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New York Immigration Coalition seeks boost in legal aid funding for migrants in state budget

The New York State Capitol in Albany
Lucas Willard
The New York State Capitol in Albany

The influx of asylum-seeking migrants is on the minds of many in Albany as debate begins on a 2025 New York State budget.

In her state budget proposal released earlier this week, Governor Kathy Hochul wants $2.4 billion to address the migrant crisis – that includes money for short and long-term shelters, health care, and legal assistance.

Though Republicans are crying foul at the Democrat’s proposals to assist migrants, the New York Immigration Coalition says more funding is needed.

NYIC’s Executive Director Murad Awawdeh wants the legislature to more than triple the proposed $44 million in legal aid for migrants.

We're asking for $150 million, that will ensure that we can build the infrastructure that meets today's urgent needs and tomorrow's demand for more efficiency. So, the funding would ensure that more families would be able to get access to the legal support that they need to change their immigration status and attain work authorization, while keeping their family together and stabilizing our communities here locally.

What's the backlog like for new arrivals coming into New York State who are in need of legal services?

Last year, the state did invest additional resources for immigration legal services. But again, then we didn't go far enough. And we need to invest more resources into immigration legal services, because we do have a backlog. We've had a backlog for many years because of federal inaction on reforming the immigration system, which just pretty much turns very slowly. But in addition to that, we have wait lists at all of our member organizations who are providing legal services for historic immigrant New Yorkers and new immigrant New Yorkers. So with the new resources that came out last year, we were able to target resources in civic areas to ensure that people were getting legal services, especially to ensure that they meet their one year deadline for filing, if they are filing for asylum. But this is going to be, this will need to be a long-term funding commitment. And we need to get more resources in the immigration legal services sector to be able to meet the demands of today and the future.

And Murad, you just mentioned that one year timeline for asylum seekers. Could you just help explain, a little bit, the deadline and the timeline that many people are on when coming into this country?

Sure. You know, when folks present themselves to border officials at the southern border, they're processed into the U.S. seeking their legal right for asylum and seeking refuge hear from persecution, and or, you know, government collapse or a slew of other issues. Once they're processed. And from that moment, they have one year to that date, to file an asylum application. And we urge people to actually try to do it as soon as they can, so that they can also start the timeline and the ticker on their ability to apply for work authorization, which takes…you can apply for work authorization after 180 days of your asylum application being submitted. So even after you submit your asylum application, that's not it. You're not done. You have to wait a few months to then submit your work authorization application. And then it takes a few months after that for you to actually receive your work authorization. And then you have check-ins and you also have court appearances that you have to participate in and attend across the iteration of your case until your immigration case is resolved.

And Governor Hochul has said that work authorization is the way out of the migrant crisis and you're keeping an eye on what's happening at the state and federal level. What's happened so far under Governor Hochul to expedite work authorizations?

Governor Hochul has actually champion Temporary Protected Status and we saw that happen for Venezuelans specifically in October of this past year, which provides people with temporary protected status, which is a form of immigration relief, but it also comes with work authorization. So, we need her to continue to champion Temporary Protected Statuses for other communities as well. In addition to that, we also saw the federal government step up and do some pilot programs of sort of a one-stop-shop. Because when you apply for any status, sometimes the process itself not the paperwork, but the process takes forever. You have to do biometrics appointment, you have to then do a fee waiver, if you're asking for a fee waiver application, you have to wait for them to respond to that. So, the federal government came in, we partnered with them on their first pilot here in New York City where we were able to screen 2,300 people within 10 days, and then were able to apply for 1,728 work authorization applications very quickly. And that was an expedited process. We want more of those to continue to happen. Not just here in New York City, but across the state, so that we're able to get people on their feet to work quicker. And we need to do more at the federal level to ensure that we're getting people the tools that they need to work quickly, but also at the state and local levels, we need to be investing and these critical programs that we know will help people integrate into society much quicker and much better. And really making sure. What we've seen historically is that when we invest in our people, the rate of return is a thousandfold.

And speaking of integration into our society, beyond work authorizations, there's also the matter of education. What's needed there, especially when it comes to educators and teachers having the skills to take on people who are arriving from other countries where English may not be their first language?

You know, we have had in the state of New York, a pretty high outmigration of population of historical New Yorkers, and this population that's coming in is kind of our golden ticket into the future to make sure that our state continues to be competitive, that we're able to continue to have local, strong economies that then build up to having a state, a strong state economy. We need to make sure that every aspect of life that we are taking care of individuals needs, right? making sure that when kids are going to school that they're getting the bilingual education that they need, that they're really being supportive, the English language learner supports in their capacity and we're seeing in some areas of the state more equipped to do it than others because of historical populations. And then really making sure that we're building out programming across the state to do it holistically. So, that it's not a piecemeal approach and actually something that we can do to support all New Yorkers regardless of where they live. So, making sure that all schools and all school districts have the supports that they need, which I know that the state did provide school districts that had an increase in enrollment from newcomers with additional resources, but we want to make sure that that increase in resources doesn't just stop when a student gets enrolled, but is actually there to help the school districts continue to thrive.

Is the New York Immigration Coalition planning any days at the New York State Capitol anytime soon to advocate for legislation or funding?

Yes, we're kicking off our state legislative campaign and will be up in Albany from Monday, January 22nd to the 23rd really meeting with legislators and ensuring that we are getting our community's needs in front of all state legislators, so that we're able to deliver the resources and supports that people need across the State of New York.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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