Some state lawmakers and immigration advocates are rallying for legislation that would guarantee a right to counsel for immigrants in New York state. In particular, it would provide legal counsel for individuals involved in immigration court proceedings including deportation, and ensure that recent arrivals can apply for work authorization "swiftly." 

Advocates described it as a “major push” prior to both the state Assembly and Senate voting on their one-house budgets this week.

They say this would give people representation in what they say is technically a civil matter, but is more similar in process and consequence to a criminal case. Opponents meanwhile, say this should not be a priority as the state works out what the next year of spending will look like.

Attending a rally at the state Capitol Wednesday was Aliou Faye, who said he came to the U.S. two years ago.

“In immigration court, people are left alone, needing to navigate a confusing situation and defend themselves,” he said.

He emphasized that for individuals like himself, guaranteed access to representation while navigating the immigration or deportation process would go a long way toward helping with everything from the most fundamental challenges they will face, to complicated legal matters that advocates say can be confusing even for legal experts.

“The first obstacle that really blocks us is language access, which is one of the projects we are fighting for right now because understanding an American accent is not easy for us,” he said.

Called the Access to Representation Act, Assembly sponsor Catalina Cruz told Spectrum News 1 the funding would go beyond what is being proposed in Gov. Kathy Hochul’s executive budget or either one-house budget, and beyond just legal representation.

“One hundred and fifty million [dollars], and that’s to address the need not just for legal services, but the wrap-around services needed for an individual who is going through a deportation or immigration case,” she said.

Cruz said that especially for families who have already established roots in the U.S. over a number of years, that includes things like mental health assistance and case workers in addition to legal representation.

Assembly Republicans blasted the proposal Wednesday, saying it is an example of mismanaged priorities by Democrats in the majority.

“They put $2.4 billion for the migrants, now you have legal services for migrants,” Assembly Minority Leader William Barclay said. “I think our conference feels you should be serving actual New Yorkers first before helping migrants with legal services.”

Cruz said whether through increasing taxes or by shifting of funds, she feels $150 million is doable, adding that a ramp-up to full representation over five years would bring the figure to more than $300 million. 

“It should come from our coffers” she said. “We are a rich state. We have a lot of money for many things. I don’t think looking at it like were taking from here, we’re putting it here, there are a lot of ways to do this."

Spectrum News 1 reached out to the governor’s office as well as both houses to see where they stand.

“Governor Hochul’s Executive Budget makes record-setting investments in New York’s future while ensuring the state remains on a stable long-term fiscal trajectory," the governor’s office told Spectrum News 1 in a statement. "She will work with the Legislature to craft a final budget that achieves these goals."