New York to Aid Immigrants Amid Stalled National Reforms - New York Times
12/14/2015 | News Articles
Immigration may be under attack across the country, but New York’s top officials used a national conference in Brooklyn on Monday to defend immigrants, though their soaring rhetoric overshadowed their fairly modest proposals.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat who has pushed immigration reform as part of his liberal platform, said the city would spend $7.9 million out of its $78.5 billion budget next year to boost its immigration services throughout the five boroughs, deploying community organizations to help residents seek free legal assistance to apply for protection from deportation or even for citizenship.
Then, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo vowed to continue to crack down on wage theft and the exploitation of workers, many of whom are undocumented immigrants who fear reporting abuse to the authorities. He announced that in the last five months, a state task force had recovered $28 million for 24,000 workers who had been cheated out of their wages.
Both Mr. de Blasio and Mr. Cuomo invoked their Italian immigrant heritage, and both were steadfast in their welcome of Syrian refugees. But it was Mr. Cuomo, also a Democrat, who delivered the more blistering critique, rising to singsong poetry that brought the audience of nearly 1,000 advocates to their feet.
“You want to build walls, you want to keep Muslims out — we believe in freedom of religion. It was a founding premise of the entire country,” Mr. Cuomo said. He then seemed to parrot Donald J. Trump without naming him: “You’re going to keep the Syrians out, you’re going to keep the Mexicans out. This is our land!”
Mr. de Blasio, giving a more subdued keynote address to the National Immigrant Integration Conference at the Downtown Brooklyn Marriott hotel, said the city is “doubling down” on immigration while President Obama’s executive action to offer protections to some immigrants who came to the country illegally has stalled in the courts.
“We know that when executive action fully takes effect, a huge number of New Yorkers will benefit, but we also know they need the legal assistance to fully benefit from these opportunities,” the mayor said.
Rounding out a group of three top New York Democrats, Hillary Clinton, the former United States senator campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination, also spoke at the conference at the end of the day.
The city’s plan, called ActionNYC, will offer legal services through existing community groups. It wants to reach up to 75,000 immigrants in its first year.
Javier Valdés, the co-executive director of Make the Road New York, one of the participating organizations in ActionNYC, said the city’s added legal services were coming at a critical time.
“There’s a lot of people, because of what’s been going on in national rhetoric about immigration, who don’t come forward, and who are always afraid to interact,” he said. “We need to go into the communities and not wait for those to come forward.”
For ActionNYC, five nonprofits will handle outreach. Seven groups will hire 24 community navigators, people who, while not lawyers, can speak the language of a neighborhood and who can conduct legal screenings under the supervision of lawyers.
Mario Russell, the director of immigrant and refugee services for Catholic Charities Community Services in New York, which is taking part, said: “It’s a really interesting and new model. The city is saying, ‘Here are a half-dozen lawyers; let’s deploy them in these areas and in this way.’ ”
But some organizations expressed reservations about how to reach the city’s goal for participation while the 2014 executive action — the expansion of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and the introduction of Deferred Action for Parents of Americans — remains blocked by the courts.
“The challenge is how are we going to meet those tremendously ambitious goals, given that we’re not going to see a huge surge of immigrants coming out and making themselves eligible,” said Steven Choi, the executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, one of the hosts of the conference.
Mr. Cuomo, like Mr. de Blasio, noted that the state had a duty to immigrants, calling them a backbone of New York’s economy. He said his administration would not tolerate abuse of workers in any industry, especially those that employ undocumented laborers. “Undocumented workers are defenseless, and people without scruples can exploit them whenever they want,” Mr. Cuomo said.
In a sweeping speech that also covered education and his push to raise the minimum wage to $15, Mr. Cuomo concluded by reminding the audience that in New York State, “we are all immigrants.”