The head of one of the largest coalitions fighting for migrants’ rights in New York is not impressed with the Hochul administration’s track record on immigration.

Murad Awawdeh, executive director of the NY Immigration Coalition (NYIC), told Capital Tonight that he hopes Hochul will push to do more for immigrants in New York, including expanding health coverage.

Awawdeh argues the federal government has failed to step up for the community and New York state needs to fill the void.

While earlier this year, Hochul announced the state would provide new legal services grants to help new arrivals with immigration-related legal services, Awawdeh said the $3 million over three years slated for the programs is a “drop in the bucket.”

Instead, NYIC is pushing for passage of the “Access to Representation Act,” which would be a first-in-the-nation piece of legislation providing immigrants with the expertise needed to navigate the state’s legal system, regardless of income.

“Folks who are in immigration proceedings, who do not have immigration legal counsel, end up losing simply because they are going up against a government-trained lawyer without any support,“ Awawdeh explained.

Currently, individuals facing deportation charges are not guaranteed a right to counsel. Instead, those who can’t afford legal defense must find a nonprofit able to help or represent themselves.

NYIC estimates that approximately 50,000 people in New York lack representation.

The “Access to Representation Act,” which is sponsored by Sen. Brad Hoylman and Assembly Member Catalina Cruz (S.81B/A.01961A), would guarantee that “no one must defend themselves against a trained-government lawyer alone to protect themselves and their families from deportation.”

NYIC is pushing for an allocation of $55 million in the FY24 state budget to fund the legislation.

The coalition is also urging the governor to allocate $100 million “to meet urgent and long-term legal and social service needs of immigrant families in New York.”