Providing Safety and Support to Immigrants in a City Built by Immigrants

For centuries, our city has acted as a gateway for immigrants entering our country, and we have been fortunate to have so many settle right here in our communities—people whose determination and ingenuity gave them the strength to leave their homes in search of opportunity in a new and unknown place. 

It’s a story that Shaun Donovan can trace within his own family history. As a teenager, Shaun’s grandfather, one of ten siblings growing up on the south side of London, left his job on the docks and sailed for new shores, first in West Africa and then South America. There, he found success, and after returning to London, made his way back to Central and South America to start a family. 

Shaun’s father felt a similar pull from the distant dream of opportunity in America. That is how Shaun Donovan came to be born and raised in New York City by a father whose first language was Spanish and who arrived in this city as a young adult with the dream of building a future for his family.

This very spirit has driven the growth of our city over the years, and continues to do so to this day. Today, a third of New Yorkers were born in another country, more than six of every ten households in New York include at least one immigrant, and about 45% of New York’s workforce are immigrants. Asian-owned businesses in the City accounted for half of the net increase in paid employment as of 2016, and a fifth of New York area residents speak Spanish at home, one of the over 800 languages spoken in the area.

Indeed, New York City owes its greatness to its rich diversity of cultures, perspectives, and ways of life. And yet, over the years so many people who are unequivocally American and New Yorkers have been discriminated against and treated as outsiders. 

New York has recently made major strides in immigrant inclusion, but the pandemic—which has hit our immigrant communities particularly hard at the same time as many immigrants have played a significant role in our city’s pandemic response—has demonstrated that we can and should do far more to support our immigrant communities. 

We must do a better job of keeping New Yorkers safe from hateful acts of violence, and we must support the rights of low-wage workers. We need to ensure that housing, food, childcare and education are adequately accessible to everyone, and that healthcare efforts like vaccine distribution are targeted to reach those who need them most—oftentimes immigrant communities that are forgotten or neglected. We must prevent New Yorkers from facing barriers to equal participation in the life of the city. After all, when we hold back immigrants, we hold back New York.

Shaun, having worked shoulder-to-shoulder with many Biden/Harris administration officials while serving in President Obama’s cabinet—including the current Secretary of Homeland Security—is uniquely positioned to advocate for our city on federal issues including immigration policy. At the same time, he recognizes that it is New York City’s duty to protect the rights and wellbeing of its residents, and will step in to ensure that immigrants can both survive and thrive in our city.

Our plan will focus on:

Including, Supporting, and Protecting Immigrant Communities

Despite being core contributors to our city’s economic, civic, and cultural vibrancy, many immigrants still face meaningful barriers. The Donovan administration will be committed to making New York City work for everyone, and this involves making equity and fair opportunity primary goals in City Hall. 

Shaun has committed since the beginning of his campaign to designate the city’s first Chief Equity Officer, responsible for integrating equity principles into all operations, projects, and services of the city, and collaborating with all agencies in the City of New York to ensure progress. The Chief Equity Officer will set specific, measurable targets in program design and implementation, as well as structural policy-making, and will be both accountable to the mayor for progress on these targets and equipped with the authority to ensure they are met.

The following policies will all be supported by the Chief Equity Officer and their Equity Office, and will receive proper investment and attention to ensure that our immigrant population has the safety, the resources, and the opportunity they need to thrive.

We are committing to the following policies and programs:

Protect our immigrant communities

Safety and security are fundamental requirements of building a stable life in our city, and our immigrant neighbors deserve these rights just as much as any other New Yorker. This involves meeting the health needs of our immigrant communities—needs that are often neglected, as we’ve seen through our city’s inadequate COVID response efforts.

We will direct contact tracing funding toward launching a more robust vaccine distribution effort and target these toward the communities that have been hit hardest by the virus. Many of these are immigrant communities and communities of color that, despite the deep need, have not received the proportion of doses that they should.

At the same time, we must not lose sight of the long-term health needs of these communities. About 600,000 adult New Yorkers currently lack access to health insurance, about half of which are undocumented, and many of which are on the frontline of the fight against COVID. We must work with the federal government to scale national efforts to provide coverage through the Affordable Care Act and Medicare, while working with New York State to expand eligibility for the Essential Plan to all low-income New Yorkers, regardless of immigration status. And, where they fall short, we must fill in the gaps with a New York City public option that leverages the strength of our Health + Hospitals system.

Read more about our efforts to ensure immigrant New Yorkers have access to quality, affordable, and accessible health care in our Health Platform.

Meanwhile, we must also prioritize the physical safety of all New Yorkers, everywhere in the city. In our Criminal Justice Platform, we outline our plans to reimagine public safety as accountable and community-driven, reduce over-policing and over-incarceration, and reinvest in services that provide safe and healthy communities for all New Yorkers. We strongly believe that by properly investing in community-focused approaches to violence reduction while rethinking police responsibilities to free up their time and resources to investigate serious crime and gun violence, we can better protect the wellbeing of our immigrant communities.

As part of this commitment, we have announced plans to stop police crackdowns that disproportionately impact immigrant New Yorkers. 

Additionally, we will severely restrict the coordination of New York and federal police forces in communities of color. New York is a proud sanctuary city, and we will continue to refuse to turn over to ICE any immigrant who is in the custody of New York City. We want all New Yorkers to trust the NYPD and other law enforcement agencies in keeping our communities safe—without fear that an interaction with the police could result in deportation—and we trust that our plans for Criminal Justice will keep New Yorkers safe without relying on federal agents.

Deportation is a penalty as serious as a criminal punishment, and all New Yorkers deserve legal representation in immigration court, regardless of their ability to pay. We will end the policy of refusing to fund legal representation for immigrants based on their conviction records. We believe everyone deserves their legal rights, regardless of their background, and we will stop the practice of turning away some New Yorkers who are facing deportation because of their backgrounds

We will also continue to mobilize the city’s rapid response to ICE raids, as they happen, to ensure that detained people have access to legal and other support to preserve their rights and avenues for relief.

And, we must continue to expand the resources dedicated toward the legal protection of our immigrants. In 2014, the City made a historic investment in funding for immigration legal services that has steadily increased over the last six years, including the pilot and expansion of the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project—which provides public defender-type services to immigrants appearing before New York City’s detained immigration courts—the Immigrant Children Advocates Response Effort to provide representation to unaccompanied children, and the Immigrant Opportunities Initiative—which provides legal services to non-citizens to assist with applications for citizenship, permanent residence, and many other immigration-related legal services. These and similar efforts should be further promoted through adequate financial support from the City.

Provide equitable and secure access to opportunity

The short-term recovery and long-term growth of our city’s economy depends on our ability to provide pathways to stable, family-sustaining work to all New Yorkers, regardless of their immigration status.

In our Economic Development Platform, we describe in detail our plans to create these pathways through the most robust comprehensive skills training program in the country, the creation of 10,000 new apprenticeships, and the provision of at least one paid job, internship, or apprenticeship opportunity for every high school student in our city. We must make an effort to include our immigrant communities in these initiatives and distribute the benefits of these investments equitably

At the same time, we must recognize the unique challenges that immigrant New Yorkers face when trying to fully participate in our labor market—including language barriers, foreign education credentials, and lack of familiarity with the job market—and put processes in place to remove these obstacles and make accessible a wider variety of higher-paying, more sustainable jobs.

As noted earlier, immigrants are also business owners and entrepreneurs in our city, and our efforts to promote more equitable and diverse business ownership in our city cannot exclude our immigrant communities. This includes providing easier access to capital, a stronger network of mentorship and support, and the most thoughtful, consistent regulatory environment for small businesses in the United States.

And we must recognize that meeting the needs of our immigrant students and families is a key part of creating these pathways toward stability, particularly as we make up for the negative impacts the pandemic has had on our students’ educational achievement. As described in our Education Platform, we will make an immediate effort to rebuild trust with families and communities through a cross-city listening tour for the mayor and chancellor, the establishment of stronger formal systems to facilitate family and student input in school and district priorities, and the assurance that all of these communication channels will be in the languages spoken by families and use multiple modes of communication. We will also ensure that the material covered in our classrooms is culturally responsive and, along with the teachers themselves, reflects the identities of the students in those classrooms.

More than 40% of New York City public school children speak a language other than English at home. To properly meet their needs, help curb the rate of high school incompletion by students who lack English fluency, and leverage this linguistic diversity as the asset that it is, we must invest in more high-quality English as a New Language and Bilingual programs, particularly by dramatically increasing the number of bilingual programs available in the city and ensuring such programs provide continuity across elementary, middle and high schools. This will take leveraging the strength of our linguistically diverse city to create pipelines for more bilingual New Yorkers and bilingual high school graduates to become teachers and school leaders.

We must add to this an increase of the number of programs and services for students with interrupted formal education, older immigrant youth, and multilingual learners with disabilities. A third of adult New Yorkers lack a high school diploma, English proficiency, or both, so we must ensure that we are addressing any gaps in adult educational achievement and helping equip New Yorkers of all ages with the skills and resources they need to succeed.

Through all of this, it is important that we ensure all immigrants are aware of their legal rights and have the support to assert them—including employment rights, criminal justice rights, and rights to government benefits. We will invest in outreach to immigrant communities to make sure everyone knows their legal rights, and provide legal services targeted at low-wage workers. We will also reach out to employers to ensure they are aware of their legal obligations to workers and the importance of workers rights in supporting a stable workforce. 

Shaun’s central 15 minute neighborhoods—which focuses on ensuring every New Yorker has a good public school, fresh food, rapid transportation, a great park, and a chance to get ahead within 15 minutes of their front door—plays a big part in ensuring that immigrant New Yorkers can live in communities where all the resources they need are easily accessible, as does Shaun’s commitment to open all libraries across the city seven days a week and make them focal points of education and community development.

And, by bridging the digital divide and making broadband accessible in every household in our city, we will make it easier for immigrants to access this critical information as well as educational and professional opportunity. Learn more about our efforts to connect all New Yorkers resources near and far in our Economic Development and Innovation platforms, respectively.

Prioritize language access

The vast cultural and linguistic diversity of our city is an asset, but it also presents challenges in keeping all of our residents informed and engaged—with almost a quarter of New Yorkers self-identifying as having limited English proficiency. It is the city’s responsibility to overcome these barriers.

Under Local Law 30, city agencies must translate direct public communications and emergency services into the most common non-English languages spoken in New York. We will meet this requirement, push to provide more services in these languages, and expand to include more languages through city-funded live translation services. We will invest in a legal interpreter bank to provide trained legal immigration interpreters, especially for languages of limited diffusion in New York, where a language line is the only access point for interpretation. As part of this effort we will provide training for individuals and cooperatives of people who speak languages of limited diffusion.

Expand voting rights

Immigrant New Yorkers contribute to the wellbeing of our city, including our ability to distribute social services to our people. And yet, they cannot fully participate in the selection of leaders that determine how those services are allocated and invested in.

We must extend voting rights to non-citizen New Yorkers in order to include them in the civic processes at the heart of our democracy. Federal law prevents non-citizen voting in federal elections, but under a Donovan administration, New York City will allow people with green cards or valid work status to participate in municipal elections for mayor, borough president, city council, and others. If we want to empower immigrant communities in our city, we must ensure that they have a voice in how our city is run.

Advocating for our Immigrants at the Federal Level

Many New Yorkers live in mixed-status families, in which US citizens, green card holders, and undocumented family members live together as parents, children, or spouses. Everyone in these families live under the constant fear of deportation.

Much of the legislation that impacts the opportunity and safety of our residents is tied to the work of our colleagues at the federal level, and it is critical that our next mayor deeply understand the federal government government landscape and have the strong relationships in Washington needed to properly advocate for our communities.

By partnering closely with the federal government, we will build policies to support the next generation of immigrants in the city and continue the role of New York City as a leader in progressive municipal immigration policies.

We are committing to the following policies and programs:

Help New Yorkers navigate the federal immigration system

The federal immigration system is complex, inaccessible, and unforgiving. We are committed to helping immigrants get all the benefits they are entitled to, whether renewing DACA applications, applying for US citizenship, or sponsoring relatives. 

To this end, we will support legal assistance to our immigrant communities through the city’s own resources and through the network of community organizations and legal aid groups.

Additionally, we will address the lack of accessibility of and information about immigration services in our city by integrating these across the City’s other support functions. This includes ensuring that immigrants can access legal help through spaces where they already use other services including hospitals, schools, libraries, and community-based organizations. We will affirmatively reach out to people we can help, without waiting for them to find us, and focus on the city’s most vulnerable and hard-to-reach immigrants.

Be a municipal advocate for change 

We are encouraged by the legislation recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives that opens a path to citizenship for many working hard to support our nation, and believe that Shaun, with his deep understanding of and connections to the federal government, is best positioned to work with the Biden administration to promote these kinds of policies and ensure they provide support and benefits to tens of thousands of immigrant New Yorkers

These benefits could include providing New Yorkers with access to more job opportunities, government services and, most importantly, the security and peace of mind that their fellow citizens take for granted.

Indeed, the Biden administration is rolling back the worst aspects of the Trump-era immigration rules, but we have a long way to go. Immigration agencies must be reformed to become more efficient, more transparent, and easier to navigate. The immigration court system must also become more efficient and more responsive to the dignity of the people before it. And, fighting to improve the federal immigration law and policies that impact New Yorkers also means addressing the role that ICE has played in creating fear in our communities through its aggressive and often inhumane enforcement actions.

It is not only the undocumented who will benefit for having a more secure immigration status. New York is also the home to many professional workers on temporary work permits, some of whom have been waiting for many years for their green card applications to be approved. We support the legislation to get rid of the “per country” limits which leave some people in limbo for years. We also believe that the annual limits on green card approvals are too low, leaving some people waiting for many years for their relatives to join them in the United States.

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