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NYC council funds deportation lawyers for most serious felons

Defying the mayor, the New York City Council on Tuesday passed a budget with surprise language providing taxpayer-funded deportation lawyers for immigrants convicted of the most serious felonies.

The budget, approved 49-0, sets up a showdown between Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Mayor Bill de Blasio, both Democrats and longtime allies.

She believes that deportees deserve the legal services no matter the crime. He argues that anyone who commits one of 170 crimes, such as murder, rape and criminal possession of a firearm, should be ineligible. Both believe that deportees convicted of thousands of other crimes should get lawyers. The program at issue costs about $26 million.

Late Friday night, the mayor and speaker shook hands in the City Hall rotunda, the annual, traditional signal that the two branches of government had resolved differences and come to an agreement. But by inserting Tuesday’s surprise language into the city’s $85.2 billion budget for the upcoming fiscal year, Mark-Viverito has essentially challenged the mayor to issue the first veto of his 3 1⁄2-year-old mayoralty, which the council could override.

The message to the mayor — relent on a politically contentious issue or resolve the dispute in court.

In explaining the language, which some council members said they didn’t know about until the day of the vote, Mark-Viverito spokeswoman Robin Levine said, “it’s incomprehensible that Mayor de Blasio would turn his back on immigrant families and the city’s most vulnerable New Yorkers.”

Mayoral spokesman Eric Phillips said that he believes the mayor’s right to administer the deportee attorney program as he sees fit would legally prevail. The program had taken on a new urgency for City Hall under President Donald Trump’s presidency.

Although deportees have no legal right to counsel in immigration proceedings, the city had provided them with lawyers regardless of the crime. De Blasio’s position adds restrictions for the first time under the program.

Ross Sandler, a New York Law School professor and former top city lawyer, said the mayor could refuse to spend appropriated money on an entire program — but could not disregard the council’s conditions put on the funds.

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