Opinion: Legislating For Our Newest Immigrant Neighbors

“These bills are a common sense way to help new arrivals become self-sufficient and less dependent on costly city services. I hope that my colleagues of all political stripes can come together to support these operational fixes that will improve our city’s response to this challenging moment.”

Adi Talwar

An MTA shuttle brings newly-arrived immigrants to large tent shelters at Randall’s Island on Oct. 18, 2023

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To date, New York City has welcomed well over 120,000 asylum seekers, with more than half still in our city’s care. These tens of thousands of asylum seekers have fled war in Niger, conscription in Russia, and gang violence in Guatemala. Despite coming from different continents, these disparate communities are searching for similar opportunities for safety and have endured unthinkable hardship to reach the five boroughs.

But despite our best efforts to care for our newest neighbors, greedy individuals and unscrupulous employers have preyed on this vulnerable population, sometimes taking everything from people who already risked their lives to build a new life. In response, I have introduced a package of legislation designed to help protect our newest neighbors from fraud and ensure they have a fair chance at building a new life in our great city.

These bills are a common sense way to help new arrivals become self-sufficient and less dependent on costly city services. I hope that my colleagues of all political stripes can come together to support these operational fixes that will improve our city’s response to this challenging moment.

When asylum seekers cross the border, most of their documentation is taken by federal immigration authorities. With few methods of identification, simple tasks like setting up bank accounts or applying for critical social services are arduous and difficult, leading some to desperate situations.

Earlier this year, hundreds of asylum seekers turned to a convicted sex offender in the Bronx, masquerading as a pastor, as he promised to help with jobs and connect them to social services—all the while defrauding the vulnerable immigrants and keeping copies of some of their few critical documents. But with the help of Intros. 790 and 909, introduced by Councilmember Gale Brewer and myself, respectively, asylum seekers will be more easily able to obtain IDNYC and be able to access critical services without relying on criminal actors.

These two bills would allow more documents to be used to obtain IDNYC and streamline the process of obtaining one, removing the immense backlog that’s prevented so many asylum seekers from getting a municipal ID. IDNYC strengthens employment and permanent housing applications, improves access to city services, and can be used to open a bank account. Our Council passed Intro. 790 earlier this month to improve the IDNYC process; now we need to pass Intro. 909 to expand our city’s capacity to deliver this critical form of identification to our newest neighbors.

With the Biden Administration designating Venezuela for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and the state investing $58 Million in legal services, it is our hope that new arrivals will be entering the workforce in droves. However, these newest workers are vulnerable to exploitation due to economic desperation and a lack of knowledge about our labor laws. Many have turned to fraudulent employment agencies that have scammed many out of the little money they have as they look for work.

With Intro. 569, introduced by myself and Councilmember Alexa Avilés, employers would be mandated to publicize an Immigrant Worker Bill of Rights to be distributed to all employees. These materials would help asylum seekers fully understand their on-the-job rights regardless of their immigration status. Passing this legislation is key to ensuring we end immigrant labor exploitation in our city and help asylum seekers find work to support them and their families. 

Lastly, as asylum seekers start to build a new life in our city, they need assistance with their immigration papers. The asylum process is long, complicated, and requires legal help to navigate. Just like with employment, criminals familiar with the immigration system prey on vulnerable asylum seekers. With thousands of asylum seekers needing legal assistance, immigration legal services fraud is on the rise, with some people losing everything to fraudulent businesses claiming to help with the asylum process.

By passing my bill, Intro. 1013, our Council can combat this epidemic and ensure asylum seekers are getting the legal help they need. This bill would require the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP), the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (MOIA), and the Mayor’s Office for Ethnic and Community Media to conduct a robust education and outreach campaign informing immigrants on how to avoid these scams and directing them to the free services the city provides. Filling this serious information gap will ensure asylum seekers get the legal help they need and avoid fraud.

This legislative package will go a long way in ensuring our newest neighbors are protected from unsavory actors who wish to profit off of our city’s most vulnerable. Our city still needs more help from the federal government to expedite work authorizations and assistance from the state to cover costs and find more temporary housing options.

However, there are still significant legislative actions our Council can take to support asylum seekers. Through better access to IDNYC, a clearly defined immigrant workers’ bill of rights, and a public information campaign on the dangers of immigration fraud, we can ensure asylum seekers are protected from fraud and given the skills they need to start a new life in our city.

Shahana Hanif represents the 39th Council District, which includes parts of Kensington, Borough Park, Windsor Terrace, Park Slope, Gowanus, Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, and the Columbia Waterfront.

The post Opinion: Legislating For Our Newest Immigrant Neighbors appeared first on City Limits.

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