As New York works to rebuild from the wreckage left by the Trump administration, immigrant communities across the state are reeling.
The Trump administration took our draconian immigration system and supercharged it, taking hundreds of executive actions that destroyed countless lives.
Beyond the hundreds of thousands of people who were deported or turned away at the border under Trump, and the thousands of families who were separated because of his policies, countless numbers of immigrants receded further into the shadows because they are scared of what the government might do to them.
Some immigrant residents are more likely to avoid seeking the food or medical assistance they need, because they fear it will cost them a chance to become citizens. Others are wary of getting tested, treated, and vaccinated for Covid for similar reasons.
But there is a chance for New York and all of the people who call our state home to emerge stronger than we were before Trump.
To do that, we must start to build trust in immigrant communities where so many fear that interacting with the government will put them in danger. And we must also make sure that anyone who faces deportation has a lawyer by their side helping them defend their rights in immigration court.
New York for All
All New Yorkers deserve to be able to lead open lives and take care of everyday needs – like visiting the doctor, attending public school, or going to work.
But many immigrant residents fear that interacting with local law enforcement or local agencies will lead to ICE tracking them down, or putting their loved ones at risk of deportation. This fear has existed for decades, but it increased many-fold under Trump.
Since its formation, ICE has been determined to cruelly target immigrants and separate families – and it doesn’t work alone. ICE relies on state and local officials and law enforcement to search for, arrest, and deport people, and to separate families.
This state and local collusion with ICE – and the fear that it will happen – is one of the major reasons immigrant New Yorkers fear attending to daily life in the open. This perilous partnership also misdirects our local resources, leads to unconstitutional racial profiling, and makes people less likely to get the care they need during the pandemic.
State legislators recently introduced the New York for All Act, which would protect immigrant New Yorkers by ensuring our local resources cannot be diverted to do ICE's bidding.
It does this by prohibiting state and local officers from enforcing federal immigration laws and sharing sensitive information with ICE, and prohibiting ICE from entering non-public areas of state and local property without a judicial warrant.
Even under the new administration, ICE has continued to mass-deport people, including infants, pregnant people, and those fleeing deadly conditions. It is a rogue agency that our state must not enable.
The Right to a Lawyer
For immigrants who face deportation, it’s hard to overstate just how important an immigration judge’s verdict is. A loss in court can shatter families, uproot lives, and force people into countries where their lives are at risk.
While people in immigration court have a right to legal representation, unlike in criminal proceedings, those who can’t afford a lawyer won’t have one appointed to them. This leaves many people to navigate an overwhelmingly complex and high-stakes legal process on their own. Immigrants who do have representation are much more likely to win their cases and be allowed to stay in the country.
Though New York has provided funding for immigrant legal services in past years, that funding is not guaranteed year to year. That leaves critical access to representation subject to the whims of annual budget cycles. With the state facing a major budget deficit, it’s far from certain if funding for this important program will make the cut.
The Access to Representation Act would create a right to government-funded counsel for immigrants in removal proceedings in New York. The bill would guarantee the assistance of counsel not only in removal proceedings, but also other proceedings critical to a person’s deportation defense.
New York made strides last legislative session to protect the rights of immigrants by banning ICE arrests at courthouses and making driver’s licenses available regardless of immigration status. Now it’s time to take the next step.
The New York for All Act and Access to Representation Act will help to repair the damage inflicted by four years of Trump, and they will also address some of the glaring shortcomings in our state laws that should have been fixed long ago.