Colaj v. Roberts, et al.

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 challenged New York’s then-existing policy of denying these applicants basic, subsistence benefits, called Safety Net Assistance, when such benefits are regularly granted to similar categories of immigrants.      The complaint alleged that these denials violated state and federal law, including the U.S. Constitution.  The case named as defendants the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (“OTDA”), which administers the Safety Net Assistance program through local agencies, and the New York City Human Resources Administration (“HRA”), the local agency in New York City.


In November 2017, following NYLAG’s lawsuit, New York formally changed its policy to provide that asylum applicants with work authorization should be considered  “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—and thus eligible to receive Safety Net Assistance.  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.


Although it changed its policy to provide Safety Net Assistance to asylum applicants with work authorization going forward, New York has not provided back benefits to those wrongfully denied in the past.  In addition, implementation of the new policy has been highly inconsistent. NYLAG has sought leave to file an amended complaint, leave to file an intervenor complaint on behalf of an asylum applicant denied Safety Net Assistance both before and after the new policy was put in place, and a motion for class certification.  OTDA has moved to dismiss the action. These motions are currently pending.



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