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NYLAG gets preliminary settlement approval on behalf of certain immigrants seeking public benefits

Colaj v. Roberts

On December 2, 2020, the New York Legal Assistance Group got preliminary court approval of a proposed settlement in Colaj v. Roberts, Index No. 452243/2017 (N.Y. Cty. Sup. Ct.). This settlement will benefit immigrants who are asylum applicants with work authorization and who were denied Safety Net Assistance during a certain time. On March 24, 2021, The Court will hold a hearing by telephone to decide if the settlement is fair. Information about how to attend the hearing is in the Class Notice and also below.

If you think you might be part of the proposed settlement or have questions, please contact NYLAG at 929-356-9584 or colajclass@nylag.org.

NYLAG brought this lawsuit to challenge New York’s failure to provide necessary public benefits, called Safety Net Assistance, to immigrants who are asylum applicants with work authorization. Safety Net Assistance is a state program that provides cash and non-cash benefits to New Yorkers who do not qualify for federal benefit programs; without this assistance, many recipients would go without shelter, food, and basic utilities.

When NYLAG filed this lawsuit in August 2017, New York had an official policy of denying these benefits to that category of immigrants, even though it gave the benefits to similar categories of immigrants. In November 2017, following NYLAG’s lawsuit, New York formally changed its policy to provide that asylum applicants with work authorization should be considered “permanently residing under color of law” (“PRUCOL”)—meaning that immigration authorities are aware of their presence in the country and are not attempting to remove them—and so can receive Safety Net Assistance. Although it changed its policy to provide Safety Net Assistance to asylum applicants with work authorization starting November 21, 2017, going forward, New York did not provide back benefits to those wrongfully denied in the past, and New York did not consistently apply the new policy.

NYLAG has now reached a proposed settlement with the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (“OTDA”) and the New York City Human Resources Administration (“HRA”). This means that we have all reached an agreement that we believe is fair to everyone and that would end the case. On March 24, 2021, Judge Goetz in the New York County Supreme Court will hold a telephone hearing to decide if the settlement is fair. Anyone who objects to the settlement, or who wants to comment on it, can write to the Court in advance or call into the hearing. Instructions about how to object or attend the hearing are here, and below.

The proposed settlement will benefit a class of asylum applicants with work authorization who were denied Safety Net Assistance after August 7, 2014, or will be denied in the future. This means that the settlement will apply to everyone in this group. The settlement provides that people who were denied between August 7, 2014, and November 21, 2017, because they were asylum applicants with work authorization will get a certain amount of back benefits.

If you think you were denied during that time period for that reason, please contact us.

For more details about the terms of the settlement, you can read a summary in English here and in Spanish here or the whole settlement agreement here.

If you would like more information about the proposed settlement – or if you would like to tell us your objection to the settlement – please contact NYLAG at 929-356-9584 or colajclass@nylag.org.

To participate in the hearing on March 24 at 10:00 am, class members can call (347) 378-4143. After calling the number, class members will be asked to enter a conference ID. The conference ID is 174 648 932#.

If you are an asylum applicant with work authorization and believe you have been improperly denied public assistance, please contact NYLAG’s intake line at 212-613-5000.

More Information:

Name: Colaj v. Roberts

Dkt. #: 452243/2017 (New York Supreme Court)

Judge: Hon. Paul Goetz

Status: The Parties have agreed to a proposed settlement; New York Supreme Court Judge Goetz will hold a hearing on March 24 to determine whether the settlement is fair.

Claims:

Violations of New York statute and the New York constitution; violations of the U.S. Constitution

Highlights:

  • Plaintiffs filed the Complaint in August 2017 and Amended Intervenor Complaint in October 2018.
  • Plaintiffs moved for class certification.
  • Defendants moved to dismiss.
  • The Parties agreed to a proposed settlement in October 2020 and the court preliminary approved the settlement on December 2, 2020.
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