November 29, 2022
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The Office for New Americans

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Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced the Office for New Americans is expanding and enhancing services to immigrants across the state who are under assault by the federal government. In response to federal immigration policies as well as feedback from impacted immigrant communities, advocates and service providers, ONA will establish Opportunity Centers in the North Country and the Southern Tier. ONA will hire 20 experienced, dedicated immigration attorneys to serve as full-time legal counsels in all regions of the state to provide free services to immigrants that need assistance. Additionally, ONA will partner with Cell-Ed to provide virtual English language courses, which can be more convenient than attending in-person classes.

"While the federal government pushes an anti-immigrant agenda, New York embraces our immigrant heritage and welcomes new Americans with open arms," Governor Cuomo said. "In New York, the Office for New Americans is the first line of defense against a federal government bent on closing borders and breaking up families, and these critical services will help protect the immigrant community in the face of this assault." 

"As the granddaughter of Irish immigrants who fled poverty in search of a better life, I have a deep appreciation for the struggles encountered by our newest Americans," said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. "The expansion of Opportunity Centers in the North Country and Southern Tier will provide immigrant services and support to upstate New Yorkers. I've seen firsthand while participating in countless naturalization ceremonies how the Office for New Americans helps individuals overcome barriers and teaches them the skills necessary to succeed. While the federal government pushes anti-immigration rhetoric, New York will continue to embrace our diversity that makes us the Empire State."

ONA recently issued two Requests for Applications totaling $5.02 million seeking service providers for 25 Opportunity Centers spanning every region of the state as well as legal technical assistance to support the immigrant service providers and improve services.

Opportunity Centers

The ONA Opportunity Center Grant RFA seeks NYS-based organizations to comprise its network of neighborhood-based Opportunity Centers to provide services across the state, free of charge, including:

·         Legal Consultation: Each Opportunity Center will be provided with a qualified and experienced immigration attorney to assist with the naturalization process and provide free legal consultations to clients. Each Center will hold at least 10 immigration law consultation days each year.

·         Naturalization Assistance: Opportunity Centers will assist new Americans with citizenship applications, including N400, N600 and DACA applications on a rolling basis. Each Center must provide clients information on available financial resources for naturalization costs. Each Center will be expected to submit at least 100 complete applications to USCIS each year. Citizenship and DACA applications will be prepared by qualified, DOJ-accredited representatives or immigration attorneys.

·         Community Workshops: Each Opportunity Center will offer eight community workshops each year, covering topics including parent engagement with schools, financial literacy, disaster preparedness, consumer protection and educational opportunities for immigrants and their children.

·         Citizenship Preparation Classes: Each Opportunity Center will offer at least one class geared toward green card holders who are preparing for the naturalization test. Topics must include U.S. civics, history, government and other topics included on the exam.

·         Immigration Law/Federal Immigration Policy Workshops: Each Opportunity Center will host at least four seminars covering immigration law and information on federal immigration policies. Topics may include:

o    Developing a family emergency plan;

o    Designating power of attorney;

o    Knowing your rights and responsibilities if immigration officers come to your home or place of employment;

o    What to do if you are arrested;

o    How to find a family member in detention; and

o    Consular services for applicable communities

Legal Technical Assistance to Support Immigrant Service Providers

ONA will expand the availability of immigration lawyers around the state offering free and expert assistance. The ONA Statewide Legal Technical Assistance Request to Support Immigrant Service Providers RFA seeks qualified attorneys who can work full-time on immigration matters in conjunction with Opportunity Centers.

These 20 ONA Legal Counsels will provide legal technical assistance to Opportunity Centers and other immigrant service providers in each region of the state. Services will be available at legal clinics at community-based organizations within each region. Direct representation for clients in need of such assistance will be available, and they will conduct legal seminars and workshops. ONA Legal Counsels will travel within their regions to meet the needs of immigrants in their communities. Grantees will provide translation and interpretation services for non-English-speaking new American clients.

ONA Legal Counsels will provide direct representation to immigrants in select cases related to immigration related proceedings using a "universal representation" model that serves any immigrant in need of legal representation who meets geographic eligibility requirements. These requirements include resident immigrants in New York; families of mixed status with at least one family member with a tie to New York; and/or immigrant business owners in New York.

Each ONA Legal Counsel in upstate regions will provide legal representation to a caseload of 15-20 clients at a time. Downstate ONA Legal Counsels will handle between 12-20 cases, depending on the specific region. Immigration legal services provided by the ONA Legal Counsel should include the following cases and services, but not be limited to:

·         Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals

·         Asylum

·         U visas

·         T visas

·         Temporary Protected Status

·         Special Immigrant Juvenile Status

·         Violence Against Women Act

·         Removal proceedings, for those currently detained or not, including those with a prior order of removal

·         Work permits

·         Bond hearings

·         Board of Immigration Appeals

·         Federal litigation

·         Advanced parole

·         Family reunification

·         Family-based immigration

·         Complex naturalization

·         Family guardianship

All services provided will be offered at no charge to clients.

As indicated in the Opportunity Center RFA, ONA Legal Counsels will conduct annual reviews of the naturalization application review process at each Center. They will also provide on-site immigration law consultations to new Americans with legal questions and hold clinics throughout each region where they process immigration-related applications and provide additional consultations.

Each ONA Legal Counsel must have three or more years of experience as an attorney, including at least two years of immigration law experience or work under the supervision of a senior attorney with three or more years of immigration law experience.

Between the two RFAs, ONA ensures Opportunity Centers are nearby and readily accessible free legal assistance is available statewide to those that need it:

  • Capital Region – Opportunity Center in Albany County; Two ONA Legal Counsels
  • North Country – Opportunity Center in Clinton County; Two ONA Legal Counsels
  • Mohawk Valley – Opportunity Center in Oneida County; Two ONA Legal Counsels
  • Central New York – Opportunity Center in Onondaga County; Two ONA Legal Counsels
  • Southern Tier – Two Opportunity Centers in Broome County and Tompkins OR Tioga Counties; Two ONA Legal Counsels
  • Finger Lakes – Opportunity Center in Monroe County; Two ONA Legal Counsels
  • Western New York – Opportunity Center in Erie County; Two ONA Legal Counsels
  • Hudson Valley – Two Opportunity Centers in Westchester County, One Opportunity Center in Dutchess County; Two Opportunity Centers in Orange and Rockland Counties; Two ONA Legal Counsels
  • Long Island – Two Opportunity Centers (one in Nassau; one in Suffolk); Two ONA Legal Counsels (one in Nassau; one in Suffolk)
  • New York City – Two Opportunity Centers in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan each; Three Opportunity Centers in Queens; One Opportunity Center in Staten Island; Two ONA Legal Counsels

Cell-Ed for ESOL

Opportunity Centers has partnered with Cell-Ed, a phone-based English learning system for individuals who have difficulty reaching an actual classroom, to provide English for Speakers of Other Languages classes.

Cell-Ed has the capability of reaching and educating more new Americans than traditional classroom settings and has proven to be a successful tool for immigrants seeking to learn English.

The partnership provides unlimited access to Cell-Ed's complete course catalog of English Language Learning, plus literacy, numeracy, civics, job readiness, digital literacy and more. Since the partnership began, more than 600 new Americans have graduated the program with at least 20 hours of English language coursework. Another 1,500 new Americans being serviced by ONA are currently enrolled in Cell-Ed.

The enhancements to ONA are the latest in Governor Cuomo's commitment to helping and welcoming new Americans to New York State. ONA expects to issue more RFAs in the future to further enhance services and help more immigrants across New York State seeking the American Dream.

About the Office for New Americans & the Liberty Defense Project

The New York State Office for New Americans, founded five years ago, is the nation's first statutorily created immigrant services office. ONA has Opportunity Centers across the State that are hosted in community-based organizations that deliver a host of services and support, including legal services, and entrepreneurial assistance, to New York's new American communities. These sites are the focal point for communities to embrace immigrants by providing them with the tools necessary to thrive and contribute to our state.

In 2017, Governor Cuomo launched the Liberty Defense Project – the first-in-the-nation, state-led public-private project to assist immigrants regardless of status – in obtaining access to legal services and process. The project is administered by ONA and run in partnership with law firms, legal associations, advocacy organizations, major colleges and universities and bar associations. The LDP provides:

·         Free legal consultations and screenings for immigrants throughout New York State.

·         Direct representation to immigrants in deportation proceedings as well as other cases.

·         Assistance with other immigration legal services, particularly for complex matters.

·         Know Your Rights trainings for immigrants and community at large.

Any immigrant that needs free legal assistance is urged to call the New Americans Hotline at 1-800-566-7636. All call information is confidential. Assistance is available in 200+ languages.



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