Legal Aid Immigration Head Praises City Council on Immigration and Says Need Is Now Greater to Protect Immigrants
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 21, 2016

In an article in Politico today, Maria Navarro, Acting Attorney-in-Charge of The Legal Aid Society's Immigration Law Unit, praised the work of the New York City Council on behalf of immigrants and warned that Trump's election gives the Council greater need to protect the city's half million undocumented residents.

"We have a lot of concern about what is going to happen in the next few months," Navarro said. She said Trump's policies will "create a huge uptick in our clients who we need to help. All detainees that are low-income, we represent and we want to be able to continue to do that, but we do expect that the numbers are going to increase."


Politico
By Gloria Pazmino
November 21, 2016

As the last year of her term-limited tenure on the City Council approaches, Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito says she feels a fresh urgency to push her immigration initiatives following the election of Donald Trump.

Mark-Viverito, who worked as one of Hillary Clinton's most reliable surrogates during the presidential campaign and for months seemed to be positioning herself for White House consideration, said she was "profoundly disappointed" with the election results.

Since the election, Mark-Viverito has joined city and state elected officials, including Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in asserting that the city and state will not go along with the mass deportations of undocumented residents Trump raised during his campaign.

The speaker, who has spent much of 2016 sharply criticizing Trump, said she has no plans to take a "conciliatory" approach to his presidency, nor does she see herself attempting to work with the president-elect.

"We are digging in deep. First and foremost, we have to get out there to the communities and be very clear we are going to defend what we are," Mark-Viverito told POLITICO New York in a recent interview.

Beyond just calls to protect the New York City's status as a sanctuary city, Mark-Viverito, sitting at a conference table recently in her City Hall office surrounded by her top aides, said her team is looking into what the Council can do legislatively to protect undocumented immigrants.

The speaker's staff is assessing how the Council earmarks some of its budget, which in past years has included millions for immigrant legal services and public defender initiatives, some which were funded at the urging of Mark-Viverito.

"There is uncertainty. There have been threats of taking money away from us, from cities that do the kind of stuff that we do, what we promote," Mark-Viverito said. "So there is a sense of uncertainty, but the sense of urgency I feel is to stand up for our values and push back really hard."

In Fiscal Year 2017, the Council earmarked more than $6 million dollars for immigrant legal services specifically, not including additional millions of dollars allocated to organizations that provide a range of services to immigrant communities.

The funds for legal representation have gone to public defender services. Those services have included aiding undocumented children who came across the southern border and providing legal assistance to immigrants facing deportation proceedings.

Maria Navarro, acting attorney in charge of the immigration unit at the Legal Aid Society, praised the Council's efforts over the last three years to fund immigrant-specific causes, but said Trump's election gives the Council greater need to protect the city's roughly half a million undocumented residents.

"We have a lot of concern about what is going to happen in the next few months," Navarro said. She said Trump's policies will "create a huge uptick in our clients who we need to help. All detainees that are low-income, we represent and we want to be able to continue to do that, but we do expect that the numbers are going to increase."

Mark-Viverito said she and her staff are "analyzing aggressively in terms of what he has said and what would be the implications if federal funds are withdrawn." For the moment, she said she is focused on what she sees as the threat Trump poses to her legislative work on the Council.

Those policies include legislation that removed federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents from city jails and a law that now precludes the New York Police Department from honoring federal detainer requests. It's a policy legacy that, more simply, under Mark-Viverito and de Blasio instructed the city's police force to not cooperate with federal authorities on immigration policy.

Advocates in the legal community say the Council should begin considering more legislation that would permanently protect the city's undocumented residents.

"We think this is the moment to push for the right to counsel in immigration court," Navarro said.

Currently, anyone facing an immigration proceeding, which is considered a civil matter in court, does not qualify for free representation the way anyone facing a criminal proceeding does.

"That would ensure that everyone at least is able to assess if they have a chance to stay in this country," Navarro said. "Even if they have a right to fight their case, they are not going to be able to figure that out without an attorney."

Trump's election also gives Mark-Viverito a final opportunity to secure her place in national Latino politics before her Council term ends.

The speaker has spent much of the last year carving out a place for herself nationally. As the presidential primary season kicked into high gear, Mark-Viverito traveled to Nevada for the first Democratic presidential debate, where she spoke at a rally outside one of Trump's hotels where workers have been fighting to join a union. And she held rallies throughout New York City, and occasionally in Florida, attacking Trump, especially on his immigration rhetoric.

She also made several dozen TV and radio appearances boosting Clinton, including semi-regular spots on Fox News' "Kelly File," showing a willingness to step into less friendly cable news territory.

Mark-Viverito has particularly locked in on Latino issues. Since last year, the speaker has served as co-chair of the Latino Victory Fund, the fundraising arm of the Latino Victory Project, a super PAC that raises money and resources for Latino candidates across the country. She co-chairs the group alongside two prominent Latino Democrats: U.S. Rep. JoaquĆ­n Castro of Texas and former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who is now running for governor.

While she says she doesn't know exactly how she'll go about doing it, Mark-Viverito said she does plan to get involved in the 2018 midterm elections and push for Democrats in state legislatures and municipalities across the country.

"At some point soon I have to start thinking about what my options are, and I don't know where that will lead me," she said. "Now there is a lot of work to do at the national level, and I'm committed. This is time to step up and I'm willing to step up."