Nobody gave a damn about the deportations. There were no news reports, no hand-wringing editorials, no protests. When a father who had lived here for decades, arriving as an infant, was taken from his family, his children, and sent to a country he never knew, no one cared. When it happened hundreds of thousands of times, it was just a statistic.
But now, it’s all the rage to care about deportations. Having magically discovered it happens, the deeply passionate demand it be fixed, and so the guy who desperately wants the votes of the deeply passionate will do what he must to prove his loyalty to their feelz by diverting tax monies from things necessary to the progressive palliative of the moment.
The 2018 New York State budget included a grant of $4 million to significantly expand the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP), a groundbreaking public defense program for immigrants facing deportation that was launched in New York City in 2013.
New York has become the first state to ensure that no immigrant will be detained and permanently separated from his or her family solely because of the inability to afford a lawyer.
Putting aside the irony of Gov. Andy’s father, Gov. Mario, being up to his eyeballs in immigration detainers for those convicted of crimes in New York being held after the completion of their sentence until the nice fellas from immigration could show up and put them on a plane, all because New York was thrilled to make sure INS knew they had a non-citizen in custody, there’s nothing wrong with providing counsel to immigrants facing deportation. Then again, it’s not what people think.
Get popped for the euphemistically-named “aggravated felony,” which need not be a felony and is mostly aggravating to the defendant, and you’re out of here. Whether it happened yesterday or 30 years ago, if you happened to get lucky and no one picked you up at the time. Hate it? Hate the sad stories you’re reading about lately? You should, but you didn’t when Bill Clinton signed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996. Who cared? Not you. Criminal defense lawyers cared, because we saw the absurd ruin it caused, but not you. At most, you shrugged. Illegals? Whatever.
But what we also cared for was indigent defense, and sought to shift the responsibility from New York counties, and their haphazard provision of, and oversight of, indigent defense, to the state so that it could be assured that every defendant statewide received a competent defense. You didn’t care about that either. Gideon? Meh.
And the progressive deep down in a governor running for re-election had to search his deeply feeling soul for where he could milk the most votes, and came up with his biggest bang for the bucks.
[Cuomo] vetoed statewide funding for indigent defense. This has been a battle raging for more than a decade, to normalize funding across the state, to create a statewide office to oversee the function to assure quality and competence, and finally, finally, the Legislature passed a law. And Cuomo vetoed it. His spokesman explained:
“Unfortunately, an agreement was unable to be reached and the Legislature was committed to a flawed bill that placed an $800 million burden on taxpayers — $600 million of which was unnecessary — with no way to pay for it and no plan to make one.”
Money. As if affording indigent defendants their constitutional right to counsel shouldn’t cost anything. But his statement is a carefully crafted lie, as it’s now paid by counties, and would be shifted to the state.
To get both houses of New York’s lege to agree on anything speaks volumes, and they finally agreed on shifting the duty to provide a defense to the poor to the state, so that recalcitrant and resistant counties couldn’t game the system anymore. And Governor Andrew Cuomo vetoed it. Worse yet, he vetoed it because of a lie, as it was a cash-neutral change, with funding shifting from counties to state.
The cost would appear on the state’s budget, but it would disappear from the counties’ budget. To the taxpayer, it would have meant nothing, as the only difference was whose hand was reaching into their pocket. But for Cuomo, it would have created the appearance of a budget increase, and he didn’t love indigent defense enough to take the burden of explaining that when his gubernatorial opponent pointed to his budget increase.
From the insipid yet cynical political perspective, one might forgive Andy. After all voters are easily misled, and prone to headaches when constrained to think. Andy surely wouldn’t want anyone to have a headache as they went to vote.
But now, he’s playing a different game. Much as he wasn’t willing to take the political hit for the possibility that voters wouldn’t grasp that statewide criminal defense wasn’t a new expense, and was a constitutional mandate anyway, he’s more than happy to put up money for the defense of immigrants facing deportation. No, it’s not going to actually help much of anyone, because the law is horrendously Draconian despite all the sad stories advocacy journalists put at the top of their deeply emotional news stories. But it will “resonate” with progressive voters, who might be short on actual knowledge and the capacity to reason but are way long on feeling whatever pain they’re told to feel.
“All New Yorkers deserve to have a fair shot in court, and this funding will help thousands of immigrant families receive due process and the chance to remain together,” said Oren Root, director of Vera’s Center on Immigration and Justice.
That sounds so . . . justice-y. And, indeed, they should be given due process in a court where due process has never before shown its face. It’s not going to change much of anything, because the law remains the law, and it’s so much easier to say “fair shot” and play on ignorance than explain how the law that’s sent hundreds of thousand away under presidents from both parties will continue to throw them out now, with or without counsel.
But the same rhetoric applies to indigent New Yorkers who are accused of crimes, held in custody because there was no lawyer to represent them because they can’t manage to make it happen. And if those same New Yorkers happen to be immigrants, totally lawful, tax-paying ones who have been here since infancy, have businesses and pay taxes, they’re going to end up in immigration court for deportation.
Too bad we couldn’t be bothered to save them from the guilty plea of convenience made without a lawyer to get out of jail now rather than years from now, but at least there will be a lawyer waving good-bye at an immigration hearing where he was afforded due process as the fait accompli of deportation was pronounced because of that conviction. And suddenly, you’re all teary-eyed at the horror of it all.