Activists Press Cuomo on Funds to Help Immigrants

State Sen. José Peralta, one of many legislators urging Gov. Andrew Cuomo to devote more resources to supporting New York state’s immigrants. (Photo by Humberto Arellano via El Diario)

With the deadline for the State Legislature to present the budget for the next fiscal year due this weekend, dozens of demonstrators congregated in front of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office in New York City on Tuesday to demand that Albany make immigrants a priority.

Leaders and activists delivered a petition signed by 11,000 people asking the governor to put his words into action and to demonstrate that he truly supports the immigrant community by assigning nearly $20 million to help counteract the Trump government’s agenda.

The demonstrators say that Cuomo has not offered enough state resources to protect New York’s immigrants and their families, and pointed out that measures such as the free legal services he announced last week are mostly funded by private organizations.

“We ask the governor to allocate $19.1 million in legal assistance to offer adequate support to immigrants at this critical moment in which they are being the target of attacks,” said The New York Legal Services Coalition, adding that $4.1 million is urgently needed to expand the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP) and the other $15 million to pay for lawyers and legal services. In addition, they are asking the governor to use his power to approve necessary laws such as the Liberty Act, which limits cooperation between the state and local agencies and immigration authorities, and the Dream Act, which grants resources to undocumented youths who wish to go to college.

“We are delivering these 11,000 signatures to the governor because, although he has repeatedly said good things about immigrants, we need more than words,” said Ricardo Aca, a member of the organization Make the Road.

Frank Sobrino, spokesman for Gov. Cuomo, said that the state is committed to carrying out actions to defend and support immigrants.

“The governor’s Office for New Americans has been financing immigrant services, through a constant flow of state funds, for years,” said Sobrino. “The Liberty Defense Project complements this ongoing work with private funding and [by offering] free legal representation by over 180 advocacy groups.”

For her part, Assemblywoman Carmen De La Rosa said that the fight for more funding continues to be intense at the negotiations in Albany, adding that they expect to succeed in obtaining more funds for immigrants.

“Gov. Cuomo has committed $1.5 million in legal services for immigrants and, while we welcome the funding of these services, our advocacy should not stop there,” said the Dominican-born politician. “Today more than ever, it is our responsibility to make sure that the Dream Act is approved by the state so that our children who came to this country in search of the ‘American dream’ have the possibility to have access to education.”

Assemblyman Francisco Moya – who has defended a pro-immigrant legislative agenda – agreed, saying that he will continue advocating for the inclusion of immigrant communities in the budget up until April 1. He also highlighted his role in obtaining $1 million for legal services.

“Albany must take the extra step and expand the NYIFUP to the whole state. Anything less than that will make it a struggle to manage the scale of the immigration cases we are expecting,” said the politician. “[State Assembly] Speaker Heastie has continued to support our community through his budget priorities, and now is the time for both the governor and the Independent Democratic Conference to spend their political capital in the approval of this piece of legislation and to do the right thing for New York’s Dreamers.”

Sen. José Peralta expressed that other issues relevant to immigrants are also being pushed as part of the Independent Democratic Conference’s negotiations framework, including raising the age of criminal responsibility and adding more funding to the Immigrant Defense Coalition, which helps New Yorkers with their legal questions or problems.

“We still don’t know what the budget for this year will end up looking like, but we have been negotiating incessantly for weeks to make sure that parts of it will reflect our progressive views. Among the proposals we are fighting for is the Dream Act,” said Peralta.

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