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New York Immigration Coalition's Murad Awawdeh discusses $2.4 billion for new arrivals in state budget

Murad Awawdeh
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Murad Awawdeh

Democratic New York Governor Kathy Hochul recently signed a $237 billion state budget.

The spending plan includes $2.4 billion to support migrants, including millions for short- and long-term-shelter, legal assistance, and other services.

Much of the funding will support New York City, which has bore the brunt of the migrant crisis in the state.

To discuss the funding for new arrivals in the state budget, WAMC's Lucas Willard spoke with Murad Awawdeh, President and CEO of the New York Immigration Coalition.

We applaud the governor and the state legislative leaders and ensuring that we put enough resources in the state budget to support newcomers coming into New York City, with over $2.4 billion for the city of New York as well as refunding the MRAP program, which has been so critical in helping people resettle in the state of New York. We also saw an increase in the Empire State Child Tax Credit, which is going to really put dollars back in the pockets of parents. We’re disappointed that we didn't see the increase that we wanted in immigration legal services to the tune of $150 million. But we did see the state and slightly increase that pot from $63 million to $64.2 million for this coming calendar year. You know, not having immigration legal support while you're going up against immigration court, which is just immigration, government officials with their sole job is to deport you…And we you know that when you have an immigration attorney, your chances of winning your case are 10.5 times more likely to actually win. So, for us, it's really making sure that we are powering our state into the future. And we know that the immigrant community here in the state of New York already contributes over $62 billion in tax revenue. And we know that the power and potential of our community is so much more than that when people are able to get the support that they need to seek immigration relief, and then they're able to contribute more into our society.

So, Murad, last time we spoke, in January, we talked about the backlog in the federal court system that new arrivals are facing. Is this any of the state funding, is this going to do anything to address the backlog?

Well, the federal government and the Department of Homeland Security, and specifically ICE and USCIS, are the agencies that manage the immigration court backlog. And the state budget doesn't really impact the federal agencies. But the federal government has come up with some creative ways of helping move some cases forward, but also, specifically, helping move forward more quickly work authorization applications, which have historically taken between 6 and 12 months for people to actually get their work authorization in hand. So, the state budget, the way it impacts that, is when we're able to give people immigration legal services, we are in partnership with the state of New York and the Department of State, right now, in supporting people who have been resettled and upstate New York, to get them immigration legal services. And we've been providing them with the support that they need to submit their applications and get their applications. Some of them have already received their work authorization, some of them have actually received status, like TPS, if they applied for TPS, some of them have already received it in hand, and are actually integrating much quicker. They're getting out of the shelters and the hotels across the state and actually getting settled into their own new homes, working and really being super productive contributors in the local communities. And we know that immigrants are powering local communities, not just in New York City, but across the state, and have actually been the backbone of local economies for some decades now.

One item in the $2.4 billion for new arrivals and migrants that the governor has signed is nearly $10 million for adult literacy education. What can you tell me about that program? And where do new arrivals actually find these kinds of services?

We're excited that the adult literacy education funding actually got increases, the first time it's been increased in quite some time. So kudos to the governor, the Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, as well as Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, for making that really important investment because we know that people who receive adult literacy education have the potential of earning 10 times more money than they currently do when they get the education that they need to, you know, learn English, have financial literacy and be able to navigate the systems that we have set up in the state. So, that money actually gets re-granted from the state to local community-based organizations who then provide the workforce development courses, the English language courses, and other amazing educational supports for people who are historical immigrants who've been calling New York home for 30 years and potentially the new arrivals who've been calling New York home for the past year or two.

Where is the need right now for housing? What's your assessment of how New York State is doing in making sure that those who are coming into the state have appropriate shelter?

Well, I don't have to say this, because we're all living this right now in this moment, but we're seeing this affordability crisis that's ravaged our country as a whole, for the past couple of years really hit very hard across the state. So part of our campaigns this year was really making sure that we're fighting for expanding affordable housing and providing people with housing supports. And part of that was actually advocating for the Housing Access Voucher program, which unfortunately didn't make it into budget. And that program would have supported people who are unhoused, or at risk of becoming unhoused remaining house and getting into housing quicker. And part of the resources that the state has allocated in this budget is really critical in ensuring that folks who need support are getting it. So, there was a housing deal that was that was struck between the state leaders. And we hope that that actually provides real tangible solutions and changes the material conditions on the ground for people. We think they could have gone further in making sure that, you know, the Housing Access Voucher program was actually funded, as well as making sure that Good Cause was actually a little bit stronger. But all the pieces of the puzzle, this is a starting step, we have a lot more work to do to get our state in a better place to support, not just people remaining housed, but also getting more online affordable houses, housing options for people immediately. And specifically for new arrivals, the MRAP program is really the integration tool that the state has been using, which has been a successful program thus far, in helping people who have applied for status and received it get into some form of housing, outside of shelter.

So Murad, what will the New York Immigration Coalition be pushing for during the remainder of the session? Do you have any priorities that you see can be moved over the finish line?

Well, you know, we're going to continue fighting for our Access to Representation Act, which would allow people to get immigration, legal representation, when they're in court and make it a state law to do that, as well as pushing forward language access expansion. We have seen that because the agencies do not have the depth of language access, people are missing critical information. When we had the last blizzard that was really horrific in Buffalo, several people died because they never got the message that they were under an emergency order to stay home because they didn't receive it in the language that they spoke or understood. So, we really want to continue to push for expanding our language access at the statewide level to ensure people that it's really a life and death issue that people are getting information languages that they understand. And then, ensuring that we're strengthening public safety with New York For All which would help ensure that our communities are remain whole and we're able to continue to push for family unity as well as keeping communities whole

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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