State expanding program for immigrants' free legal services

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — A 2-year-old program that provides free legal services for immigrants is being expanded with $10 million that was included in the new state budget approved by the Legislature earlier this week, state leaders announced Friday.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Andrew Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, all Democrats, said the additional funding for the Liberty Defense Project is included in the $175.5 billion budget passed on Monday.

Launched in 2017, the program includes free legal screenings for immigrants, representation at deportation proceedings and assistance with submitting documents such as applications for naturalization, employment and permanent residence.

The Liberty Defense Project also provides support services for immigrant families and rapid-response legal counsel for immigrants caught up in federal government raids and sweeps.

State officials say the program is a response to the Trump administration’s crackdown on immigration.

“By expanding the programs offered through the Liberty Defense Project we can ensure New York’s immigrants have the social services, health care, and urgent assistance they need as they as they seek a better life for themselves and their families,” Cuomo said in a statement.

State officials say the program has provided more than 30,000 legal services over the past two years.

The announcement that the Liberty Defense Project would be expanded came a day after the Cuomo administration announced 19 attorneys have been selected for another program that provides free legal services to immigrants.

Cuomo said the full-time counsels will be working in conjunction with the state’s Office for New Americans’ Opportunity Centers located across the state.

State officials said the free services will help immigrants and their families seeking help with visas, work permits and other legal matters.