Activists Worry As Mayor, Speaker Differ Over Funding for Immigrants

New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (right) with Mayor Bill de Blasio in the background, at a briefing earlier this year. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito have been on the same side when defending and protecting undocumented immigrants living in New York. However, less than 8 weeks before the city’s final budget for the next fiscal year is approved, the two political leaders are at odds about funding to provide free legal assistance to immigrants.

To the $84.86 billion city hall will manage, de Blasio included an additional $16.4 million to defend undocumented immigrants undergoing facing deportation and other immigration-related problems. Still, he specified that people who have been convicted of any of the 170 criminal offenses that the city considers serious will not benefit. Speaker Mark-Viverito disagrees with these limitations, saying that free lawyers should be provided to all.

City Hall spokesman Seth Stein defended the administration’s position stating that “we do not believe that the public has to fund immigration lawyers for people who have committed serious crimes threatening public safety.” He added: “The large majority of immigrants have not been convicted of serious crimes and would be eligible for the services.”

Still, the leader of the city council does not approve of this and said that the idea when she started the New York Immigrant Family Unit Project (NYIFUP) three years ago was to offer assistance to anyone who needed it without exception.

“I don’t agree with the mayor,” said Mark-Viverito. “All funds are for people who need them, and it has been working well. I am not interested in changing any of the program’s guidelines or the way it is being executed when it comes to the services, which is what I would like to continue to see happening.”

Among the 170 felonies the city considers serious that would be cause for deportation are: gang assault; assault on a police officer, firefighter or emergency medical services personnel; assault on a judge; menacing; assault or aggression on a minor; manslaughter; vehicular manslaughter; murder; sex crimes such as rape and sexual abuse; arson; robbery; obstruction of governmental administration; tampering with or intimidating a witness; criminal possession or sale of a controlled substance; and falsely reporting an incident, among others.

Concern among activists

Although an estimated 15,000 undocumented people will benefit every year from the legal help provided by the city, immigrant advocates are worried that the mayor may be hitting the bakes right in the middle of the federal government’s anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Make the Road New York Co-Executive Director Javier H. Valdés criticized the mayor, saying that the city must continue to set an example for the rest of the country and not give in to Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions’ attempts to divide communities and criminalize immigrants.

“All immigrant New Yorkers deserve due process. Period,” said the activist, stressing that he agrees with Mark-Viverito. “We support the council speaker in insisting that legal immigration services must be available to all immigrant New Yorkers. In light of the Trump administration’s unprecedented attacks on our community, it is crucial for the city to continue and expand the Family Unit program to represent all detained New Yorkers.”

Councilman Rafael Espinal from Brooklyn, home to many Hispanic immigrants who would benefit from the new resources, said that New York has to continue offering legal support to undocumented people, even those who have committed certain crimes.

“Our priority is to protect as many immigrants as possible. The council created this program independently to grant legal help to immigrants facing deportation and, as the mayor has acknowledged, this program must continue receiving more funding,” said Espinal.

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Public Advocates Reject Limits to Help Immigrants

[Below are excerpts from another story by El Diario’s Camille Padilla-Dalmau]

The same public advocacy organizations who applauded the $16 million added to the budget by city hall to assist immigrants in deportation processes are now criticizing the limitations imposed by Mayor de Blasio regarding who would be able to use the funds depending on the crime they have committed.

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“No one should be subjected to detention or deportation without legal due process and without a lawyer,” said Tina Luongo, attorney-in-charge for The Legal Aid Society’s criminal practice.

Luongo stressed that these restrictions are not included in the current contract the city has with Legal Aid as part of the NYIFUP, created under the premise that a person has the right to be represented regardless of the type of crime they have been accused of committing.

“Limiting the program to certain criminal offenses will restrict asylum seekers and legal permanent residents from getting due process, aside from being unfair and contrary to the ideals of a sanctuary city,” said Luongo.

The lawyer explained that, in many cases, the convictions date back years and that the individual may be rehabilitated and may have formed a family.

She also emphasized that 67 percent of the people who are detained go through their legal process without representation and that only 3 percent of them win their cases. In contrast, immigrants with lawyers are 10 times more likely to stay in the U.S., according to Legal Aid figures.

This type if advantage “would be lost for a group, and that is just not right,” said Luongo.

(…)

“Mayor de Blasio is not the court, or the judge or the jury, so he should not decide who gets due process and who doesn’t in this city,” concluded the attorney.

One Comment

  1. The idiots in the city council fail to realize that this is not their money but the money of the taxpayers, law abiding citizens who also pay the salaries of these fools. Illegal means just that illegal, portraying them as undocumented is just a means to distract the taxpayers from the gist of the problem created by this gang of socialist thugs also known as the New York City, City Council. I don’t want my taxpaying dollars spent on illegals who have skirted the laws of this nation only to be given asylum by the likes of the city council, use the moneyto enforce the laws already on the books and deport ASAP! While they are at it throw these Cretans out of office too!

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