Labor, Immigrant Rights Groups Call Out de Blasio Over Legal Services Funding
TUESDAY, MAY 09, 2017

The New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP) joined with roughly 100 other organizations in a joint letter sent to City Hall this afternoon demanding that Mayor de Blasio drop a proposal in his Executive Budget that would restrict access to counsel for immigrants in removal proceedings who have been convicted of certain crimes.

Labor, immigrant rights groups call out de Blasio over legal services funding
By Gloria Pazmino
May 9, 2017

A coalition of immigrant rights organizations, nonprofit legal providers and some of the city’s largest labor unions are banding together in an effort to pressure Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration to reverse its stance on how to use a multi-million dollar budget allocation that would provide free legal counseling to undocumented immigrants.

De Blasio unveiled the $16.4 million legal services plan — through a service known as The New York Immigrant Family Unit Project — earlier this month as part of his executive budget. The allocation, he said, would be set aside for undocumented immigrants facing deportation and other immigration proceedings as long as they have not been convicted of certain crimes.

The mayor said the city would not pay to provide legal representation for immigrants facing deportation if they have been convicted of any of the 170 crimes the city deems as deportable offenses. In those instances, the city would instead cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement by honoring detainer requests.

That specific distinction has caused consternation among the city’s legal service providers and immigrant organizations. Those critics argue the mayor's position disregards a person’s right to due process. Immigration offenses are considered civil offenses and as result, people who are detained do not have the right to free counsel.

A coalition of 104 organizations — including DC37, SEIU Local 32BJ, the Working Families Party, The Legal Aid Society, The Black Institute and the New York Civil Liberties Union — sent a letter to the de Blasio administration opposing the mayor's stance.

“It is not, and never has been, the position of the City of New York that people with any type of criminal convictions should be subject to mandatory deportation, be deprived of basic due process, and not be given the opportunity for an individualized assessment of their right to remain in the United States," the letter reads.

For the past four years, NYIFUP has been running thanks in part to funding provided by the City Council, which first allocated $500,000 in 2013 when the service was launched as a pilot.

The program has since helped represent undocumented immigrants facing deportation proceedings throughout the city. According to lawyers who participate in the program, the funding helps fill a gap created by what legal aid providers consider a flaw in the federal immigration system, which does not provide the same constitutional protections extended in criminal proceedings.

“Every immigrant should have the chance to present extenuating circumstances to the court and have humane advice regarding their options,” the group writes in the letter. “Attorneys also help our members and clients in making arrangements for loved ones who cannot avoid deportation as well, an important service that keeps the immigrant community strong and engaged with New York City.”

According to a 2011 study conducted prior to NYIFUP’s launch, immigrants in the city face nearly impossible odds going into immigration hearings without counsel. Since the service launched, NYIFUP has provided representation to over 2000 immigrants, securing clients’ release from detention and preventing deportation in multiple cases.

“Many of the individuals whose cases NYIFUP won would not have been eligible for representation through the program if the exclusions you have proposed had been in place,” the group writes in the letter.

De Blasio’s budgetary conditions have also led to a public disagreement between the mayor and Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who said earlier this month she would not be willing to make any budgetary deals on the funding as long as the mayor's condition remains.

Seth Stein, a spokesperson for de Blasio did not directly address the letter. Stein said the proposed funding will provide lawyers for at 15,000 immigrants this year and stressed that the mayor’s view remains the same.

“If you have been convicted of a serious or violent crime identified in legislation by the City Council and the Administration, the public should not foot the bill for your representation in civil immigration proceedings,” Stein said. “The vast majority of immigrants have not been convicted of these crimes, and the Mayor’s investment will go a long way towards providing them essential legal services.”

This article originally appeared in Politico.