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Governor Cuomo Announces Program to Provide Immigrant Services in Consulates and Religious Institutions

Liberty Defense Project Partners with Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights to Provide Essential Services at Consulates and Religious Centers in New York City for Vulnerable Immigrants in Need

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced a new program to provide free legal services, immigration clinics, know-your-rights seminars, and other immigrant services at consulates and religious institutions in New York City. This groundbreaking partnership between the Governor’s first-in-the-nation Liberty Defense Project and the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights will reach the most vulnerable immigrants who may otherwise not be accessing these services.

“While the federal administration advances policies designed to make it harder for immigrants to come here, New York State recognizes that our diversity has always been our greatest strength and that it is in our interest both economically and culturally to protect that legacy,” Governor Cuomo said. “Too many immigrant families are unfairly targeted and victimized despite the fact that we are a nation of immigrants, and this new program will allow some of our most vulnerable New Yorkers to get the legal assistance they need in a safe and supportive space.”

“The Liberty Defense Project is providing immigrants in New York with the services and support they need to ensure their rights and protections,” said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. “This partnership with the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights will provide these services at consulates and religious centers in New York City to make sure these resources are extended to our most vulnerable immigrants in New York State.”

Many immigrants are victimized by the federal government’s policies, nefarious employers, unscrupulous attorneys and/or people posing as attorneys, as well as others seeking to demonize immigrants. As a result, while these new New Yorkers are in urgent need of free and expert legal assistance, they are often too fearful to access these services on their own. These families and individuals often seek refuge and guidance in the safe havens of their churches, mosques, synagogues and Buddhist temples, as well as the New York-based consulates for their native countries. To reach these communities in a safe and supportive environment, Governor Cuomo’s Liberty Defense Project will join the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights (NMCIR) to provide services directly at these locations.

For decades, NMCIR has provided services to immigrant communities in Northern Manhattan, the Bronx, Westchester County, Brooklyn, and Queens. NMCIR serves mostly low-income immigrants and has established relationships with organizations considered to be safe spaces. The joint LDP and NMCIR Safe Haven Program expands on this initiative, providing hard-to-reach populations in New York City with access to trusted legal representation.


New York City is home to more than 100 consulates for countries around the world, providing services to 4.4 million foreign-born New Yorkers. These facilities are safe havens for immigrants seeking services, including renewal of passports and documentation to complete an immigration petition. According to the NY State Office for New Americans data, the top ten countries of origin for foreign-born New York State residents are:

  • Dominican Republic
  • China
  • Jamaica
  • Mexico
  • Ecuador
  • Guyana
  • India
  • Haiti
  • El Salvador
  • Colombia

Through the Safe Haven program, the LDP and NMCIR will work to ensure that any vulnerable immigrant in need, including those from the top countries of origin listed above, are able to access legal services in a safe space.

At the consulates, the Safe Haven Program will include:

  • One-on-one immigration consultations by staff attorneys: NMCIR‘s expert staff attorneys and paralegals will provide scheduled legal consultations and other services onsite.
  • Know-Your-Rights and train-the-trainers workshops at the consulates to both their countries’ nationals and consulate staff: NMCIR will provide workshops on how to respond when ICE comes to your home, how to develop a financial and family plan and how to protect oneself from fraudulent notarios/attorneys.
  • A referral program to NMCIR and other Office for New Americans partners for immigrants seeking free legal assistance and/or representation: NMCIR will coordinate with and provide training and materials on effectively referring nationals who have immigration-related needs.

Religious Institutions

New York City is host to hundreds of diverse religious institutions, including churches, mosques, synagogues and Buddhist temples that serve as safe spaces for their immigrant congregants. The Safe Haven Program will forge partnerships with these organizations and provide the following services at their institutions:

  • Formal referral programs to legal services: The Safe Haven Program will coordinate training and materials on how best to refer community members who have immigration-related needs.
  • Day-long immigration screenings clinics: NMCIR will host immigration screening clinics on-site at religious institutions in order to access large numbers of immigrants in need of assistance.
  • Legal representation for religious institutions working to reunite families separated at the border: Many religious institutions are already active in supporting immigrants’ rights and have been at the forefront of helping to reunite families. As these institutions identify families with legal needs, the LDP and NMCIR will provide legal representation.

New York State Secretary of State Rossana Rosado, who oversees the Liberty Defense Project and the Office for New Americans, said, “Immigrants know they can seek refuge and help in consulates and houses of worship. That’s why we are working with these institutions so that these vulnerable families and individuals have access to the best legal services available. As Governor Cuomo has made clear: we want to help immigrants succeed in New York. With the expertise of the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights, we are now able to deliver help to those who need it in safe, accessible places.”

Alba Villa, Executive Director of Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights, said, “NMCIR has a long history of serving hard to reach populations due to its deep ties with entities that are considered safe spaces for the immigrant community. We are grateful that the Safe Haven Program will allow us to expand on this, providing hard to reach populations with the avenues through which to seek trusted legal representation, such as Consulates and Religious Institutions.” 

Senator Luis Sepúlveda said, “In New York we welcome immigrants with open arms and embrace their values and diverse cultures. The new Safe Haven program will not only provide new New Yorkers with the legal services they need, it will provide them with a safe space where they can seek refuge and guidance. I thank Governor Cuomo for this critical initiative that will help so many immigrants truly feel at home in our great state.”

Assemblymember Maritza Davila, Chair of the Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force, said, “The Liberty Defense Project is already helping so many immigrant families get the legal services they need to receive due process and remain together in their home. This groundbreaking partnership to create the Safe Haven Program will expand on these successful efforts, targeting some of our most vulnerable immigrants to ensure they feel safe and welcome in New York. I commend Governor Cuomo for his tireless efforts to ensure New York remains a beacon of hope and acceptance for all.”

Assemblymember Victor Pichardo, Chair of the Task Force on New Americans, said, “New York has a long history of welcoming and protecting immigrants like many of my neighbors here in the Bronx. Now, with the new Safe Haven Program, we are reaching even more immigrants in vulnerable communities than ever before and ensuring they have the resources they need to remain at home. I applaud Governor Cuomo on this partnership that will change the lives of so many immigrant families in the Empire State.”

Carlos Castillo, General Consul of Dominican Republic in New York, said “The Consulate General of the Dominican Republic welcomes the partnership between the Office of Governor Cuomo and the NMCIR, a valuable institution of our community, to provide free legal assistance and support within the secure and safe spaces of our consular facilities, for benefit of our nationals, and the immigrant community at large.”

Lisa Bryan Smart, Acting Consul General of Jamaica,  said  “The Consulate of Jamaica in New York looks forward to hearing more about the partnership between Governor Andrew M. Cuomo‘s Liberty Defense Project and the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights as we are indeed interested in finding and supporting creative solutions to the challenges faced by our immigrant community in New York. Partnerships such as these which benefit all stakeholders are critical if we are to empower our underserved communities.”

Carlos Gerardo Izzo, Consul for Public Affairs of the Consulate General of Mexico, said  “The Consulate General of Mexico in New York, following our strong mandate to protect the wellbeing of the Mexicans living in the region, will continue strengthening our alliance with State and City authorities, to address the developing needs of our Community.’ in New York. We recognize Governor’s Cuomo determination and exemplary commitment to ensure that immigrants, many of them of Mexican origin, receive free legal services, immigration clinics, know-your-rights seminars and other useful resources at consulates and religious institutions in New York City.”

All contracts with entities are subject to review and approval by the Office of the State Comptroller.


About the Office for New Americans & the Liberty Defense Project

The New York State Office for New Americans, founded five years ago, is the nation’s first statutorily created immigrant services office. ONA has Opportunity Centers across the State that are hosted in community-based organizations that deliver a host of services and support, including legal services, and entrepreneurial assistance, to New York’s new American communities. These sites are the focal point for communities to embrace immigrants by providing them with the tools necessary to thrive and contribute to our state.

In 2017, Governor Cuomo launched the Liberty Defense Project – the first-in-the-nation, state-led public-private project to assist immigrants regardless of status – in obtaining access to legal services and process. The project is administered by ONA and run in partnership with law firms, legal associations, advocacy organizations, major colleges and universities and bar associations. The LDP provides:

  • Free legal consultations and screenings for immigrants throughout New York State.
  • Direct representation to immigrants in deportation proceedings as well as other cases.
  • Assistance with other immigration legal services, particularly for complex matters.
  • Know Your Rights training for immigrants and the community at large.

Any immigrant that needs free legal assistance is urged to call the New Americans Hotline at 1-800-566-7636. All call information is confidential. Assistance is available in 200+ languages.

About Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights

Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights is the longest-serving organization in Northern Manhattan and the Bronx focused exclusively on keeping families united by providing immigration-related legal services, education, and advocacy. Over the last ten years, NMCIR’s catchment area has expanded to include Westchester County, Brooklyn and Queens.

Since 1982, over 200,000 clients have been served by NMCIR. Most are low-income immigrants from countries all over the world. NMCIR is adept at serving hard to reach populations thanks to its deep ties with entities that are considered safe spaces for the immigrant community. Approximately 90% of the clients we serve are at or below the 200% threshold of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. A little over 50% of our clients are employed. The majority of our employed female clients work as home-health aides, nannies and restaurant workers, with average annual salaries ranging from $15,000 to $20,000. Employed male clients are primarily restaurant workers, cab drivers, building superintendents, construction workers, and small business owners (entrepreneurs) whose average annual salaries are in the $20,000 to $25,000 range.

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