent news, McCarthy replied:

I think it’s going to be a challenge in the next couple of months. I think we’re going to have to mobilize our sources to make up for this gap.

Other hard-hit public interest groups funded by JEHT include the ACLU, which received a $680,000 grant; Brandeis University’s International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life, which received $600,000; the Center for International Environmental Law, which received $600,000.

As more and more reports come out documenting the poor conditions faced by immigrants in detention, the need for greater regulation and enforcement of detention standards and basic civil liberties is more important than ever.  One can only hope that the work of NIJC can be sustained-not only for the sake of all those suffering in detention, but also for the preservation of our nation’s basic principles of humane treatment, fairness, due process, and the ability and freedom to have a voice in our judicial system.