Rights Advocates Say State Budget Abandons Immigrants

Rights advocates say immigrants removed from their families are being put at risk of exposure to COVID-19 in federal detention facilities. Photo credit: vivalapenler / Adobe Stock.

NEW YORK – Immigrant rights advocates say New York must restore state funding for a successful program that provides lawyers for immigrants facing deportation.

Established in 2017, the Liberty Defense Project is a public-private program providing assistance in obtaining access to legal services and due process to low-income immigrants regardless of immigration status.

But Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget doesn’t include any funding for the program.

According to Steve Choi, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, that leaves those who provide services critical to fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, such as delivering meals and caring for seniors, at risk.

“Gov. Cuomo is sacrificing them to Trump’s ICE deportation machine and making all New Yorkers less safe at a time when we need all the help that we can get,” Choi states.

Choi says a recent poll by the Vera Institute of Justice shows 93% of New Yorkers favor government-funded lawyers for immigrants facing deportation.

Karen Murtagh is executive director of Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York, which represents immigrants held in detention facilities. She says having an attorney defending against deportation makes a huge difference.

“We win over 40% of the cases in which we appear, compared to 2% when a lawyer is not involved,” she points out

Prisoners’ Legal Services currently has more than 300 cases in active litigation that could be disrupted by a loss of funding and new cases are coming in every day.

Choi adds that immigration raids by ICE agents still are taking place in New York, including in one of the early centers of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“ICE engaged in a raid in New Rochelle, of all places,” Choi says. “And they are taking from our supply of N95 masks and giving those masks to ICE agents to engage in immigration raids.”

The Liberty Defense Project has received $10 million in state funding in each of the past two years. In January the governor proposed a budget totaling $178 billion.

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