By David Brand
New York State will fund free legal services and immigrants’ rights clinics for non-citizens at consulates and religious institutions throughout the five boroughs, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Tuesday.
The initiative is part of the state’s Liberty Defense Project, which directs aid to immigrant service providers, and is a joint effort among the state government, more than 100 international consulates in New York City and the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrants Rights. NMICR provides services to Queens residents.
“New York State recognizes that our diversity has always been our greatest strength and that it is in our interest both economically and culturally to protect that legacy," Cuomo said. "Too many immigrant families are unfairly targeted and victimized despite the fact that we are a nation of immigrants, and this new program will allow some of our most vulnerable New Yorkers to get the legal assistance they need in a safe and supportive space."
NMCIR works with predominantly low-income immigrants and conducts outreach in communities wary of seeking services because they fear exposure to law enforcement.
The organization will partner with the Liberty Defense Project to develop a Safe Haven Programs at consulates, which will provide one-on-one consultations with staff attorneys, conduct Know Your Rights workshops and refer individuals for more services.
“NMCIR has a long history of serving hard to reach populations due to its deep ties with entities that are considered safe spaces for the immigrant community,” said Alba Villa, executive director of NMCIR. “We are grateful that the Safe Haven Program will allow us to expand on this, providing hard to reach populations with the avenues through which to seek trusted legal representation, such as Consulates and Religious Institutions.”
The Safe Haven Program will also extend to churches, mosques, temples, synagogues and other religious spaces to foster a secure environment for immigrant worshippers and visitors. The state will fund immigration clinics and referral programs as religious institutions and provide legal representation to religious sites that work to reunite immigrant families separated at the border.
NMCIR is the latest organization to expand under the Liberty Defense Project, which directs state funding to immigrant service providers.
In March, the state funded 21 such organizations through the Liberty Defense Project, including three in Queens. The Queens Community House, Make the Road New York and MinKwon Center for Community Action, Inc. were among the sites designated as Opportunity Centers by the state.
Under the initiative, New York will provide each organization with a “qualified and experienced immigration attorney” to provide free legal consultations, Cuomo’s office said in a statement.