Eric Adams introduced his plan for immigrant communities called WeRISE (Raise Immigrant Safety and Empowerment) while campaigning for office in June 2021. After three months in office, little progress has been made so far.

Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office

Mayor Eric Adams and Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (MOIA) Commissioner Manuel Castro at an April event announcing additional funding to support Ukrainians immigrants.

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In June 2021, when then-mayoral candidate Eric Adams was on the campaign trail, he unveiled a plan to protect immigrant communities called WeRISE (Raise Immigrant Safety and Empowerment).

Adams’ agenda had roughly 11 proposals, ranging from launching a $50 million annual immigrant venture fund for small businesses—created by first- and second-generation immigrants—to getting U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers out of all city buildings and facilities.

So how are these plans coming along after more than 100 days of the Adams’ administration, and the presentation of the mayor’s executive budget last week? Of the 11 items candidate Adams pitched, a few show some results so far. And and his budget summary includes just  three bullet points specifically related to immigrant communities in the city, including: Expanding legal services, case management, and language access to support Ukrainians in New York; enhancing and expanding services for limited language proficient families in city schools; and boosting language access, monitoring and translation services across city agencies.

Checked from the get-go: New office of community and ethnic media

One of the items in Adams’ proposed immigration plan that he  checked from the get-go of his administration was the opening of a new mayor’s office of community and ethnic media. He  appointed José Bayona as executive director of the office in December 2021.

Through a 2019 executive order, former Mayor Bill de Blasio required city agencies and the Department of Education (DOE), Health + Hospitals, and NYCHA to spend at least half of their annual print and digital advertising budgets for ads in community and ethnic media outlets.

Adams proposed to “expand the resources they [community and ethnic media] need to continue bringing vital information to New Yorkers,” explains the plan.

As Bayona explained, the expansion consists of bringing money not only to print and digital media, as stipulated in the Executive Order 47 of 2019, but also to radio and television, as amended by Local Law 83 of 2021. “This is an office of community engagement and economic empowerment,” said Bayona in Spanish by phone.

Bayona said that the agency is in the process of searching for and hiring a citywide marketing director, five staff members, and expects to be up and running by August.

Education, hate crimes, and language access

During the campaign, Adams said on his immigration agenda that he would provide “support for expanded anti-hate curriculum in our public schools,” just one piece of the various measures in his proposal to combat hate crimes, which were up significantly in 2021. Last year, the city saw 524 such complaints and made 219 arrests, compared to 265 complaints and 93 arrests in 2020.

This effort is underway, according to New York City Department of Education Director of Early Childhood Education Communications Nicole Brownstein.

“We are committed to expanding anti-hate curriculum in schools and improving outcomes for multilingual and immigrant students by focusing on prevention first,” Brownstein said via email. “We are working toward an affirming, uplifting, and inclusive curriculum which includes toolkits and resources for students, families, and staff developed in partnership with our City agency partners.”

She said that an anti-hate crime curriculum will be released this fall that identifies ways to represent the contributions of multilingual and immigrant groups, and that the project was in collaboration with the Office of Hate Crimes Prevention.

Outside of schools, Adams’ told voters on the campaign trail that he would combat hate crimes with a “zero-tolerance policy, including attacks targeting immigrant communities.”

As a candidate, Adams prevailed as the Democratic candidate with a tough-on-crime message, however, violence against Asian American New Yorkers has continued in the city. By mid-March, the NYPD recorded a doubling of such crimes compared to the first quarter of the previous year: 10 crimes in 2022 versus four in 2021. Last year saw a total of 131 anti-Asian hate crimes in the city, up from 28 in 2020 and only one in 2019, according to NYPD statistics.

On this same point, Adams had proposed directing “the NYPD to prioritize language justice for victims [of hate crimes] to make it easier to safely report,” and organizations such as the Asian American Federation (AAF) believe that some changes have been made in that area.

“There are obviously language and cultural gaps that have existed between immigrant communities and crime victims for a very long time,” said Jo-Ann Yoo, AAF’s executive director. However, “it is critical to all immigrants that there is language assistance available.”

Stanley Mark, the leading attorney on anti-Asian violence at the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, thinks language access is a critical first start that helps to address the communication barriers to reporting hate crimes, “but it does little to prevent the violence in the first place, and is moot when there is little community trust and confidence in the justice system.”

Advocates think interventions need to be long-term and systemic to be effective. “We’re encouraged by Hochul and Adams’ Safe Options Support (SOS) program to address homelessness in the subways, and by Adams’ commitment to establish a “‘culturally-aware’ professional development program for NYC’s educators,” said Mark.

Another part of the Adams’ hate crime proposal point was working “in partnership with our district attorneys to ensure that they have the resources they need to swiftly identify, apprehend, and prosecute those who prey on innocent New Yorkers through these cowardly acts.” The mayor’s office did not immediately respond to City Limits requests for an update on that effort; Yoo said her organization has been working with the DAs in both Brooklyn and Manhattan on their approach to anti-Asian crimes.

“Independently, AAF has been working with the Manhattan DA Bragg to raise the concerns of the Asian American community, and he and his team have been conducting outreach with community leaders to get a solid plan in place. Similarly, we are planning to meet with DA Gonzalez, who has been equally responsive to community concerns,” said Yoo.

According to NYPD’s hate crimes dashboard, 142 incidents have occurred this year, with bias against Jewish New Yorkers being the most frequent,  with 67 incidents from January to March; followed by 20 complaints of bias incidents against Black New Yorkers,  and 17 anti-Asian crimes.

Advocates believe the city’s response should go beyond police enforcement, because it can lead to more over-policing of marginalized communities and does not address the root causes of the problem, Yoo said. “We also need to move beyond law enforcement to help New Yorkers feel safe in our own City, including more community-building plans that help New Yorkers come together to build relationships in neighborhoods,” she added.

“The City must increase funding for the AAPI Community Support Initiative to $6 million to directly support AAPI-led and -serving organizations that offer critical programming to our AAPI communities,” said Wayne Ho, Chinese-American Planning Council (CPC) president. “This initiative would invest indirect services, mental health support, youth programs, racial literacy, and other culturally competent services that would more comprehensively address the causes and effects of hate violence.”

Additionally, Adams had proposed implementing cross-cultural dialogue initiatives, such as the “Breaking Bread, Building Bonds” program at Brooklyn Borough Hall—which brings people of all ethnicities, identities, and beliefs together for dinner and conversation. City Hall didn’t elaborate on whether there are still plans to implement such a program.

For the time being, along similar lines, the DOE continues to implement existing programs like “Equip. Learn. Launch” which brings together parents from non-English-speaking households with English Language Learners students (ELLs) to learn about their educational rights, and provides a space to share their culture.

Adams’ campaign also promised to “prioritize language justice, and fund it,” reads another plan item. This proposition would be carried out through a fully-funded program as part of the city’s crisis management strategy to ensure essential services and key information is disseminated; however, the city is still “exploring how to improve its language access infrastructure to provide language services during emergency and non-emergency times,” said the mayor´s Deputy Press Secretary Ivette Dávila-Richards via email.

She explained that the city currently procures with various vendors that provide interpretation and translation services in a range of languages to agencies, including during emergency response. Some agencies also have in-house linguists to support their translation needs, like the DOE or the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

The revised executive budget includes boosting “language access, monitoring and translation services across city agencies,” but it doesn’t provide much detail. In its response to the mayor’s earlier preliminary budget, the New York City Council called for allocating $5 million for increasing language services across city government, as well as $12 million to hire instructors specialized in supporting English Language Learners in city schools.

In another campaign agenda item, Adams proposed instituting “a robust program for culturally-aware professional development of educators,” as well as “a professional development program for educators to ensure they are culturally responsive to those students,” but the DOE did not report changes on this front yet.

The department has continued to use its programs already in place under de Blasio, such as the Culturally Responsive and Sustaining Advisement professional development series; the “Dream Squad” teams of diverse educators for multilingual students; the ongoing series of workshops and roundtables to educate staff who are in contact with families about different cultures and languages; and the WeTeachNYC website, which provides professional learning modules and resources to support educators. This resource, explains the DOE, has an average of 10,000 weekly visitors.  

Jeff Reed/NYC Council

Advocates and elected officials at a rally for immigrant New Yorkers in 2018.

Progress unknown

It’s unclear if Adams has made progress yet on several other of his campaign pledges related to immigrant communities, and the city did not respond to City Limits’ request for updates on these plans.

One item of great interest to the immigrant community was Adams’ proposal to create a $50 million “annual immigrant venture fund for small businesses started by first- and second-generation New Yorkers, with a special weight toward businesses that support the immigrant community.”

This fund, as the plan describes, would be created by diverting money from New York City’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC) budget, which historically has allocated “discretionary tax benefits and tax-exempt financing for major companies seeking City support,” the plan explains. However, this fund is not included in the revised $99.7 billion Executive Budget or Adams’ Rebuild, Renew, Reinvent economic recovery plan.

City Limits reached out to both EDC and City Hall, but received no comment on whether or not this item will be implemented.

Health care

Adams also pledged to increase funding for the NYC Care program—which provides access to low-cost or free health care—”to expand outreach to immigrant communities and enroll them in the City’s health plans for which they are already eligible.” City Limits also reached out to both NYC Health + Hospitals and City Hall but received no comment on this.

One of the few recent changes to the NYC Care program was the elimination of the six-month residency requirement, “to ensure all new immigrants can benefit from immediate access to quality health care,” reads the press release about the shift.

Cooperation with ICE

Another item on Adams’ campaign immigration agenda was to “severely restrict cooperation between the NYPD and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)—including ensuring that  ICE is removed from all City buildings and facilities.” ICE deferred questions to the Mayor’s Office and NYPD, but neither city agency answered.

Organizations such as the NYCLU and the Legal Aid Society do not know if this plan is being carried out.

On April 14, New York City Councilmembers Keith Powers, Shahana Hanif, and Carlina Rivera introduced three bills to strengthen sanctuary city laws, and one of them focused on limiting the cooperation between communication between the Department of Correction and federal immigration authorities.

Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprises

The immigration agenda also proposed to create a fairer economy for immigrants by rewarding “businesses that hire local workers and benefit minority and female owners and workers —especially on City-financed projects.”

“Specifically, businesses will be asked to commit to hiring 75 percent city-based workers, prioritizing M/WBE contractors, and ensuring their contractors pay a living wage and report their workers’ residency and ethnicity statistics,” according to the mayor’s campaign plan.

City Limits reached out to both Small Business Services and City Hall about these efforts but received no comment. Organizations such as CPC, “would like to see more AAPI vendors brought into the city’s M/WBE certification process,” said Ho.

During the budget presentation last week Adams mentioned expanding “access to city funding for minority- and women-owned businesses,” but no further detail is provided in the executive budget. The mayor’s Rebuild, Renew, Reinvent plan aims to increase the city’s M/WBE spending, and elaborates on the plan for M/WBE but does not include the specific ideas proposed in the campaign plan.

Other items on Adams’ immigration agenda about which the city did not respond to City Limits’ inquiries include: Enhancing the IDNYC program, hiring a Chief Diversity Officer to drive change on equity for minorities and women, and bolstering city legal services battling discrimination in the workplace.