NYC Council Immigration Committee demands Mayor Adams spend more on migrant legal services, education

NEW YORK — New York City Councilwoman Alexa Aviles demanded at a budget hearing Tuesday that Mayor Eric Adams restore cuts to immigrant legal and language services, and criticized his administration for relying too heavily on — and paying too much for — for-profit contracts in the city’s response to the asylum seeker crisis.

Aviles, who heads the Council’s Immigration Committee, said the administration must put $150 million to “enhanced” immigrant legal services and add an additional $10 million to “adequately fund” adult education for immigrants.

“This defunding of literacy and legal services undermines opportunities that we seek to create in our civil society, and it just doesn’t make sense. It must be addressed immediately,” she said. “This is about sustainability of services for immigrant New Yorkers — 40% of the city’s population.”

The hearing — one of several the Council will hold as part of vetting the mayor’s preliminary budget and negotiating a final spending plan — came one day after the Council released a new revenue projection forecasting $3.3 billion more in tax receipts than a projection by Mayor Eric Adams’ budget director, Jacques Jiha, a development first reported by the New York Daily News.

As part of her demand to restore cuts, Aviles grilled Manuel Castro, the commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigration Affairs, about new spending requests his office has made of the administration and what specific services he believes deserve more funding.

“We have yet to request funding,” Castro said in response, adding that his office is “in conversation” with the mayor’s budget office about its needs.

Aviles continued to press Castro on the needs of his office, and specifically touched on its ability to provide legal services to immigrants. But Castro declined to put a specific dollar figure to his office’s spending needs.

“I can’t seem to get an actual concrete number from you,” Aviles said. “I don’t know if that’s because you don’t know it, or you don’t want to put it on the table, or you haven’t quite decided.

“I would just love for you to have the opportunity to say: ‘This is what we need. This is what we’re fighting for.'”

The Council focused not just on what Castro’s office needs, but also on how the city’s immigration apparatus spends the money it has on hand.

The questions come amid several controversies stemming from for-profit, private contractors the city has hired to handle the influx of about 180,000 migrants into the city since 2022.

One of those companies is DocGo, which Attorney General Letitia James began probing last August over accusations that the company mistreated migrants. Another is Mobility Capital Finance, a company that will provide debit cards to 500 migrant families with children as part of a pilot program designed to lower food costs.

Molly Schaeffer, interim director of Adams’ Office of Asylum Seeker Operations, testified that she “would get back to” the Council about how many for-profit companies and entities based outside the city are providing migrant services to city, as opposed to nonprofits.

“We want to get more nonprofits involved,” she said.

Schaeffer estimated that the debit card pilot program would save the city about $600,000 a month in costs associated with buying and delivering food to migrants.

“If this works out, it would replace DocGo deliveries,” Schaeffer noted, but she would not say whether the city could claw back money from its DocGo agreements when Aviles questioned her about it.

Aviles also questioned why the city is agreeing to higher hourly rates charged by for-profit contractors as opposed to paying less for nonprofits that charge less.

“We’re seeing this over and over again — obviously not simply with (Immigration Affairs), but in this entire space we are seeing a prioritization of corporations and for-profit corporations and not for not-for profit, competent organizations that have been here,” Aviles said.

Schaeffer responded that it’s “a point well taken,” but stressed that there was a mandate to provide services to migrants as quickly as possible.