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State budgets $10 million for immigrant legal defense

If you're an immigrant in Buffalo facing deportation, chances are good you're fighting that legal battle without a lawyer.

State lawmakers want to change that reality and have set aside $10 million in the new budget to expand immigrant legal defense services.

The goal, according to legislators, is to fight back against President Trump's crackdown on immigrants by ensuring that anyone with a deportation case in Batavia immigration court will have legal representation.

Under the law, deportation cases are civil, not criminal, matters and do not require court-appointed legal representation for the person facing deportation.

"We don't want anyone deported because they don't have a lawyer," Assemblyman Sean Ryan, the Buffalo Democrat at the center of the legislative effort, said Thursday.

"We want those service providers strong and ready to go when people start arriving," said Assemblyman Sean Ryan, who led the effort for the legislation. (John Hickey/Buffalo News file photo)

Immigration advocates often point to the absence of attorneys in local cases as one reason why the large majority of immigrants seeking asylum in Batavia are rejected.

Local police weigh bigger role in immigration crackdown

In 2014, at a time when immigration judges across the country were granting half of all asylum claims, judges at the Federal Detention Center in Batavia granted fewer than 20 percent, according to data from Syracuse University.

The new funding, which is included in the state budget that just passed, will go to the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project and its partner, the Erie County Bar Association Volunteer Lawyer Project.

The new state budget also includes $2 million for refugee resettlement agencies here and across the state.

The money is designed to financially support resettlement agencies that will lose funding under Trump's immigration policies, including his plan to cut in half the number of refugees – roughly 100,000  last year – admitted to the United States.

Locally, that means about 700 refugees will be coming to Buffalo this year instead of the 1,500 that came last year.
Ryan said the goal of the funding is to ensure the region's resettlement agencies have enough staff and resources to keep serving the refugees who will eventually arrive here, as well as those already here.
The agencies receive $950 in federal funding for each refugee they assist during their initial 90 days in the country. The agencies help with housing, jobs and education needs.
"We want those service providers strong and ready to go when people start arriving," Ryan said.
Ryan said the funding represents both a "humanitarian" and "economic development" approach to the refugee problem, and noted that refugees have helped strengthen cities such as Buffalo, where they have opened new businesses, especially on the West Side.
He also noted that, of the 5,028 refugees who located in New York State last year, 94 percent resettled upstate.

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