Mark-Viverito, the State of the City, and Immigrant Rights

Melissa Mark-Viverito giving her first State of the City address.

Melissa Mark-Viverito giving her first State of the City address.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito gave her first State of the City speech, entitled “Lifting Every Voice,” on Feb. 11 in East Harlem, and “doubled down” on her progressive agenda, reports Ben Max of Gotham Gazette.

Mark-Viverito called for greater attention to those living in public housing, announced plans to increase funding to help tenants facing eviction and New Yorkers who are arrested and cannot afford bail, and promised greater “citizen empowerment” through expansion of participatory budgeting.

The speaker outlined plans to create an Office of the Civil Justice Coordinator, charged with ensuring that all New Yorkers who need legal representation get it, and an Office of Labor to coordinate efforts around protecting workers from wage theft, instituting paid family leave, and proper enforcement of labor laws generally. She promised a renaissance for the city’s mostly-defunct Human Rights Commission, with an infusion of cash to help it fill its mandate to enforce the Human Rights Law that protects against discrimination.

In advance of the speech, Samir Khurshid wrote in Gotham Gazette that Mark-Viverito, who is bilingual in English and Spanish and a native of Puerto Rico, has defined her early tenure in office “with a focus on supporting and protecting the city’s immigrants.”

Since taking the mantle, Mark-Viverito has teamed with her progressive council colleagues and close ally Mayor Bill de Blasio to enact immigrant-friendly policies. Some, like an expansion of paid sick leave legislation and the city’s new municipal identification card program are aimed at a larger pool of New Yorkers, but are especially helpful to immigrants.

Mark-Viverito has gone further by targeting particular ways to assist immigrants – 37 percent of the city’s residents are foreign-born – and looking closely at deportation and other issues affecting immigrants.

In the first city budget of Mark-Viverito’s tenure as speaker, the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP), a pilot program launched in 2013 with $500,000 in funding, received nearly $5 million in 2014. The NYIFUP is a first-of-its-kind public defender system that offers legal representation to immigrants under the threat of deportation.

“The Speaker has been a tremendous champion for immigrant rights over the last year,” said Steven Choi, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, citing her creation in September of a $1.9 million fund for legal defense, social and health services for unaccompanied minors. The Council partnered with the Robin Hood Foundation and the New York Community Trust, which pitched in half the fund, to help with cases that were being fast-tracked through the New York Immigration Court under a federal mandate.

The Council’s local efforts were largely made in the face of federal policies adversely affecting local immigrant communities. In attempting to further assert home rule and insulate immigrant New Yorkers from federal action, Mark-Viverito moved two pieces of legislation through the Council which significantly reduced cooperation between local law enforcement and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

To read more about how Mark-Viverito has been helping immigrants, such as by calling for an expansion of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) before President Obama announced that move last November, go to Gotham Gazette.

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