NY State faces a $6 billion budget gap, but attorneys want funding to defend illegals from deportation

New York State faces budget deficits between $6 billion and $8 billion over the next three years, due to ballooning Medicaid costs. A projected $6 billion budget gap for fiscal year 2020-21 could mean deep cuts in programs and services.

Lawyers who defend illegal immigrants from deportation aren't letting that bother them, because that's their line of business. Nonprofits who advocate granting privileges to illegal aliens normally associated with U.S. citizenship aren't letting that bother them either, because that's their line of business.

The Access To Representation Act

On January 15, NY State Senator Brad Hoylman (D/WF-Manhattan) and Assembly Member Catalina Cruz (D-Queens) introduced what they call the Access to Representation Act. This piece of legislation would create a “statutory right” to a lawyer for any “New Yorker” facing deportation who cannot afford to hire an attorney.

Individuals facing criminal charges in the U.S. already have a statutory right to an attorney, regardless of their immigration status. This bill would extend that right to aliens facing deportation, even though immigration matters are considered civil.

The announcement says the legislation was crafted in partnership with the New York State Bar Association and the New York Immigration Coalition.

The New York Immigration Coalition was organized under section 501(c)(3) of U.S. Internal Revenue Code (Title 26 of the United States Code), meaning they are exempt from federal income tax and donations to that organization are tax deductible. According to their 2017 Annual Report, donations from foundations and corporations accounted for 55% of their total revenues, while 35% came from government sources.

The NYIC has a page on their website dedicated to the proposed legislation, called Access to Representation. They state: 78% of immigrants with lawyers win their cases, versus 15% who don’t have legal help. For immigrants who are detained, only 3% win their cases without a lawyer.

When you first navigate to the NYIC website, on whatever page you happen to land, this notification pops up:

Need legal assistance?

Call the NYS Immigration Hotline at 1-800-xxx-xxxx or view our directory of service providers here

The New York State Liberty Defense Project

Civil legal services groups currently offer services to immigration court defendants at no cost, but their capacity to take on new cases largely depends on the amount of funding provided by state and local governments.

New York State has the Liberty Defense Project, for example. This state-led public-private project provides state funding to private law firms, bar associations and advocacy groups which provide legal services for what New York euphemistically calls its “immigrant” population.

In pushing this legislation, the New York State Bar Association and the New York Immigration Coalition intend to prevent this year’s $6 billion budget deficit from shutting off public funding for legal services targeted toward deportation proceedings.

Since 2017, NY State has allocated $10 million to the Liberty Defense Project. The New York Immigration Coalition is now asking the state to fund the project at $15.3 million.

New York's 2021 draft budget omits the Liberty Defense Project

This week, the Albany-based Times Union reported that funding for the Liberty Defense Project (LDP) had been omitted from the the Cuomo Administration's 2021 draft budget.

Camille Mackler, director of immigration legal policy at the New York Immigration Coalition, says funding for the LDP has typically come in right before the budget deadline. Last year, legal providers found out funding was restored the night before the budget vote. In fiscal year 2019 they found out five hours before the vote.

She complains that the delays create a logistical nightmare for nonprofit advocacy groups. That actually makes it really hard for organizations to hire … they can’t give [employees] more than a year’s guarantee.

The Albany Times Union observes: Legislators and other interested parties are looking for a more permanent solution to secure funding for immigrant legal services.

The legislation: Senate Bill S7261 and Assembly Bill A9125

The Access To Representation Act is formally designated Senate Bill S7261 It's sponsored by Brad Hoylman (D, WF) and co-sponsored by Michael Gianaris (D, WF), Roxanne J. Persaud (D), Julia Salazar (D, WF) and Luis R. Sepúlveda (D).

The companion version of this bill in the New York State Assembly has been designated Assembly Bill A9125.

Assembly Bill A9125 was introduced on January 21, 2020, by Catalina Cruz, who represents the neighborhoods of Corona, Elmhurst and Jackson Heights in Queens, NY. She is a “DREAMer” who was born in Colombia and came to Queens at the age of 9.

A9125 was co-sponsored by Félix W. Ortiz from Sunset Park in Brooklyn, who is the Assistant Speaker of the New York State Assembly, and by Aravella Simotas, from Astoria, Queens.

As of February 1, 2020, Senate Bill S7261 is in the Senate Finance Committee and Assembly Bill A9125 is in the Assembly Codes Committee.