Cuomo’s ‘Justice Agenda’ Leaves Big Holes for New York’s Immigrants

January 15th, 2019

Advocates call for a bold, broad agenda for New York’s 4 million immigrants

NEW YORK, NY - Today, Governor Andrew Cuomo delivered his 2019 State of the State address, which notably included only a mention of the DREAM Act and immigration legal services funding, instead of a bold, comprehensive agenda to protect and empower immigrant New Yorkers.

The Governor’s address comes just two weeks after he delivered his inaugural speech on Ellis Island, a symbol of the American Dream rooted in our long history of immigration.

Steven Choi, Executive Director of the New York Immigration Coalition, issued the following statement:

“Just two weeks ago, Governor Cuomo stood on Ellis Island and promised ‘progress and action’ in a time of crisis - yet is only talking about the bare minimum to protect New York’s 4.4 million immigrants. Immigrant New Yorkers need more than symbols and rhetoric. Passing the DREAM Act and more legal services funding is welcome, but what we really need is a big, bold agenda to protect and empower immigrant communities. States like California have already done driver's licenses, committed $90 million to Census outreach, and promised health coverage to all young Californians. If the Governor wants to restore New York’s historic leadership role, he must expand access to driver’s licenses, commit $40 million to ensure an accurate Census, and invest more in legal services, literacy education and health services to strengthen our newest New Yorkers.”

Today, New York’s federal court in the Southern District took charge to combat an undercount in 2020, ruling against the Trump administration’s attempt to add a citizenship question to the Census. The New York Immigration Coalition urges Governor Cuomo to continue New York’s legacy in the fight for a fair and accurate count in 2020, and commit $40 million in outreach to ensure that the state maintains its political representation in Congress and necessary federal funding.

The New York Immigration Coalition’s top legislative priority is to expand driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants, and is moving to invest $1 million in a statewide campaign to get it passed this year. Already in place in 12 other states plus D.C., the legislation would allow undocumented immigrants to drive legally, while bringing in an estimated $57 million in state and county revenues. Expanding access to driver’s licenses would particularly help upstate farms and businesses that rely on immigrant labor, and suffer when workers can’t drive for work without risking deportation. New Jersey is considering expanding driver’s licenses to all this year, Oregon in 2019. Wisconsin is currently ramping up their efforts to expand driver’s license access as well.

Budget goals include:

  • $40 million dollars to fund local Census outreach

  • $20 million for the Liberty Defense Project Funding

  • $532 million to create a state-funded Essential Plan for all New Yorkers up to 200% of the federal poverty level, regardless of immigration status.

  • $15.3 million for Adult Literacy Education funding


Driver’s License Access:

New York lags behind 12 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico which have already expanded access to driver’s licenses to residents regardless of immigration status. Across the nation, other states are moving forward on expanding access to driver’s licenses. New Jersey is considering expanding driver’s licenses to all this year, Oregon in 2019. Wisconsin is currently ramping up their efforts to expand driver’s license access as well.

Expanding access to driver’s licenses would bring in an estimated $57 million in annual state and county revenue in registration fees, sales taxes, and gas taxes; plus $26 million in one-time revenues as more people obtain licenses, buy cars, and register vehicles. It would also be a boon for public transportation, with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) receiving an additional $8.6 million in annual revenue from New York City, Long Island, and Lower Hudson surcharges to car registration, gas tax, and sales tax, as well as $2.2 million in one-time revenue from the driver’s licenses surcharge.

Existing drivers would enjoy a cost savings of $17 per year on their auto insurances, as more drivers sign up for licenses.

Upstate small businesses and farms that rely on immigrant labor would also benefit. About 20% of New York State's land area isfarmlandwith nearly 36,000 family farms. According to Farm Credit East, without undocumented and migrant farm workers, New York agricultural production would likely be reduced by more than $1.37 billion or 24 percent of the value of the state’s agricultural output.

2020 Census:

The New York Immigration Coalition, together with over ninety partners, has formed New York Counts 2020, a coalition to maximize participation in the census and therefore counter the expected impact of the Trump administration’s efforts to add a citizenship question to the census. If included, a citizenship question will stoke unnecessary fear in immigrant communities and could result in a significant undercount, particularly already under-counted racial and ethnic minority groups.

With immigrants constituting nearly 1 out of 4 New Yorkers, an undercount in the 2020 Census will have catastrophic consequences – costing all New Yorkers political power and millions of dollars in federal funding for key services.

The Fiscal Policy Institute released its cost analysis for New York’s Census education and community outreach. In order to maximize participation and ensure a fair and accurate count, community organizations require sufficient funding to reach marginalized populations. The report takes the Census Bureau’s “hard to count” populations, and proposes a cost estimate of just $2 per person if all residents in hard to count groups receive basic community outreach.

Additionally, the NYIC has filed a federal lawsuit in the Southern District of New York in conjunction with the ACLU and four other immigrant rights groups against the administration’s attempt to target immigrant communities, challenging the addition of the citizenship question by adding an intentional discrimination claim. The lawsuit argues that adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census violates the Constitution and reverses seven decades of precedent without a factual justification.

Liberty Defense Project Fund:

Earlier this year, the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC) together with the Immigrant Advocates Response Collaborative (I-ARC) released a 2018 update on the groundbreaking report No Safe Harbor: Challenges in Obtaining Immigration Legal Services in New York.

No Safe Harbor is the only comprehensive study of the political, geographic, and systemic issues that prevent immigrant New Yorkers from protecting their legal rights in the current climate. The report is based on a statewide survey of 34 legal service providers and the communities they serve.

Findings include:

  • New York providers benefit from $65.2 million in funding (city and state), one of the highest public investments in immigration legal services, but lack transparency in how funds are allocated.

  • Rigid contract requirements create obstacles for providers and prevent clients from accessing the services they need.

  • 79% of state funding covered citizenship services;

  • The top three case types are: Defense of Removal, representation before ICE, and complex case representation.

  • Immigrants in large portions of New York state have no access to legal services, even from private providers. Of the 158 immigration legal service providers in New York, 121 (75%) are in New York City; many upstate New York regions have 0-2 providers.

Adult Literacy Education:

In recognition of the importance of uplifting whole families through educational opportunity and support, the New York Immigration Coalition is advancing a multi-generational approach to education that fully recognizes that the success of children is inextricably linked with that of their parents, and both generations must receive adequate support to fully integrate into their communities.

Over 3.5 million New Yorkers lack English language proficiency, a high school diploma, or both. Of the 970,000 parents in New York, 42% are limited English proficient and 21% have not completed high school. Developing English language proficiency is the greatest challenge that most immigrants face in integrating into our communities and successfully transitioning into family-sustaining careers. Individuals with literacy skills are better able to communicate with law enforcement and health professionals, better understand and engage in their children’s education, and more effectively participate in the civic and social life of their communities.

A $15.3M investment will support high-quality, community-based adult literacy instruction and close the $8M gap created by the transition to Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which impacts lower-level English learners. The requirement for programs to demonstrate employment outcomes to qualify for WIOA Title II funding has created a barrier for thousands of English language learners, including those with lower levels of English language proficiency and those whose primary goal is to integrate more effectively into their communities.