Vera Institute of Justice Rejects Gov. Hochul’s Lacking Migrant Response, Carceral Approach to Hate Crimes

Advocates Call for Investments in Public Safety and Immigration Legal Services to Ensure Fairness in Immigration and Criminal Legal Systems

JANUARY 9, 2024
Media Contacts: Zameena Mejia, and Trip Eggert

NEW YORK – Following Governor Kathy Hochul’s 2024 State of the State Address today, Vera Institute of Justice initiative directors Shayna Kessler and Jullian Harris-Calvin issued the following statements in response to the governor’s proposals on public safety and immigration.

Shayna Kessler, associate director of advocacy for the Vera Institute of Justice’s Advancing Universal Representation initiative, said:

“We are disappointed by the governor’s omission of critical immigration legal services among her top priorities. We need an urgent and proactive response to welcome new migrants to New York as well as long-term solutions that can fill the gaps in the current system. Newcomers seeking safety in New York need legal assistance to build stable lives, support their loved ones, and contribute to their communities. And longtime immigrant New Yorkers also need assistance staying with their families, on the job, and in their communities.

“Immigrants are a crucial part of New York’s identity, culture, history, and economy. Supporting immigrants is key to securing the state’s future stability and prosperity. New York currently faces a labor shortage, with nearly half a million vacant jobs and not enough workers to fill them. As the executive budget is finalized, we call on Governor Hochul to increase funding for immigration legal services to $150 million and to support the passage of the Access to Representation Act, which would establish a right to counsel in immigration court in the state.”

Jullian Harris-Calvin, director of the Vera Institute of Justice's Greater Justice New York program, said:

“We commend Governor Hochul’s inclusion of significant new funding to address the mental health needs of New Yorkers, including those ensnared in the criminal legal system. The governor has been a leader in finally addressing the state’s mental health crisis after decades of neglect have helped make prisons and jails some of New York’s largest providers of mental health services. Investments in access to services for students and the expansion of diversion courts, assertive community treatment teams, and supportive housing will make New Yorkers safer and healthier, reduce the counterproductive use of incarceration as a response to mental illness, and save the state millions of dollars from unnecessary incarceration, hospitalization, and shelter use.

“However, the rest of New York State’s public safety agenda must be driven by the same dedication to addressing the root causes of crime and instability, instead of increasing incarceration with no benefit to our communities.

“The governor has proposed expanding the list of crimes eligible to be prosecuted as hate crimes. New Yorkers of all races, faiths, gender identities, and backgrounds should be able to walk down the street free of fear or intimidation. Minority communities in our state have been grappling with increased hate speech and hate crimes. But spending our law enforcement energy on enhancing existing penalties based on new hate crime classifications will not protect New York’s diverse communities from hate speech and violence. We can effectively condemn hate without increasing incarceration by remedying harm when it occurs through restorative practices and supporting victims, as well as by focusing on preventing bigotry in the first place. That means investing in education, cultural exchange, and community-building—not condemning people to increased prison time.

“The governor has also offered a number of proposals to address retail theft. Retail theft has become a high-profile issue across the country in recent years—in large part due to a now-retracted report from the National Retail Federation last year that made false claims about the extent of organized retail crime. In reality, New York, like many cities and states across the country, saw a spike in shoplifting crimes after the onset of the pandemic. Fortunately, these numbers are already on the decline. Proposals for expanded government interventions must be driven by the analysis of accurate data about when and why these crimes occur so we can effectively protect businesses without harmful overreach and reactive injustice.

“When retail theft results from large-scale, organized groups, law enforcement should focus on holding the leaders of these theft operations accountable. When shoplifting is a crime of desperation, connecting people to employment, housing, and other treatment and services is more effective than incarceration. We, therefore, urge the governor to focus her proposed task forces on expanding resources and supports for New Yorkers whose conduct arises out of basic material need and desperation, as opposed to expanding the number of struggling New Yorkers subject to the wide-reaching collateral consequences of prosecution and incarceration.

“We strongly support the governor’s historic investments in mental health funding but urge the state legislature to tailor retail theft interventions to evidence-based solutions that address the root causes of these crimes without defaulting to lengthy incarceration, and to reject the governor’s proposal to expand hate crime eligibility.”


About the Vera Institute of Justice: The Vera Institute of Justice is powered by hundreds of advocates, researchers, and policy experts working to transform the criminal legal and immigration systems until they’re fair for all. Founded in 1961 to advocate for alternatives to money bail in New York City, Vera is now a national organization that partners with impacted communities and government leaders for change. We develop just, antiracist solutions so that money doesn’t determine freedom; fewer people are in jails, prisons, and immigration detention; and everyone is treated with dignity. Vera’s headquarters is in Brooklyn, New York, with offices in Washington, DC, New Orleans, and Los Angeles. For more information, visit

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