NYC: Boosting Immigrants’ Rights

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Several New York City Councilmembers were term limited out of office but the Council’s Immigration committee continues fighting for the rights of immigrants.

The Council chair remains Kendall Stewart. Returning members are Council Members Annabel Palma and Charles Barron, joined now by Darlene Mealy, Melissa Mark Viverito, Michael Nelson, and David Weprin.
Weprin, who is chair of the City Council’s Finance Committee, said that he requested to serve on the Immigration Committe
e because he represents a district in Eastern Queens with a very large percentage of new immigrants. “I want to let the chairman know that he has my full support on initiatives as they come forward, and I know we will be discussing a number of them during the budget process because immigrants play such an important part in the development of our City,� Weprin stated.
Stewart began the meeting by revisiting several of the committee’s past accomplishments, including passage of a law that cracks down on the abusive practices of fraudulent immigration assistance services, and a law aimed at improving conditions faced by thousands of immigrant day laborers. The committee also played a pivotal role in the expansion of funding for the Immigrant Opportunities Initiative, which ensures that immigrant New Yorkers have legal representation and more educational opportunities, and lent its voice in support of the forward-thinking federal immigration legislation, the DREAM Act, which would help immigrant students. At the same time, the committee has worked to protect the City's immigrants by taking a stand against legislation detrimental to their interests, such as the REAL ID Act.

At the meeting, Guiillermo Linares, Commissioner of Immigrant Affairs, gave testimony regarding the activities of the Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs, which has as its mission the promotion of active involvement of immigrants in the life of the City. This is crucial since, according to the 2005 Newest New Yorkers Report, 36% of the City's population is foreign-born, and immigrants make up 43% of the workforce.

One of the things Linares spoke about was Immigrant Affairs’ effort to meet the needs of New Yorkers with limited English proficiency. It initiated an Inter-Agency Task Force on Language Access, which is attempting to examine language-accessibility and service delivery from all vantage points so that people with limited English can receive vital services from City agencies.

Linares went on to say that his office is working with the Health and Hospitals Corporation to increase awareness and access to HHC Options, a sliding fee-scale primary care program available to all New Yorkers. Immigrant Affairs has also been:

* Organizing a series of meetings with the Department of Education Chancellor Joel Klein with leaders from New York’s immigrant communities
* Working with the NYC Voter Assistance Commission to encourage civic participation
* Assisting the Department of Consumer Affairs with outreach to immigrants about the Earned Income Tax Credit
* Announcing low-cost help for applying for the diversity lottery, and
* Supporting the Office of Emergency Management in reaching immigrant media.

Next to speak was Javier Gallardo, Labor Organizer for the Latin American Workers Project, which organizes the City’s low-income Latino workers. He put before the committee his organization’s proposal as to how Day Laborer Centers should be run to help improve working conditions and prevent labor and civil rights abuses. For example, centers could keep a record of contractors and the salary agreed upon, ensuring that workers can recover unpaid wages and hold employers accountable for injuries on the job. Centers could also help reduce on-the-job injuries by providing protective gear and health and safety trainings.

The final speaker was Adam Gurvitch, Director of Health Advocacy at the New York Immigration Coalition, who said that they strongly support the work the Immigration Committee has done on immigrant issues regarding health, education, housing, civil rights and civil liberties. He asked that the committee continue to play a role in policy as to 1) confidentiality about one’s immigration status, 2) communication between agencies and the thousands of people who haven't had the opportunity to learn English, and 3) funding for English proficiency instruction. Gurvitch noted that the need for English language classes is so great that most community organizations providing instruction have lottery drawings for open slots, as opposed to maintaining three-year waiting lists for these classes.

Council Member Stewart concluded the meeting by recognizing the committee’s Chief Legal Council, Jackie Sherman, for her valuable research work; Al Mullen, from the Mayor's Office of Legislative Affairs, who has been a friend to the committee; and June Persaud, who will also be assisting the committee in making sure that issues concerning immigrants are kept to the forefront in the City Council.

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