452243/2017 (New York Supreme Court)

In August 2017, the Special Litigation Unit filed Colaj v. Roberts, et al. on behalf of asylum applicants with work authorization who have been denied Safety Net Assistance solely because of their immigration status.  The suit challenges the constitutional and statutory basis for denying these applicants basic, subsistence benefits when they are regularly granted to similar categories of immigrants.

Safety Net Assistance is a state program that provides cash and non-cash benefits to needy New Yorkers who do not qualify for federal benefit programs; without this assistance, many recipients would go without shelter, food, and basic utilities.  To qualify for the program, applicants must establish that they have a permanent legal immigration status, or that they are permanently residing under color of law (PRUCOL) – meaning that immigration authorities are aware of their presence in the country and are not attempting to remove them.  The New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) administers the Safety Net Assistance program through local agencies, including the New York City Human Resources Administration (HRA).  Neither OTDA nor HRA considers asylum applicants with work authorization to be PRUCOL, even though the federal government explicitly permits asylum applicants to remain in the country and work lawfully while they await their asylum hearings.  The case alleges that these denials violate state and federal law.

NYLAG Attorneys: Jane Greengold Stevens, Danielle Tarantolo, Elizabeth Jois, and Abby Biberman

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