A progressive group that views immigration enforcement agencies as a "threat" to civil liberties secured a $158 million taxpayer-funded contract to help unaccompanied minors avoid deportation, records show.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) awarded the Vera Institute of Justice, a left-wing nonprofit that backs defunding the police, the contract in 2021 to "provide immigration related legal services to unaccompanied minors," according to USASpending, a federal contract database.
"The Vera Institute of Justice is a behemoth progressive nonprofit based out of New York City with well over a $140 million budget, which they use to fund a slate of progressive causes and initiatives across the country," Jason Hopkins, an investigative associate with the Immigration Reform Law Institute, told Fox News. "Whether that be criminal justice reform, bail reform and also immigration."
Hopkins said the institute gets around half of its funding from the federal government. In fact, between July 1, 2019, and June 30, 2020, nearly $137 million of the group's $174 million in revenue came from government grants, the institute's most recent tax forms show.
"The $158 million is just the latest in the hundreds of millions that they provided to Vera for their services," Hopkins said.
The contract, which hasn't been previously reported, began on March 30, 2021, and has a potential end date of March 30, 2022.
Beginning around the start of the contract, HHS rerouted $2 billion intended for health initiatives – including expanded COVID-19 testing – to help deal with the surging border crisis and unaccompanied minors. The department did not respond to a request for comment.
Every year, "thousands of immigrant children are placed into court proceedings in which government prosecutors seek to deport them unless those children can prove they have a right to stay in the United States," a Vera Institute spokesperson told Fox News Digital.
"Many children face these immigration proceedings alone," she continued. "Many children have legal options that establish their ability to remain in the United States (such as refugees, trafficking victims, and survivors of crime and abuse), but these options are nearly impossible to access without the assistance of trained attorneys. Other children require legal assistance to seek to voluntarily repatriate to their countries of origin."
The spokesperson said the contract was awarded to "provide legal orientation services and, in some cases, legal representation, to children in removal proceedings and detention." She said that "a vast majority of federal funding" they receive is subcontracted to legal service providers throughout the country who provide the services in HHS facilities and immigration courts.
The federal government has funded such initiatives since the mid-2000s. The recent contract appears to be the Vera Institute's highest value contract for a single year, according to a review of USASpending records.
Hopkins' group, the Immigration Reform Law Institute, estimated that taxpayers will locally dish out at least $5.6 million in some cities for a deportation legal defense initiative Vera is involved with, Fox News Digital reported Tuesday.
"Vera Institute of Justice has an initiative called Safety and Fairness for Everyone," Hopkins told Fox News on their state-based endeavors. "This began several years ago, and it focuses on providing taxpayer-funded legal representation to aliens – even illegal aliens – that are placed in deportation procedures."
"What they've done is frankly very smart," Hopkins said. "It's sort of a bottom-up approach."
"Instead of being funded by the federal government and kind of trickling down, this is more of a grassroots approach where they're going from city to city, county to county and getting these local city governments to create a deportation fund that's in part funded by taxpayers," he continued.
Hopkins added that immigration and deportation are civil matters and that the government isn't required to provide individuals with a taxpayer-funded attorney. He pointed out that the Vera Institute's website notes that "is committed to ensuring that every person facing deportation receives legal representation regardless of … history with the criminal legal system."
Hopkins told Fox News: "That really opens up the door to—is this an illegal alien who's been charged, convicted of murder, rape and any other heinous crime? Vera is very open that they really don't care about their criminal history."