The New York City council announced Tuesday a $1.9 million public-private initiative to provide legal services to unaccompanied immigrant children from Central America who came to the U.S. earlier this year.
The city council said the $1 million it is allocating was already in the budget for legal services as part of its Immigrant Opportunity Initiative. The Robin Hood Foundation, an organization that fights poverty, donated $550,000 and New York Community Trust, which funds nonprofits in the city, added $360,000.
City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said she believes this is the right course of action after speaking with advocates and legal experts. They argue the best way cities can help is by providing legal representation to those children who might qualify as refugees an opportunity to make their case to stay in the country.
"We're forging a path and taking to task the federal government that refuses to act on this issue, leaving local municipalities and states to do something about it," Mark-Viverito told BuzzFeed News. "We wanted to make sure we raised enough money to hopefully help every child."
Mark-Viverito said the city currently has about 1,300 undocumented children that crossed the border and the funds will be able to help 1,000 of them, but she added that advocates were already taking care of about 300 cases themselves. Another pressing issue is the 1,700 children living elsewhere in the state, she says. She hopes they can be helped at the statewide level.
Eric Weingartner, managing director of the Robin Hood Foundation, said 60% of the children who come to the city won't have a lawyer to help them claim asylum.
"Without legal representation, these children are four times as likely to be sent back to the dangerous countries they fled. Their claims for status need to be heard, and through this partnership with the City and New York Community Trust, we will ensure they get the best representation for their day in court," Weingartner said in a press release.
Mark-Viverito said the polarizing political climate surrounding immigration is not an excuse for governments to turn their backs on the immigrant children.
"Whatever you may think about the politics — to leave a child vulnerable like that and put in a situation that could lead to their death is unacceptable."