April 6, 2018
Albany, NY

Governor Cuomo Announces the Launch of a Pro Bono Legal Network to Expand Services for Immigrants in New York

Governor Cuomo Announces the Launch of a Pro Bono Legal Network to Expand Services for Immigrants in New York

The Liberty Defense Project and Catholic Charities Partner to Grow Network of Volunteer Attorneys and Law Students

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced the launch of a new pro bono program as part of the Liberty Defense Project that engages volunteer attorneys to expand resources and services available for immigrants in New York. The Liberty Defense Project and the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York have partnered to expand the current initiative and grow a network of attorneys and law students that will provide legal aid to immigrants across the state. The program will also include training for volunteer attorneys and advocates to prepare them for immigration casework.

"While the federal government continues to strip basic human rights from immigrants in this country, New York is fighting to ensure families have access to legal help and resources they deserve," Governor Cuomo said. "The Liberty Defense Project is the first of its kind to combine the legal expertise of both the public and private sector, and with this expanded program, we are helping even more vulnerable New Yorkers. I thank the Catholic Charities and community partners across the state for coming together to pool resources, bring more volunteers to the table, and continue our efforts to deliver justice and a quality life for all."

The Liberty Defense Project, created by Governor Cuomo last year in response to hostile federal policies, is the nation's first state-led project to assist immigrants - regardless of status - in obtaining access to legal services. This latest program will expand upon the services and resources already available through the initiative.

The LDP provides essential legal services on deportation defense, direct representation, consultations, application assistance and more, as well as information, community outreach and know-your-rights seminars. The public-private partnership is administered by Governor Cuomo's Office for New Americans and run in partnership with law firms, legal associations, advocacy organizations, colleges, universities and bar associations across the state, including Catholic Charities. The Liberty Defense Project has already provided more than 6,000 free and confidential services to individuals needing legal assistance through its network of 47 community-based groups.

Funded by the Liberty Defense Project, the program was announced at a day-long free immigration legal clinic held by Catholic Charities at Saint Peter's-Saint Denis Parish in Yonkers. Participants received comprehensive legal consultation, as well as a rights training to know what to do during contact with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and how to best prepare their families.

New York Secretary of State Rossana Rosado said, "Governor Cuomo's public-private partnerships through the Liberty Defense Project embody the New York State spirit of inclusiveness and community. When our neighbors are under attack and need help, we come together to find solutions. This pro bono program will collect even more resources together to bring effective legal services to fellow New Yorkers."

Catholic Charities of New York Executive Director Monsignor Kevin Sullivan said, "Catholic Charities is very pleased to partner with NYS on this important initiative to help vulnerable immigrants in our state. The beginning of this effort has been very promising, providing assistance to many vulnerable immigrants. Unfortunately, the ongoing crises caused by unacceptable rhetoric and policies will necessitate that NYS continue to provide resources to assist vulnerable immigrants through this program."

The pro bono project, which is being developed and operated by Catholic Charities, is designed to give attorneys tools to assist the most vulnerable immigrants in New York and to match them with cases. Volunteer attorneys are supported by expert legal training, continuous technical assistance, and in-depth substantive mentorship, which is provided through Catholic Charities and its staff of expert attorneys

Volunteers are needed to represent immigrants in their legal matters. No prior immigration experience is necessary and second language fluency preferred, not required. Training and high intensity mentorship will be provided. More information on Catholic Charities' Attorney Volunteer Opportunity is available online or email [email protected]. More on the Liberty Defense Project is available here.

The Governor directed the Department of State recently to increase resources and community outreach in the wake of the Trump administration's arbitrary decision to end Temporary Protected Status for individuals from El Salvador, Haiti and Nicaragua. Of the 114,127 Salvadorans currently living in New York State, 16,200 are Temporary Protected Status beneficiaries and will be impacted by the federal government's decision to end recognition.

The Department of State's Office of New Americans has helped more than 200,000 New Americans navigate the naturalization process since its inception. ONA has also helped New Americans start and grow their own businesses, learn English and become part of New York's diverse cultural fabric. Of these:

  • 19,543 were Naturalization and DACA applications and referrals;
  • 31,780 participated in ESOL classes throughout the state;
  • 4,161 partook in entrepreneurship classes across New York;
  • 500 graduated with at least 20 hours of English language coursework via Cell-Ed, a phone-based English learning system for individuals who have difficulty reaching an actual classroom; and
  • 1,540 are actively engaged in Cell-Ed throughout the state.

ONA's work is enhanced by the Catholic Charities-staffed New Americans hotline (800-566-7636) where individuals can obtain free, multi-lingual services and file fraud complaints. More than 150 complaints made to the hotline against fraudulent legal service providers have resulted in referrals to appropriate District Attorneys' offices since the hotline's launch.

In addition to providing free direct assistance to individuals, ONA has conducted more than 3,000 seminars and meetings to educate New Yorkers on how to apply for a passport, how to apply for college, what to do if/when immigration officers come to their homes, what avenues are available for victims of domestic violence, and more. ONA also established a network of navigators throughout the state with a focus on providing information to immigrant and refugee communities, by leading roundtable discussions with affiliated groups and advocates, workforce development programs, and trainings for additional navigators to further ONA's mission. Another first-in-the-nation program launched recently by ONA supports parents and families caring for unaccompanied and/or undocumented children through a partnership with the Children's Village and its ONA Centers at Central American Refugee Center in Long Island and Neighbors Link in Westchester County.

Immigrants and Refugees in New York State

According to the American Immigration Council:

  • One in five New Yorkers is an immigrant - 4.5 million, or 22.9 percent of the state's population in 2015. One in six is a native-born U.S. citizen with at least one immigrant parent.
  • Immigrants make up more than 25 percent of New York's labor force and contribute billions of dollars in federal and state taxes.
  • New York's immigrant-led households added to the state's economy by spending more than $103 billion in after-tax income in just 2014.
  • There are 347,573 immigrant business owners, accounting for 33.8 percent of all self-employed New York residents in 2015, generating $7.2 billion in business income.
  • Nearly 44,000 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients live in New York according to USCIS.


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