Sunset Park

Menchaca blasts budget shortfalls in immigration services

April 4, 2016 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Councilmember Carlos Menchaca presides over the hearing. Photo courtesy of Menchaca’s office

The proposed city budget shortchanges immigration services to the point where nonprofit organizations will be left with an unfair heavy burden when it comes to assisting foreign-born New Yorkers, according to Councilmember Carlos Menchaca.

Menchaca (D-Sunset Park-Red Hook), chairman of the council’s Committee on Immigration, held a five-hour budget hearing on March 28 during which representatives of government agencies and community-based organizations testified on immigrant services.

The hearing highlighted the need for additional funding to handle immigration cases and adult literacy services, Menchaca said.

“I would be remiss if I did not address the shortcomings in this year’s preliminary budget. There has been a failure to increase funding and secure baseline funding for services that have been in dire need of resources for a period of years, for example, adult literacy services. When it comes to legal services, reductions in year to year funding have limited organizations from having the flexibility needed to shape their casework and take into account the complexity and lengthiness of immigration cases,” Menchaca said.

The budget hearing was a first for Menchaca’s committee. In previous years, discussions on the budget for immigration services took place at many different committee hearings. But Menchaca said that the old process created a disjointed conversation about city resources for immigrants. By holding one hearing, the committee provided an important forum for a more cohesive conversation about the budget for immigrant services, he said.

The witnesses at the hearing included: Commissioner Nisha Agarwal of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, Commissioner Steven Banks of the Human Resources Administration and Commissioner Bill Chong of the Department of Youth and Community Development.

Agarwal predicted that there will be a greater need for legal services for immigrants if the U.S. Supreme Court upholds lower court rulings on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, in which undocumented immigrants who entered the country before their 16th birthday and before June 2007 can receive a renewable two-year work permit and be exempt from deportation.

Also winding their way through the courts are cases on the Deferred Action for Parent Accountability (DAPA) program, an immigration policy that would grant deferred action status to undocumented immigrants who have lived in the U.S. since 2010 and whose children are American citizens.

“If the Supreme Court goes the right way, and we hope that they will, we’ll need a lot more immigration legal clinics to respond to what will be a huge surge in demand for help and that may be an additional resource need that may come up,” Agarwal said.

DACA services received $18 million across Fiscal Year 2014 and Fiscal Year 2015, an amount allocated by the Bloomberg administration, according to Menchaca, who said that none of the funding was factored into the Fiscal Year 2016 budget and beyond.

In response to the committee’s concerns over what members said is a lack of funding for the myriad of immigration cases handled through the city’s ActionNYC program, Banks said his agency is studying the issue. “We’re going to evaluate the network that we’ve put in place, the resources we’ve given and continue to make changes,” he told the committee.

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ActionNYC received $7.9 million in Fiscal Year 2016, $5.6 million of which will be available through Fiscal Year 2017.

The issue of adult literacy services for immigrants also came up at the hearing. The ability of every immigrant to contribute to the economy is largely dependent on the literacy skills of that immigrant, experts testified.

The commissioners said they were aware of a request for $16 million in adult literacy classes in the proposed Fiscal 2017 budget, a proposal made by the groups Make the Road New York, the New York Coalition for Adult Literacy and the New York Immigration Coalition.

The funding would add approximately 13,000 seats, advocates said.

 

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