Report critical of uneven legal aid for undocumented Caribbean immigrants in NYSunday, February 25, 2018
NEW YORK, United States (CMC) — Three major groups in New York have criticised what they described as “uneven legal assistance” for Caribbean and other immigrants in New York.
A report entitled “NO SAFE HARBOR: Challenges in Obtaining Immigration Legal Services in New York State,” published on Thursday by the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC), The Legal Aid Society and The Immigrant Advocates Response Collaborative (I-ARC), says that, in addition to a lack of resources to help more people, “there are serious systemic problems preventing immigrant New Yorkers from protecting their legal rights.”
The report states that, upon consulting organizations serving undocumented people, it is worrisome to find that the city of New York’s investment in legal services does not actually cover people who have committed serious crimes, leaving them to fend for themselves and denying them due process in an immigration court, according to the publication Voices of NY.
“While the amount of money invested by the city – US$48 million – is historic, legal services providers who receive municipal funding are required to comply with a new and troublesome disposition that forbids them from helping clients who have been convicted of a list of 170 crimes, an exclusion that seriously limits the provider’s capabilities,” the report says.
On top of the US$47.5 billion assigned by the city, the state added $16,388,100. But activists have expressed concern about whether Albany is willing to renew the investment for fiscal year 2019, Voices said.
The report says that both the state and the city doubled their investments this year. In 2017, the City Council and the de Blasio administration assigned US$27.2 billion, and Governor Andrew Cuomo and Albany, the capitol, disbursed US$7,138,100.
Steven Choi, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, said that legal services providers are the first line of defense against President Donald Trump’s “brutal attacks,” stressing that the criminal justice system and the immigration system must remain separate.
“Excluding [some people] is capitulating to the same attempts to criminalize immigrants merely for existing, and it threatens them with an unfair life sentence of deportation,” Choi said.
Sarah Gillman, an attorney with The Legal Aid Society, said that another issue limiting the access immigrants have to legal services is the red tape delaying the allocation of resources.
The report reveals that 28 per cent of the funds meant to offer free lawyers during fiscal year 2018 are yet to be released, and adds that the city needs more transparency regarding the way the money is being distributed.
“We need to review that to improve the service and the access immigrants have to legal assistance,” said the attorney, adding that the city has yet to reveal specifically how many immigrants and what type of cases have benefited from these programs.
The report also says that, at the state level, coverage for undocumented people is an even bigger cause of concern, as 79 per cent of all funding is destined to paying for citizenship services.
Of the 158 immigration-related legal services providers in New York state, 121 (75 per cent) are in the city, while a number of areas in the north have very few or no providers, according to Voices.
A spokesperson for Cuomo’s office said in a statement that the governor’s record “clearly demonstrates his commitment to guarantee ample protections for all immigrants in New York.
The spokesperson also said that NYIC received a major grant from the 2018 state budget to provide legal services in currently underserved areas.
“Unfortunately, due to administrative delays on the part of the organization, they still have not started to offer all the immigration services they are expected to provide,” he said. “We encourage the NYIC to participate of the process in an appropriate manner, the way others have, to allow us to continue with this most important work.”
The Bill de Blasio administration in New York City said it remains committed to further aiding Caribbean and other immigrants, saying that proof of this is the US$16.4 million added to the budget to pay for free lawyers to benefit an additional 15,000 cases.
“Any organization that has worked with the city as a contractor is aware that its contracting procedures are methodical in order to guarantee the smart deployment of public resources,” a Mayoral spokesperson said. “As we have explained to our associates, the city is in fact speeding up the distribution of these dollars, given the immediate and immense need for legal assistance.”
Since the one-year-old Trump administration began attacking undocumented Caribbean and other immigrants, the state and city of New York have stood up as loyal advocates, disbursing money to help more immigrants have access to free lawyers and legal counseling, according to Voices.
Still, it said the US$65.2 million allocated for fiscal year 2018 have been “insufficient, not all procedures have been carried out effectively, and many New Yorkers are being left out of these assistance programs.”
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