NYC Council Speaker Wants Publicly-Funded Attorneys for Violent Felons Fighting Deportation

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito speaks on stage at the World AIDS Day 2015. Gary Gershoff/Getty Images for Housing Works)

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito broke with Mayor Bill de Blasio today over his call not to grant violent felons and those convicted of other egregious crimes access to a proposed $16.4 million city fund to provide free legal services to undocumented immigrants fighting deportation under President Donald Trump.

When de Blasio unveiled his $84.68 billion second-draft budget proposal for the coming fiscal year, he announced that the city would meet Mark-Viverito’s request that city establish a permanent taxpayer funding stream to the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project, a pilot program that has provided attorneys to unauthorized foreign nationals in immigration court. New York’s existing “sanctuary city” statutes forbids the NYPD and Department of Corrections from turning undocumented individuals in its custody over to federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement unless those persons have been found guilty of one of 170 violent felonies—including murder, rape, terrorism, assaulting a cop and physically or sexually abusing a child.

The liberal Democratic mayor pledged that those convicted of such crimes, and of less severe violations like forcible touching and misdirection of prescription drugs, would not benefit from the defense fund—but Mark-Viverito noted that pilot program does offer assistance to such offenders, and argued they should continue to do so in the new iteration.

“It’s been running well,” Mark-Viverito told the Observer. “I’m not interested in changing any of the parameters of the program. So the way it’s running now, in terms of who is served, that is what I would like to continue to see happen.”

The Council has provided several million dollars worth of funding for NYIFAP each year since 2013. Some of the immigrants which the program serves have criminal convictions.

When asked about the mayor’s stance, Mark-Viverito indicated  she and the mayor are on opposite sides of the issue.

“I do not agree with the mayor,” Mark-Viverito continued. “I wanna keep the program. NYFAP is our program. We set it up. We put it forward. We worked with the advocates to be very clear about how we define the program, who it serves and who has access to it. It’s about due process, and so I would like the program to continue as it is.”

And on whether there have been any conversations about shifting the funding to the Council, the speaker said that the discussions are ongoing.

“We’re starting our conversations in the budget negotiations,” she added. “Our first budget is this week so we’re gonna continue and that is the position I have.”

NYC Council Speaker Wants Publicly-Funded Attorneys for Violent Felons Fighting Deportation