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Why Bill de Blasio wants to spend $8 million on immigrant New Yorkers

The new program, set to launch in April, will include collaboration with 14 community organizations in New York City and potentially reach up to 75,000 immigrants in its first year, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday.

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    New US citizens wave US flags after taking the Oath of Allegiance during a special naturalization ceremony at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) District Office in the Manhattan borough of New York City, Nov. 13. Mayor Bill de Blasio on Monday announced a $7.9 million investment on immigrant New Yorkers.
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In a push to move past national gridlock over immigration reform, Mayor Bill de Blasio on Monday announced a $7.9 million investment on immigrant New Yorkers.

The program, which Mr. de Blasio laid out at the annual National Immigrant Integration Conference in Brooklyn, will center on creating navigation hubs to help residents seek free legal services to apply for citizenship or receive protection from deportation. Dubbed ActionNYC, the initiative is set to work with 14 community organizations and includes plans to reach up to 75,000 immigrants in its first year, which begins in April, The New York Times reports.

“There’s a lot of people, because of what’s been going on in national rhetoric about immigration, who don’t come forward, and who are always afraid to interact,” Javier Valdés, co-executive director of Make the Road New York, told the Times. “We need to go into the communities and not wait for those to come forward.”

The effort is meant to bolster the city’s existing immigration initiatives. In June last year, the New York City Council – following the lead of cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New Haven, Conn. – created a municipal ID program to provide immigrant residents with documentation they need to open a bank account or sign a lease. It is now the largest such program in the country, with about 670,000 enrollees.

That October, the council also passed a bill that would limit the city’s cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the federal agency responsible for detaining undocumented immigrants.

“By further limiting ICE's role in the detention and deportation of immigrant New Yorkers, we set the national standard for the treatment of our immigrant population," said New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who is set to introduce the bill next week, in a statement. "Families will no longer be needlessly torn apart by ICE's dragnet enforcement efforts.”

Despite those efforts, however, immigrants in New York – like those in many communities across the country – face big challenges. As The Christian Science Monitor’s Harry Bruinius reported last year:

Immigrants facing deportation do not have a right to legal counsel, and about 60 percent of the deportation cases in New York and New Jersey do not have adequate representation, experts say. As a result, 97 percent of these immigrants are deported, even though they had legal options available to them.

“If you were detained and unrepresented, it was virtually impossible to win your case,” says Professor Markowitz, who chaired the steering committee that led to New York’s program providing funds for detainees. “When you add lawyers to the mix, it can improve people’s chances of success by as much as 1,000 percent.”

Indeed, “The legal needs span up and down the spectrum,” Nisha Agarwal, the city’s commissioner for immigrant affairs, told the Times. “It’s better that [immigrants] get legal help and that they don’t spend thousands of dollars to go to a notario who will cheat them.”

Through ActionNYC, the city and local organizations seek to reach out to residents who did not know they were eligible for deferred action, green cards, or temporary protections extended to those fleeing countries at war or suffering a calamity. Some of the 14 community groups involved will be in charge of outreach. Others will hire navigators to bridge the cultural and language gap between the residents and legal proceedings, while yet others will provide lawyers.

“It’s a really interesting and new model. The city is saying, here are a half-dozen lawyers, let’s deploy them in these areas and in this way,” said Mario Russell, director of immigrant and refugee services for Catholic Charities Community Services in New York, to the Times. “It is a good thing, it is a right thing. How it works, we’ll see.”

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