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City Limits: Mayor’s Budget Cuts to Impact Legal Services, English Classes for City’s Immigrants

At a time when the need for legal services is increasing for recently arrived immigrants, the city is cutting funds to the very program designed to address these specific needs. NYLAG’s Jodi Ziesemer talked with CityLimits about the legal expertise required in handling the casework we see through the Rapid Response Legal Collective, which the city clearly recognizes as it continues to refer cases to NYLAG despite cuts in funding.

“During the Program to Eliminate the Gap (PEG) announcement, the mayor stated that the city’s economic challenges are due to multiple factors coinciding at the same time: the reduction of tax revenue, the end of federal COVID-era stimulus funds, substantial pay increases for city workers, and the continuing influx of immigrants to the city. Days after that announcement, the Daily News reported that the budget for newly arrived immigrants and asylum seekers would be reduced by $2.1 billion. 
 
“But the impact of the cuts on immigrant communities goes further than that: funding for other services, including English-language classes and legal help for people at risk of deportation, is also on the chopping block at a time when demand is only increasing, providers say. 

“’There’s already been a reduction in our funding from the city. And so we’re trying to meet this increased need with reduced resources, which has been a challenge,’ said Jodi Ziesemer, director of the immigrant protection unit at the New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG).

“NYLAG, along with Make the Road New York and Unlocal, provide immigration legal services through the Rapid Response Legal Collective, which under the mayor’s plan will see its city funding cut by $306,000 in the next fiscal year that starts in July. That’s on top of a previous $183,000 funding cut from the city earlier this year. 
 
“The program, created in 2019 with $1 million from both the city and the state, has since received over 1,500 referrals on a wide range of immigration cases—from people detained, about to be detained and deported, or those seeking to reopen cases. While the initiative also still receives funding from the state, that money is used to cover a wider breadth of cases, including those located outside the city, according to NYLAG. 
 
“In September, the collective received about 80 case referrals; in October, 90 referrals—four times the number received in the same month last year—and in November, they’ve received about 10 to 15 referrals a day. Ironically, many referrals come from the city’s Office of Asylum Seeker Operations (OASO), including instances of asylum seekers who’ve missed hearings and now face final orders of removals. 
 
“’We’re taking as many of those cases as we reasonably can,’ Ziesemer said…

“MOIA said any workload handled by the Rapid Response Legal Collaborative impacted by the cuts will be transferred to the Immigrant Opportunities Initiative, another city-funded program that handles immigration cases. The three organizations that operated Rapid Response, however, say the initiatives are not interchangeable. 
 
“’We created this program because those services do not develop expertise,’ said Ziesemer. The stakes are high for the clients they represent, she added, especially those who’ve received deportation orders and are seeking to reopen their immigration cases. 
 
“’People only get one chance to get one motion to reopen in their entire pendency of their case,’ Ziesemer said. ‘And so if they do not prepare an adequate motion and it gets denied, they will forever lose their chance to reopen and relitigate their case.’ 

Read the full piece by Daniel Parra in CityLimits from November 30, 2023. 

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