NEW YORK — City council members and leaders of New York City’s immigrant communities rallied Tuesday on the steps of City Hall to save the Immigrant Opportunities Initiative (IOI), an endangered city-funded measure that supports English language education, citizenship and legal services for immigrants.
The IOI, first launched in 2001 as the Immigrant Services Initiative, is perennially threatened by budget cuts. However, last June City Council restored $4.5 million of the $5 million previously allotted for the program after it was eliminated from the preliminary budget, ultimately supporting 75 different organizations for immigrants in New York.
As City Council and Mayor Michael Bloomberg debate the city budget for the 2012 fiscal year, important services that help immigrants adapt to life in the U.S. – including assistance with residency and naturalization paperwork, help finding employment, and recourse for workplace abuse and exploitation – are on the line. Based on Bloomberg’s FY2012 Executive Budget released on May 6, services for immigrants could be reduced by more than $10 million.
The budget for 2012 must be adopted by July 1, 2011.
The crowd at City Hall was a diverse mix of young and old that had traveled from the outer boroughs and Upper Manhattan, holding up signs in Korean, Spanish, Chinese, and English.
“Behind me is what New York City looks like,” said Council member Jumaane Williams, gesturing at the assembled crowd. Referring to Bloomberg, who has been a vocal supporter of immigration reform, Williams said, “He cannot only talk about this. This is his opportunity to back up all the wonderful things he’s been saying about all the people behind me. This is not just immigrant communities, this is New York City. We need to fund New York City.”
Bloomberg, for his part, has defended the cuts to city programs. In a statement accompanying his presentation of the 2012 budget, he said that the city budget was affected by cuts in state and federal funding. “We are not immune to the realities in Albany and Washington. And the reality is, both places are keeping more of our tax dollars to close their own budget deficits,” Bloomberg said, pointing out that New York City lost a total of $6.8 billion in funding this year due to state budget cuts and a loss of federal matching dollars.