Legislation that would help provide immigrants lawyers in deportation cases has gained some powerful new backers. Four prominent unions have asked Gov. Kathy Hochul for support in passing the Access to Representation Act, which would afford low-income immigrant New Yorkers the right to an attorney for immigration proceedings.
The influential New York Nurses Association, District Council 37, 32BJ and Hotel and Gaming Trades Council signed on to a letter sent to the governor on Tuesday, voicing their support for the bill that has yet to pass either chamber of the Legislature yet. “With more than one quarter of
New York’s workforce consisting of immigrants, many people targeted by immigration
enforcement for deportation are our members or family members of our members,” the previously unreported letter reads. “Losing them hits home.” Specifically, the unions are asking that Hochul commit $55 million to pay for lawyers in the upcoming fiscal year, in addition to supporting the passage of the legislation itself.
Under the Access to Representation Act, sponsored by state Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal and Assembly Member Catalina Cruz, any immigrant New Yorker making up to twice the poverty line would have the right to an attorney if facing deportation or otherwise find themselves in federal immigration court, paid for by the state. “Our partners in labor are once again standing up for immigrant communities by recognizing the need for legal services,” Cruz said in a text to City & State. “Ensuring immigrant families facing deportation have a real chance to stay together requires a lawyer, ensuring their constitutional rights requires a lawyer.” Currently, the right to a lawyer is only guaranteed in criminal cases statewide, although a New York City program affords low-income residents the right to an attorney in housing court.
The new union support comes at a tense time for Hochul and labor. Several prominent unions, including 32BJ, have criticized the governor for her pick of Justice Hector LaSalle for chief judge despite their misgivings about his record on labor cases. More recently, Hochul has drawn the ire of both New York State United Teachers, the state’s major teachers union, and the United Federation of Teachers, the city’s union, for her proposal to lift the charter school cap in New York City.