State Expands Aid To Queens Immigrant Legal Service Providers

New citizens take the Oath of Allegiance at a special ceremony on Citizenship Day in Brooklyn federal court in September.  Eagle  file photo by Paul Frangipane

New citizens take the Oath of Allegiance at a special ceremony on Citizenship Day in Brooklyn federal court in September. Eagle file photo by Paul Frangipane

By David Brand

Three Queens immigrant service providers are among 21 organizations designated as new Opportunity Centers by the governor’s Office of New Americans. The announcement coincided with the expansion of New York state’s Rapid Response Program, which connects attorneys with immigrants facing urgent legal challenges. Both initiatives are part of the Liberty Defense Project.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the expansion of state aid to Queens Community House, Make the Road New York and MinKwon Center for Community Action, Inc. on Thursday. The state will provide each organization with a “qualified and experienced immigration attorney” to provide free legal consultations, Cuomo’s office said in a statement.

"While the federal government continues to threaten our immigrant communities, New York will not stop fighting to protect the rights of new Americans," Cuomo said. "With this new program and expanded opportunity centers, we are ensuring vulnerable immigrants who are unfairly targeted by ICE have the legal assistance and services they need to achieve their full potential in New York."

Each center will assist individuals with citizenship applications and submit at least 100 applications to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The centers are also required to facilitate at least four seminars on immigration law and federal immigration policy and at least eight community workshops on topics like financial literacy, disaster preparedness and educational opportunities each year.

"These providers will do an outstanding job in bolstering Governor Cuomo's efforts to help all New Yorkers thrive. We look forward to working with our partners in all parts of the state to help immigrants in their own communities."

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deportations have increased by 150 percent citywide since President Donald Trump took office in January 2017, according to a report by City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer. Queens residents accounted for about half of the total number of deportations, the February report states.

ICE arrests in New York City increased 88 percent between 2016 and 2018, marking the third-highest increase of any major U.S. city, according to Stringer’s report.

ICE activity has also surged at courthouses in Queens and other boroughs. Last year, ICE made at least 33 reported arrests in and around Queens courts, according to a report by the Immigrant Defense Project.

The state introduced the Rapid Response Program in December to facilitate urgent legal assistance for more immigrants in underserved communities. Organizations applied for funding through the program and on Thursday, Cuomo said the state had selected Research Foundation of the City University of New York, on behalf of CUNY Citizenship Now!

The funding enables the organization to employ one dedicated Rapid Response immigration attorney.

Long Island’s Empire Justice Center will get two dedicated Rapid Response attorneys based on an increase in ICE enforcement and arrests, the Governor’s Office said.