New York State reaffirmed its commitment to the immigrant community in light of the Empire Justice Center helping to secure financial assistance for a Sudanese refugee–and others like him–who escaped his country’s armed conflict.
On March 16, the Appellate Division, Fourth Department, unanimously held that New York State residents with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) are eligible to access Safety Net Assistance benefits, going as far back as 2012.
“This is a long fought battle to do the right thing for individuals like Mr. Karamalla who have received Temporary Protected Status,” said Saima Akhtar, a senior attorney with Empire Justice Center who argued the appeal. “They initially came to New York because they feared for their lives, but went on to become valued members of their communities. Our state constitution says they should have access to assistance if it is needed and, yet, they were being denied.”
TPS is granted to individuals like Karamalla, who come from countries with a history of ongoing armed conflicts, environmental disasters, or other extraordinary circumstances that would place their lives in jeopardy if they were to return. New York State is home to over 26,000 TPS holders who contribute over $1.5 billion annually to the state’s economy.
A decision of this magnitude will likely affect several thousands of these individuals, who have lived in the United States for an average of 15 to 22 years.
Karamalla, the plaintiff of the case, left his country of Sudan over a decade ago to escape the violent armed conflict that has continued to plague the nation to this day. He came to the United States under TPS, where he worked in New York for many years until he became disabled. When he applied for assistance, he was denied based upon his TPS status, which directly contradicts the tenets of the state constitution. He is just one of many TPS holders who were denied Safety Net Assistance.
In 2015, the Empire Justice Center, with co-counsel from the Erie County Volunteer Lawyers Project, filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of Karamalla and other immigrants living in New York under TPS status. The Center argued that denying these people access to Safety Net Assistance benefits is a direct violation of both the U.S. Constitution and the New York State Constitution.
In 2016, Supreme Court Justice Catherine Nugent-Panepinto issued two decisions in favor of Karamalla and other individuals with TPS and certified a class of plaintiffs, meaning that these individuals would be provided with assistance if they applied and were eligible. The decision certifying the class was appealed by the New York State Office of Temporary Disability Assistance, but this new decision resolves that appeal.