City Council Funding of Immigrant Assistance Programs a Great Step Forward for New York
The New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG) applauds the New York City Council for announcing plans to invest significant funds in two new programs that will help immigrants overcome hurdles to obtaining immigration relief. One initiative will allocate $18 million dollars to help young undocumented immigrants meet the education requirements necessary to qualify for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a status adjustment that entitles them to receive temporary work authorization and other benefits. The second round of funds will go to a pilot program that will provide free legal representation for immigrants in deportation proceedings.
“NYLAG commends Speaker Quinn and the City Council for recognizing the needs of the immigrant community in New York City, and taking affirmative steps to address them,” said Yisroel Schulman, NYLAG President and Attorney-in-Charge. “This new funding puts New York City ahead of other municipalities by taking action at the local level to keep families together, help young people pursue education and start careers, and guarantee due process for all people.”
The Council’s $18 million dollar education fund will expand adult education and GED programs in New York City over the next two years, creating an estimated 16,000 additional seats in adult education programs, with priority given to immigrants who might qualify for DACA. In order to qualify, applicants must meet certain age and residency requirements, lack criminal records, and be current students or high school graduates.
There are an estimated 79,000 people who may be eligible to for deferred action in New York City. Unfortunately, while many of them meet the age and residency requirements for DACA, they do not meet the education requirement. According to Mr. Schulman, this requirement has been an insurmountable hurdle for many NYLAG clients seeking DACA status. Many have attempted to enroll in adult education programs in order to qualify for DACA, but have been turned away or placed on long waiting lists because programs are at maximum capacity.
NYLAG has been a pioneer in bringing timely, accurate information about DACA and other programs to immigrant families by conducting informational sessions at local schools and community-based organizations. The agency provides free eligibility screenings, advice and counsel, and direct representation, and has helped hundreds of people apply for DACA since the policy was announced last year.
“This new initiative creates more seats in the classroom for deserving people, especially for older potential DACA applicants who are unable to move ahead with their lives because they are no longer enrolled in school, and lack a high school diploma or GED certificate,” said Schulman. “Our immigration attorneys are extremely excited to start expanding their outreach efforts to help even more of our clients navigate this process effectively and safely.”
The City Council’s second immigration fund will invest $500,000 in the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project, a pilot program to provide representation to noncitizens facing deportation. The project was created in response to the findings of the Study Group on Immigrant Representation, led by Judge Robert A. Katzmann. The study found that an alarming number of immigrants, particularly those in detention, did not have legal representation at the time that their deportation proceedings were completed. Not surprisingly, only 3% of immigrants without legal representation won their cases, as compared to 18% of immigrants with legal representation.
“NYLAG has been a member of Judge Katzmann’s Study Group on Immigrant Representation for over three years, and we fully support efforts to increase representation for immigrants in removal proceedings,” said Mr. Schulman. “While our agency and others handle hundreds of deportation prevention cases each year, the demand for these services greatly outpaces current resources. This pilot program is an important first step in ensuring that due process and equal protection, pillars of our nation’s justice system, are afforded to everyone living in our city.”