Albany – Immigrant and human rights groups reiterated Saturday their requests for more financial backing from the state as they prepare for upcoming and sustained legal battles with federal law enforcement agencies.
At the annual Somos el Futuro conference held at Empire State Plaza, Latino officials, advocates and allies doubled down on their calls for funding for attorneys and lawyers fighting raids, detentions and deportations involving immigrant communities at the hands of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents.
The conference, which tackled myriad other issues but was primarily concerned with growing anti-immigration policies, came just one day after Gov. Andrew Cuomo rolled out a first-of-its-kind legal defense fund for immigrants in New York.
The Liberty Defense Project, as it’s called, will assist nonprofits, pro-bono attorneys and law students who represent New York immigrants and will be funded through a $1 million partnership between the state and private foundations.
Panelists at Somos applauded the measure, but were also quick to note that it is only a step in the right direction. “We need to make sure we have funding for lawyers,” said Murad Awawdeh, director of political engagement at the New York Immigration Coalition.
That’s especially true for immigrants in upstate New York, where access to legal and social services is often difficult or altogether impossible, panelists said. Statewide, “we’re trying our best” to help immigrants navigate the legal system, said Esmeralda Hoscoy, of the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York.
Nationally anti-immigrant fervor has already made immigrants more hesitant to get legal help, she said. “Add to that a language barrier and financial barrier. … There are many hurdles to get to our doors — to get to our own sometimes limited resources.”
Other groups at the conference, which celebrated its 30th anniversary this year, also called for action on numerous often-stalled bills and proposals. With the April 1 state budget deadline near, groups like the Immigration Coalition reiterated their demands for, among other issues, a bill to allow children brought here by their undocumented parents to pay in-state college tuition.
Sponsored by Assemblyman Francisco Moya, the so-called NY DREAM Act passed the state Assembly last month for the fifth consecutive year but has routinely been struck down in the state Senate.
“All we are asking for is for young people to have the opportunities to get services” they need to succeed, said NYIC’s Awawdeh.
The money for such programs, panelists agreed, rightfully belongs to young Americans brought here unwittingly, whose parents have paid taxes here for years. All told, immigrants in New York contributed more than $42 billion in taxes in 2014, according to New American Economy.
“If the governor wants to be progressive and an ally to the immigrant community… he needs to add these things to the budget,” said Antonio Alarcon, a youth organizer with Make the Road NY.
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