Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito declared today that an initiative launched last year to guarantee legal representation to all of the undocumented immigrant children inundating the city has been a success—and has already obtained asylum for more than a dozen youth lacking proper paperwork.
Ms. Mark-Viverito proudly announced that the multi-million-dollar New York City Unaccompanied Minors Initiative, started last year to handle the cases of the thousands of underage children pouring in without their parents, has successfully gotten free lawyers for some 1,600 foreign national boys and girls and won asylum for 14 of them—meeting the speaker’s goal of providing legal representation to every unaccompanied child facing deportation. Ms. Mark-Viverito, a native of Puerto Rico, has made granting shelter to foreign nationals, especially youth, one of her flagship issues as speaker, with the Council allocating $2.5 million toward getting them attorneys in fiscal years 2015 and 2016.
The speaker called for other municipalities across the nation to emulate New York’s example.
“New York City stepped and resolved the unaccompanied minors representation crisis here—now it’s time for others to follow. There is no excuse for failing these vulnerable children,” Ms. Mark-Viverito said in a statement sent to the Observer, noting the poor circumstances under which the children lived in their home countries in Central America. “Too many children who escaped horrific conditions are facing unequal access to lawyers across the country.”
Besides the taxpayer funds used to pay for attorneys, the Robin Hood Foundation and the New York Community Trust kicked in $900,000, while groups like Catholic Charities Community Service of the Archdiocese of New York, the Legal Aid Society and Make the Road helped connect the kids with lawyers and with social services.
Studies indicate that more than 90 percent of undocumented children lacking lawyers get deported, while more than three-quarters of those possessing legal representation are allowed to stay. The speaker’s office estimated that two-thirds of the minors who have fled to New York qualify for asylum or other kinds of sanctuary due to the conditions they faced at home.
Many of the children have been placed with relatives and are now accessing city services, including free public education.
“It is a pleasure to one year later see some of the affected young people enrolled in school, reconnected with loved ones, and on their way to success,” said Councilman Carlos Menchaca, chairman of the Council’s Committee on Immigration. “I hope we can continue to recommit to ending the circumstances that would allow for children to end up in those dark days again.”
At present, the initiative has 5,000 attorneys, as well as several dozen student volunteers, on hand ready to take on the cases of children facing deportation. Public Advocate Letitia James, an attorney, even took a turn representing an undocumented minor after issuing her own call for lawyers to work for kids pro-bono.
Besides reviewing the kids’ cases, the lawyers have held 100-plus bilingual “Know Your Rights” orientations, where immigrants are encouraged to take advantage of another of Ms. Mark-VIverito’s signature initiatives: the IDNYC municipal identification, which allows any person—regardless of legal status—to make use of nearly all city agencies and organizations.