State Budget Maintains Liberty Defense Project, Free Legal Help For Immigrants

(Photo/Marc A. Hermann/MTA New York City Transit)

The passage of the New York State budget for fiscal year 2019 marked some losses for the immigrant community, but also significant wins including the continuation of the $10 million Liberty Defense Project, which has previously assisted Long Island groups.

The Liberty Defense Project is a public-private legal defense fund to ensure that all immigrants, regardless of their status, can access free legal representation. When it was launched last year, funding was provided to Long Island community-based organizations and legal service providers, including SEPA Mujer and CARECEN.

“At a time when New York State’s 4.4 million immigrants are under daily attack by the Trump administration, our governor and legislature need to step up to the challenge,” said Steven Choi, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC).

“The state’s $10 million reinvestment for the Liberty Defense Project was an important step.  While community needs remain immense, particularly upstate, it is critical that providers continue to roll out the legal services and outreach efforts so that New York’s immigrants are protected from deportation. We thank the governor, the assembly, and the Independent Democratic Conference for helping ensure this continuity.”

Budget wins related to immigration include:

  • $500,000 increase in Adult Literacy Education funding to support English language learning and adult education classes, but this investment falls critically short of the necessary amount to curb immediate classroom impact from federal funding changes.
  • $10 million for the Liberty Defense Project, which is important to continue, but still needs more to cover statewide immigrant legal services, especially in upstate communities.*
  • $30 million to support safety net and rural hospitals across the state.
  • A temporary workgroup on Disproportionate Share Hospitals (DSH) and indigent care (many who need indigent care are low income, people of color, and immigrants) to study funding streams moving forward.
  • $2 million to support refugee resettlement providers in New York State.
  • Creation of a Census commission for 2020; despite having no funding through the Budget, this commission will be critical with federal threats to a fair and accurate count that would hurt all New Yorkers.
  • $175 million to support a new approach to workforce investments that will leverage strategic regional efforts to meet businesses’ short-term workforce needs, improve regional talent pipelines (including immigrant and refugee workers), expand apprenticeships, and address the long-term needs of expanding industries.

Losses include:

  • The Dream Act failed by 4 votes when it was added as a hostile amendment. Undocumented youth continue to be excluded from New York’s Excelsior Program, which provides four years of fully-covered college tuition at SUNY or CUNY.
  • The State again failed to ensure that all young people have access to health care by declining to expand Child Health Plus to age 29 .
  • The State failed to protect health insurance coverage for New Yorkers losing Temporary Protected Status because of federal moves to end the program.
  • The State legislature and governor failed to expand our participatory democracy by excluding early voting, campaign finance reform, board of election reform, and closing the LLC loophole.