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New York City Announces Expansion Of Legal Services For Immigrants

11/22/2011 10:36 am ET | Updated Nov 22, 2011

Mayor Bloomberg, an outspoken advocate for comprehensive immigration reform, announced on Monday an expansion of legal services for immigrants in New York City.

According to a statement released by the mayor's website, Bloomberg will implement a staff of eleven new full-time immigration attorneys whose role it will be to "ensure that immigrants... have access to the counsel they need and do not suffer unnecessary immigration consequences as they navigate the legal system" in the courts and at the City's Family Justice Centers. The program is set to launch by the beginning of 2012.

The mayor justifies the expansion of such services on the premises that immigrants are often unaware of the complexities of the immigration system and what's in their best interests. Immigrants facing charges for minor offenses, for example, are "often unaware of the sometimes severe immigration consequences that can follow from certain dispositions", the mayor's website maintains.

The program will cost approximately 1.5 million dollars according to the mayor's office. While part of this will be covered by donations from the Robin Hood Foundation, the mayor's office did not respond immediately to an inquiry regarding how much of this total will be paid for by taxpayers.

Last June, The New York Times editorial page took aim at Bloomberg's administration for trimming Immigrant Opportunities Initiative, a program which provided English and legal services for immigrants. The program saw its budget "halved to $5 million in fiscal 2010, and then zeroed out in the mayor’s 2011 budget."

New York City's expansion of legal services for immigrants will come only a few months after Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that New York State would suspend participation in the federal Secure Communities Program pending a review of its ability to meet stated goals and potential negative consequences for witnesses.

In the past year, Bloomberg has put pressure on Washington to expand the visa program to allow more foreign entrepreneurs to work in the United States. He has also expressed avid support for establishing a "reliable way for employers to hire guest workers" in an Op-Ed for the Wall Street Journal in May.

Fatima Shama, Commissioner of the mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs, said in the statement released by the mayor's website that, "access to justice is a cornerstone of our democracy and New York City continues to ensure access and protection for immigrant New Yorkers."

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