Hundreds of African immigrants in New York City rally for more protections

Several hundred African immigrants rallied in New York City Tuesday to urge for more protections and access to city services as advocates point to unique challenges they face upon arrival.

“Over the past two years, Black immigrant newcomers have faced especially stark barriers in accessing city services,” Alexa Avilés, chair of the city council’s immigration committee, said at a public hearing.

The community of newcomers voiced their grievances to city officials Tuesday, including inadequate access to legal services and work permits, shelter issues and language barriers, at a hearing held by New York City Council’s immigration and hospital committees. Hundreds of people also gathered outside of City Hall to demand equitable access to city services.

Council spokesperson Rendy Desamours told USA TODAY the city started to notice a shift in 2023 in where immigrants were coming from, after a period where most of the immigrants hailed from Latin America.

New York Immigration Coalition president Murad Awawdeh told USA TODAY that African immigrants were hoping to see three changes: reversal of shelter limits imposed on immigrants, more investment in immigrant legal services and in language access.

“We strongly urge the mayor and the city of New York to really ensure that we’re making the critical investments that are going to pay back the city a thousand times over with driving the local economy and ensuring that people are continuing to make New York City what New York is – the global mecca of the world,” Awawdeh said.

Shelter limits disproportionately affected African immigrants

Last year, New York City Mayor Eric Adams began imposing shelter limits on immigrants – 30 days for single people and 60 days for migrant families.

Nonprofit news outlet New York Focus in February found that notices to vacate shelters were disproportionately served to migrants from Mauritania and Senegal. Out of 14,000 notices, people from the two African countries received 44 and 32 percent of notices, respectively. However, immigrants from the African countries accounted for fewer migrants in city shelters than those from Venezuela, Ecuador or Colombia.

African migrants also face unique barriers to accessing city services because translators are not readily available for the languages that they speak, such as Wolof and Fulani, Desamours said. And those coming from countries that the U.S. has not granted temporary protected status to – which protects people from deportation and grants them a pathway to work permits – are especially in need of legal services to get jobs.

Over 760,000 Black immigrants live in New York state, Avilés said at the hearing Tuesday, comprising nearly 4% of the state’s population.

New York mayor calls for federal support

New York mayor spokesperson Amaris Cockfield told USA TODAY on Tuesday the city has provided shelter to over 190,000 people since the spring of 2022, including several who hailed from African countries. She noted that New York has also accommodated specific needs such as offering halal food and prayer spaces for Muslims, as well as immigration and language services.

“We are exceptionally proud of the dignity and respect we’ve been able to provide these migrants, as well as everyone else in our care, but, make no mistake, New York City should have never been left largely on its own to manage this national humanitarian crisis,” Cockfield said. “As we have said repeatedly, the federal government needs to finish the job they started by providing an immediate pathway to work for the tens of thousands of migrants they let into this country.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: New African immigrants in NYC rally for equitable services