NYC launches Asylum Seeker Legal Assistance Network with $5M investment

August 10, 2023 Rob Abruzzese
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Commissioner Manuel Castro of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (MOIA) announced the creation of the Asylum Seeker Legal Assistance Network (ASLAN) on Thursday.

This $5 million initiative seeks to bolster community-based legal support for newly arrived asylum seekers, furthering New York City’s dedication as a sanctuary for migrants. The launch fills a void left by the absence of a cohesive national strategy on asylum, and complements the $65 million already earmarked by the city for immigrant legal services.

“New York City continues to be a national leader when responding to this global humanitarian crisis and supporting newly arrived migrants,” said Manuel Castro, Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs. “Today, I am proud to announce the network composed of on-the-ground partners across the City that will work to continue to support our newest New Yorkers. While we wait for a national strategy, our administration will remain committed to being a city of immigrants.”

Asylum seekers are individuals who leave their home countries in search of protection from severe threats, often involving extreme violence, persecution, or life-threatening circumstances. Their decisions to migrate are typically out of sheer necessity, aiming to escape immediate harm and to secure a safer environment for themselves and their families.

Once asylum seekers find refuge in a new country, they frequently contribute positively to the local economy. Contrary to some misconceptions, they often fill job vacancies, launch businesses, pay taxes, and consume goods and services that stimulate economic growth. Over time, as they integrate into their new communities, their cultural, entrepreneurial, and diverse backgrounds can bring innovation and enrichment, bolstering the local economy and creating a mutually beneficial relationship between the asylum seekers and their host communities.

Through ASLAN, migrants will access legal help across the city, including a pivotal hub: the Asylum Application Help Center in midtown Manhattan. Remote services will also be available.

Partnering with the initiative are several distinguished organizations including the African Services Committee, CUNY Law, Catholic Charities Community Services, and the New York Legal Assistance Group, among others. These organizations are poised to offer diverse services ranging from legal screenings to workshops.

A notable collaboration emerges with The City University of New York (CUNY). They are set to marshal student forces, leveraging their legal acumen, to help asylum seekers. This partnership will harness the expertise of both the CUNY School of Law and CUNY Citizenship Now!, with services spanning legal clinics to resource navigation centers. Moreover, faculties from the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College and the CUNY School of Medicine are uniting to address the holistic needs of asylum seekers, factoring in their social and psychological well-being.

The city has also announced funding to amplify MOIA’s Immigration Legal Hotline via Catholic Charities Community Services, anticipating an upsurge in call volumes.

Chancellor Félix Matos Rodríguez of CUNY encapsulated the broader sentiment, emphasizing CUNY’s longstanding commitment to immigrants and their significant role in the fabric of New York. Other organization heads, from Catholic Charities Community Services to the African Services Committee and NYLAG, echoed similar sentiments, affirming their dedication to the immigrant community and their pride in partnering with the city on this vital initiative.

“CUNY has a proud history of educating immigrants and first-generation families who have found in our classrooms a path to good-paying jobs and upward mobility,” Matos Rodriguez said. “This partnership to assist asylum seekers is another opportunity for the University to support a new generation of New Yorkers whose success will benefit our City and State.”


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