We welcome Governor Cuomo’s focus on the diversity of New York in his State of the State address. The governor was clear that our state was and is comprised of a wide variety of peoples who are all working to create a better future for themselves and our state.
We also commend the governor for acknowledging the difficulties immigrants face obtaining employment. His proposal to make occupational licensing possible for some immigrants is a small but welcome step. The measure would remove an exclusion from licensing for security guards, notaries, real estate brokers—among other occupations—that currently prohibits immigrants who are lawful residents from getting a license if they do not also have citizenship or a green card.
Governor Cuomo is also moving in the right direction by proposing to codify and expand Executive Order 26, which requires public agencies to provide free translation services and translate vital documents into six languages. Expanding the number of languages is smart: in upstate areas, the top six languages spoken by immigrants are often very different than the top six languages statewide, and in downstate areas, the top six languages cover only a modest portion of the total need.
However, these two proposals are not nearly enough to protect immigrants as the federal government continues attempting to restrict immigration and chip away at their rights.
The Trump administration has generated enormous fear in immigrant communities. It has dramatically increased immigration enforcement, sending ICE agents into sensitive locations that were previously off limits such as schools, hospitals, and courthouses. It has cut the federal refugee admissions cap to a maximum of 18,000 for this year, the lowest cap in history. It proposed a public charge rule making it harder for immigrants with low- and moderate-incomes to make a life in the United States. And it proposed to increase fees for citizenship applications essentially instituting a “wealth test” to limit immigration.
Governor Cuomo consistently states that New York is a welcoming community and that hate, and discrimination do not have a place in this state. But with the federal government on the attack, we look for specifics on how the governor plans to protect the 4.5 million immigrants in New York from these harmful federal policies.
It is not new for the state to take action to counter the negative impact in New York of federal attacks on immigrants. In 2017, New York was the first in the nation to create a funding stream, the New York Enhanced Services to Refugees Program, to help refugee resettlement agencies continue to provide services to their communities despite federal actions that hurt the refugee resettlement program. This past year New York also passed legislation to allow all New Yorker’s access to driver’s licenses regardless of immigration status, passed legislation to give farmworkers labor protections and passed legislation to allow immigrant college students access to New York’s tuition assistance. New York can and should continue to implement concrete public policies that support and protect immigrant families in FY 2021 to do more for immigrants and to preserve the welcoming history of this state.
The New York immigrant community and advocates are leading the way to change and Governor Cuomo should make change possible for this community now more than ever as their families are threatened with separation and their rights are being further restricted by the federal government. New York has been a leader across the nation to demonstrate how immigrants can be protected at the state level. Governor Cuomo should take immigrant and advocates’ concerns seriously and ensure that in FY 2021 their needs are met and they are protected against the federal attack on immigrants.