Commentary: An Opportunity for New York to Lead on Immigration Policy

Commentary: An Opportunity for New York to Lead on Immigration Policy

By Murad Awawdeh

Gov. Hochul, let’s show the nation how to shape a morally sound, economically beneficial response to the migrant crisis.

As 2024 sets in, immigrant communities all over are bracing for a year of attacks and policy proposals that threaten to eliminate crucial protections and resources. 

President Joe Biden and congressional leaders are considering cruel immigration policies. Extremist governors like Greg Abbott of Texas are enacting legislation that greenlights racial profiling and allows local enforcement to jail anyone thought to be a migrant. Closer to home, New York City Mayor Eric Adams is throwing asylum-seeking families and children onto the streets in the dead of winter.

That’s why it was disappointing that Gov. Kathy Hochul gave scant mention to immigrants and asylum seekers in her State of the State address: She missed a huge opportunity to demonstrate New York’s leadership on how we can and should best welcome newcomers into our communities. 

Over four million immigrants already live in New York, creating more jobs than they fill and revitalizing struggling economies in cities including Buffalo, Syracuse and Utica. With the legislative session officially underway, here’s how lawmakers in Albany can give long-term support to immigrant New Yorkers and new arrivals alike while boosting our economy. 

First, we must make deeper investments in legal services. We know there is a profound need for legal services for the over 150,000 asylum seekers who have arrived in New York over the past two years. These families are left to navigate our complex legal system alone and must ensure their asylum applications and work authorization forms are filled correctly. We’re calling for a $150 million investment in legal services, just 0.0006% of the state budget, to streamline this process and allow asylum seekers to get on the path to employment and self-sufficiency more quickly. 

That’s also why we’ve doubled down on our efforts to pass the Access to Representation Act. The first-in-the-nation bill would create a right to counsel in immigration proceedings, extending the same protections already available in other legal proceedings. 

While New York City may be a sanctuary city, that protection for undocumented New Yorkers does not extend across the state. Every trip to the grocery store, the doctor’s office or to school raises the threat of family separation. In passing the New York for All Act, our state can end any cooperation between local law enforcement agencies and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Moreover, we can’t hope to create a healthy and safe New York for all if we don’t ensure that all New York families can access critical government information or services across the state by mandating language accessibility for newer initiatives.

Measures that would help all of New York’s hard-working families would also help these new arrivals. The Working Families Tax Credit and the Housing Access Voucher Program would not only help stabilize families, but it would also save the state millions in reduced shelter costs. 

Despite all the noise, New Yorkers continue to stand with immigrants. A recent Siena poll found that nearly 60% of New Yorkers support making work authorizations easier for migrants to access, and 72% agree that immigrants bring new vitality to America. 

New York has always served as a beacon of hope to immigrants. This legislative session, lawmakers have a responsibility to live up to that legacy and reflect the will of the people. The stakes are far too high to give in to a fringe minority seeking to undermine our foundational American values. 

Murad Awawdeh is executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition. This opinion piece first appeared in Times Union on January 15, 2024.

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