Gov. Cuomo Abandoning Immigrant NYers on Frontlines of Pandemic in FY21 Executive Budget

Albany, NY-Today, the New York Immigration Coalition and the Vera Institute raised the alarm bell about the dire impacts cutting off funding for critical immigration legal services will have on low-income immigrant New Yorkers and NY’s fight against COVID-19. Without these resources, the thousands of immigrant New Yorkers, many of whom are serving as essential workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, will continue to be targeted by ICE and threatened with separation from their families.

Established in 2017, the Liberty Defense Project was a first-in-the-nation, state-led public-private project to assist immigrants, regardless of status, in obtaining access to legal services and due process. LDP provided a defensive line for immigrants in deportation proceedings, in response to the Trump Administration’s ongoing attacks on New York’s immigrant communities.

LDP has long been heralded as a success for stabilizing families and communities. Recent polling from the Vera Institute shows 93 percent of New Yorkers favor government-funded lawyers for immigrants facing deportation to ensure due process for all.

“At a moment when we should be standing together and protecting the most vulnerable members of our communities, Governor Andrew Cuomo is using coronavirus as cover to roll back hard-earned victories for immigrants across the state,” said Steve Choi, Executive Director, New York Immigration Coalition. “The Governor’s budget fails to include any funding for immigration legal services for low-income New Yorkers. This cruel and neglectful action will only compound an already worsening crisis--as thousands of immigrant New Yorkers, many of whom are serving as essential workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, continue to be targeted by ICE and threatened with separation from their families. The Governor has two clear choices. He can cut off due process for immigrant New Yorkers becoming willing accomplice to the Trump administration’s deportation agenda, abandoning immigrant New Yorkers, and thwarting his own efforts to successfully lead us out of a pandemic. Or, he can prove his pro-immigrant brand is more than a gimmick and build a healthier, fairer, New York that makes due process a right for everyone.”

“NYIFUP and the Liberty Defense Project are the last line of defense for immigrants in New York targeted by federal policies that continue to rip families apart and for thousands in crowded detention centers amid the growing COVID19 crisis," said Kica Matos, Director of the Center on Immigration and Justice at the Vera Institute of Justice. "If New York cuts funding for these programs today, hundreds of lawyers will be forced to walk away from their clients- in the middle of their cases- and thousands of our state’s most vulnerable immigrants will lose to the federal government’s harsh immigration policies. We implore the Governor and NY legislative leadership to do the right thing today and restore funding for immigrant legal services. Thousands of lives are at stake."

“New York needs to champion rights for all people," said Kristin Brown, President and CEO of Empire Justice Center. "Legal services for immigrants remain a lifeline for many who face family separation and unjust discrimination. New York immigrants are on the frontline of our economy, providing care and service for all. The final enacted budget must include essential legal services for immigrants."

“The NYIFUP and rapid response immigration attorneys at Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York are on the frontlines of fighting for safety, dignity, and family unity for our clients.," said Karen Murtagh, Executive Director of Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York. "For immigrants in detention, we are fighting for freedom from dangerous conditions that will quickly turn deadly when COVID-19 reaches crowded detention centers where social distancing is impossible. If funding is not restored, we will be forced to walk away from our clients, some of the most vulnerable New Yorkers to COVID-19, leaving them to fend for themselves against federal immigration enforcement authorities in this frightening time.