Testimony by the New York Legal Assistance Group
Re: Proposed Resolution No. 929-AResolution calling upon the United States Supreme Court to issue a decision in United States v. Texas, which overturns the Fifth Circuit’s ruling in Texas v. United States, and upholds the implementation of President Obama’s expanded DACA and DAPA programs.
Before the New York City Council, Immigration Committee
January 27, 2016
Chairman Menchaca, Council Members, and staff, good afternoon and thank you for the opportunity to speak about Proposed Resolution No. 929-A. My name is Irina Matiychenko, and I am the Director of the Immigrant Protection Unit at the New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG), a nonprofit law office dedicated to providing free legal services in civil law matters to low-income New Yorkers. NYLAG serves immigrants, seniors, veterans, the homebound, families facing foreclosure, renters facing eviction, low-income consumers, those in need of government assistance, children in need of special education, domestic violence victims, people with disabilities, patients with chronic illness or disease, low-wage workers, low-income members of the LGBTQ community, Holocaust survivors, as well as others in need of free legal services.
NYLAG is one of the largest immigration service providers in New York City providing representation before Immigration and Family Courts, USCIS and the Board of Immigration Appeals, in federal appeals and at administrative hearings, and handling comprehensive immigration matters including naturalization, adjustment of status and relative petitions, U & T Visas, Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, asylum, and more. NYLAG also has special competency assisting and representing applicants for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), helping clients to apply since its creation in 2012. Since then, NYLAG has filed more than 1,200 successful DACA applications, and we understand the importance of this program firsthand. DACA has proven to be an unequivocal success, giving hundreds of thousands of immigrants who came to the U.S. as children the chance to obtain social security numbers, driver’s licenses, and jobs with benefits.
NYLAG was thrilled when President Obama announced administrative relief in November 2014, including an expansion of the DACA initiative and a new initiative for the undocumented parents of U.S. citizens, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA). While not a pathway to citizenship or a green card, those who qualify will no longer live under the threat of deportation, and will be entitled to receive temporary work authorization and other benefits. This will remove a barrier for many hardworking immigrants who have been forced to work under the table, often for appallingly low wages and in substandard conditions. Most importantly, thousands of families who have lived in fear of being separated can now for the first time be assured that parents and children will not be torn apart.
NYLAG currently screens dozens of immigrants each month who have no immigration relief options without the existence of administrative relief. One such person, Monica, came to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic in 2000 on a temporary visa to help care for an elderly aunt with chronic health problems. She stayed after her visa expired and settled in Brooklyn, where she met her husband, who is also undocumented. The couple had two daughters, now 10 and 8. In 2009, Monica’s husband was seized by immigration authorities on his way home from a visit with relatives in New Jersey and was deported soon after. Desperate to avoid being deported herself, Monica has lived a life of fear, isolation and poverty, constantly worried that she will be discovered and taken away from her daughters. Although she had earned a university degree in the Dominican Republic, for the last seven years she was cleaning homes for a living to avoid being asked for the working papers that she does not have. If DAPA were an option, Monica and hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants like her would be able to live their lives without the constant fear of deportation, and with the opportunities that come with moving out of the shadows.
The announcement of administrative relief was welcome news for all immigrant advocates who, in the face of continuing inaction by Congress on comprehensive immigration reform, have been calling on the President to exercise his executive power to overhaul our nation’s broken immigration system.
For over a year, since the State of Texas, along with 25 other states, filed a lawsuit against the Administration and this order was placed on hold by the Fifth Circuit court, NYLAG attorneys have had an unfortunate task of telling our immigrant clients that they must wait for resolution. With the recent announcement that the Supreme Court will review the Fifth Circuit’s decision, NYLAG believes that this decision will be reversed and that the highest court will uphold the President’s authority to take action on immigration relief, as Presidents have done time and time again over the past several decades. A reversal of the Texas injunction will mean that immigrants will soon have the opportunity to finally apply for DAPA and expanded DACA.
It is critical that immigrants and the agencies that advocate for them are ready to implement the DAPA and expanded DACA programs immediately subsequent to a favorable Supreme Court decision. Considering the uncertainty of the outcome of the upcoming presidential election, it is very important for all potentially eligible immigrants to apply for extended DACA and DAPA benefits as soon as the program is implemented, especially if a President whose Administration is less friendly to immigrants than the current Administration is elected.
We know the need is there. Due to a series of large-scale clinics throughout all five boroughs, including clinics at the Council’s Key to the City events, NYLAG has been able to reach out to thousands of immigrants and screen them for eligibility for expanded DACA and DAPA. As a result, we have created a list of more than 1,000 immigrants who may potentially benefit from a favorable decision by the Supreme Court. We encourage those potentially eligible for expanded DACA and DAPA to continue collecting the necessary documentation in anticipation of a successful appeal of the injunction. We have limited time to act, and NYLAG is ready to assist clients immediately.
Once again I thank the City Council for inviting NYLAG to present testimony today and applaud the New York City Council for putting forth this resolution supporting the President’s Executive Action. NYLAG strongly and unequivocally supports Proposed Resolution 929-A.
Respectfully submitted by
Irina Matiychenko, Esq.