MOIA’s Agarwal Stresses City Services Available to All

MOIA Commissioner Nisha Agarwal and Steven Ettannani of the NYC Dept. of Consumer Affairs (Photo by Arriel Vinson for Voices of NY)

MOIA Commissioner Nisha Agarwal and Steven Ettannani of the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs (Photo by Arriel Vinson for Voices of NY)

A wide array of services are still available to immigrants in New York City, no matter their immigration status, Nisha Agarwal, commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, told community and ethnic reporters on July 7. That’s true, despite the fact that the Supreme Court recently upheld the lower court’s blockage of President Obama’s executive action on immigration.

At a briefing held jointly by MOIA and the Center for Community and Ethnic Media at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, Agarwal emphasized that all New Yorkers, even undocumented immigrants, can obtain a municipal identification card known as IDNYC, that immigrants can access ActionNYC for free legal screenings and assistance; and that ActionHealthNYC provides uninsured immigrants with access to health care. Childcare and emergency services are also available to all immigrants, regardless of their status.

Agarwal said that continuing to connect families to the available resources they need is a priority.

“Mayor de Blasio will continue to fight at the national level for federal immigration reform,” Agarwal said. “In the meantime, we will do all we can to make New York City a place that is welcoming, safe and inclusive to immigrant families.”

City Council member Dr. Mathieu Eugene said the Supreme Court decision should not eliminate the hopes and aspirations of people who want to come to the United States.

Eugene also said these services are helping immigrant families, as well as making New York and the United States a better place.

The speakers also emphasized the importance of accurate information being shared with New York’s immigrant communities.

(Photo by Karen Pennar for Voices of NY)

(Photo by Karen Pennar for Voices of NY)

Steven Ettannani, senior advisor at the Department of Consumer Affairs in NYC, warned that at a time when vulnerability and fear is widespread in the immigrant community, immigrant families have to be cautious of Immigration Service Provider (ISP) fraud.

He noted that NYC’s Immigrant Service Provider Law governs the activities of ISPs and that the DCA monitors ISPs, who are not permitted to provide legal advice or act as lawyers. But Ettannani stressed that community members and indeed the community and ethnic press have a role to play in being on the lookout for fraud.

Community advocates from African Communities Together, the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center and Make the Road New York joined the conversation.

“While the Supreme Court has closed one door, one very big, very important door, for immigrants without status, there are many other doors,” said Amaha Kassa, executive director of African Communities Together. “Many people in our communities have not seen a reputable attorney or accredited legal representative, and there may be forms of relief that they qualify for that they’re not aware of.”

The Supreme Court decision meant that the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program would not be expanded and that another program, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), would not proceed. Both the expansion of DACA and the DAPA program were introduced in an executive action announced by President Obama in 2014. Within a couple of months, the relief actions were challenged in court.

It was estimated that about 220,000 New Yorkers would have benefited from the DACA expansion and DAPA.

However, individuals who qualified for the 2012 DAPA are unaffected by the ruling. MOIA estimates that 85,000 individuals in NYC could qualify or already have DACA.  Officials stress that the Supreme Court decision should not discourage those eligible under 2012 DACA from applying for the immigration relief.

Maribel Hernández Rivera, executive director of legal initiatives at MOIA, noted that there are several other avenues available to immigrants seeking to establish legal residency, and that they should call 311 and ask to be connected to legal advice through ActionNYC.

Agarwal said that all of the services provided, from legal to educational, give immigrant families direct economic benefits.

“It’s in all of our interest for New Yorkers to be living, thriving, flourishing in New York City,” Agarwal said. “And that’s the reason policies are in place. Supreme Court or no Supreme Court, we’re going to continue doing that as a city.”

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