City Allocates $4.1 Million for Immigration Legal Assistance

By David Brand

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday that New York City would earmark $4.1 million to provide legal assistance for migrant children residing in the city. The announcement comes as attorneys from various city agencies return from the U.S.-Mexico border where they assisted families stuck in immigration detention.

More than 400 children remain separated from their parents months after the Trump Administration said it would reunite immigrant families, including asylum-seekers, separated at the southern border.

“The Trump Administration’s cruel and inhumane attacks on immigrant families seeking refuge in our country is un-American. Those are not New York City’s values,” de Blasio said. “Mothers and fathers need to be able to hug and console their children and we are doing everything we can to help by providing free high-quality legal services.”

The Human Resources Administration’s Office of Civil Justice and the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs have worked with various legal services providers through the Administration’s Immigrant Opportunity Initiative (IOI) program to increase their capacity to meet immigrants’ urgent legal needs, including assisting children in Office of Refugee Resettlement custody in NYC.

Advocates for the rights of immigrants praised the funding increase.

“Attorneys from Sanctuary for Families, the largest provider of legal services for survivors of gender violence in the country, represent thousands of immigrant survivors, far too many who are children,” said Judge Judy Harris Kluger, executive director of Sanctuary for Families. “These immigrant children have lived through unspeakable violence and abuse. This infusion of funding for legal services will give service providers, like Sanctuary, much-needed resources to assist these children along the path to safety and healing."

According to the city, the funding will enable the city to increase capacity for legal defense in deportation proceedings for over 900 separated and unaccompanied immigrant youth, increase funding for social work and case management and conduct legal screening and risk assessment needs of family members interested in sponsoring separated children.

The legal service providers include Catholic Charities, Catholic Migration Services, Central American Legal Assistance, Immigrant Justice Corps, Kids in Need of Defense, Legal Services NYC, New York Legal Assistance Group, Northern Manhattan Center for Immigrant Rights, Safe Passage Project, Sanctuary for Families, The Door, The Legal Aid Society, Urban Justice Center, Bronx Defenders, Brooklyn Defender Services and Make the Road New York.

"Several separated children who were brought to our city have been reunited with their families at the border, but they continue to languish in detention,” said Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs Commissioner Bitta Mostofi. “It was a harrowing experience to speak directly to families separated by the Trump administration and to witness the systematic mistreatment of immigrant children and families up close.”

Rich Leimsider, executive director of the Safe Passage Project, which works with undocumented children, said the money will enable lawyers like those from his organization to reach more kids in need.

"We are proud today to stand in solidarity with the de Blasio administration as we fight to defend the rights of these vulnerable young New Yorkers,” Leimsider said. “No child should face the immigration process alone, and now these children won't have to.”

Judge Judy Harris Kluger, executive director of Sanctuary for Families, praised Mayor Bill de Blasio’s decision to allocate $4.1 million to provide legal assistance for immigrant children. // Photo courtesy of Manhattan DA