Kimberly, whose family received legal counsel through the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP), speaks on behalf of Make the Road New York at recent coalition rally.
Earlier this month, President Trump introduced an outlandish federal budget proposal that seeks to take a wrecking ball to our nation’s safety net, ramp up funds to attack immigrants and fund a preposterous wall on our southern border. Though many of Trump’s proposals will not pass in their current form, their very introduction by the White House represents a grave assault on our communities. As New York City (NYC) finalizes its own budget in this toxic political climate, we must use this process to demonstrate that our City will continue to resist Trump’s agenda of hate by investing in defending, and ensuring equal opportunity, for immigrant communities.
Immigrants are part of the lifeblood of our beloved city: representing 37 percent of the population, 45 percent of the workforce, and 49 percent of small business owners, across the five boroughs, immigrants are absolutely critical to NYC’s’s vitality and productivity. Since the beginning of the de Blasio administration, New York City has taken critical steps to honor these contributions and expand opportunity for immigrants. We’ve seen this commitment through the creation of a municipal identification card (IDNYC). We’ve seen it, too, through detainer discretion laws that draw a bright line between immigration enforcement and local law enforcement, which have kept thousands of families together and improved public safety for all. NYC has also invested wisely to create the nation’s first universal legal defense program for detained immigrants, the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP). And we have allocated critical resources for adult literacy to help expand opportunities for immigrant workers.
Now, NYC must double down on this progress. In Make the Road New York’s new policy brief, “Budget Priorities for Immigrant NYC: How NYC Can Best Use Its Resources to Lead the Way in Trump Era,” we highlight how to best achieve that goal.
It starts with the expansion of immigration legal services resources, with due process for all. NYIFUP has been a leading light across the country, demonstrating to other progressive cities how to guarantee legal representation for all and keep families together. As NYC concludes its budget, funding for NYIFUP should be increased and base-lined. The Mayor should also reverse course on his proposal that these services should be contingent upon one’s criminal record. Universal defense must be truly universal — both because guaranteeing representation for all those facing deportation is the ethical decision and because it is the only practical way for such a system to operate.
NYC should also base-line $12 million in funding for adult literacy. Last year, the budget included these funds to ramp up adult education classes at non-profit providers throughout New York City. The return on investment to these dollars is extraordinarily high, with thousands of immigrants throughout the five boroughs learning English and other key skills to be able to better navigate their communities and the job market. Unfortunately, these funds now appear to be at risk. The Mayor should heed the calls of community members and key members of the City Council to ensure that the $12 million for these programs be maintained and baseline.
As NYC seeks to offer a genuine safe haven for immigrant New Yorkers and communities of color, we must also address the mass criminalization that starts in our schools. In recent years, NYC has begun implementing research-tested methods to improve the school climate without resorting to punitive and racially-disparate school discipline. The City Council has invested $2.4 million in restorative justice programs that repair harm between members of the school community through facilitation, dialogue, and accountability — rather than through suspensions and arrests that set our young people on the path to prison. In the Trump era, when immigration authorities are using any interaction with the criminal justice system as a pretext for detention and deportation, it is more critical than ever to expand citywide investments in restorative justice. We thus call for $5 million to expand the City Council Restorative Practices Citywide Initiative to 50 schools, as well as expanded investment ($1.4 million this year, $2.1 million next year, and $2.8 million the following year) to the Department of Education’s Restorative Practices Program to 180 schools in 4 high-needs school districts.
These are just some of the ways that NYC can lead the way for immigrant communities in the Trump era. Our city must also, of course, invest in expanded health care access, responding rapidly to hate violence and raids, affordable housing and legal representation for all tenants, and expanding protections for workers (read the full policy brief here).
There is much work to do. But as NYC concludes its budget process, the imperative to articulate an affirmative pro-immigrant vision has never been clearer. It’s time to use NYC’s budget process to counter the hate spewing down at our communities from Washington and demonstrate how our City will remain a leading light in the fight for respect and dignity for all.
-Deborah Axt and Javier H. Valdés are the Co-Executive Directors of Make the Road New York, the largest grassroots community organization in New York offering services and organizing the immigrant community. On Twitter: @DebAxt @JavierHValdes @maketheroadny.
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