Violeta Rivera Presented Testimony at City Council on Mental Health Needs of Immigrants in NYC

New York City Council Joint Hearing: Committee on Immigration and Committee on Mental Health, Disabilities, and Addiction 

Re: Oversight- Addressing the Mental Health Needs of Immigrants in NYC October 8th, 2019 Written Testimony of The Bronx Defenders By Violeta Rivera, LMSW, Immigration Social Worker 

Chairs Menchaca and Ayala, my name is Violeta Rivera and I am a social worker in the Immigration Practice at The Bronx Defenders. The Bronx Defenders (“BxD”) has provided innovative, holistic, and client-centered criminal defense, family defense, immigration representation, civil legal services, social work support, and other advocacy to indigent people in the Bronx for more than 20 years. Our staff of close to 400 represents approximately 22,000 people every year and reaches thousands more through community outreach. The primary goal of our model is to provide high-quality legal representation; address the underlying issues that drive people into the various legal systems; and mitigate the devastating impact of that system involvement, such as deportation, eviction, loss of employment and public benefits, or family separation and dissolution. Our team-based structure is designed to provide seamless access to multiple advocates and services to meet our clients’ legal and related needs. 

  1. Introduction 

I first want to thank you both, along with the rest of the committee, for taking the time to listen to this testimony today. As an immigrant New Yorker who was raised in a low-income community, and as someone who works exclusively with immigrant New Yorkers, I am uniquely positioned to speak to the barriers to accessing mental health care services that immigrant New Yorkers face. In my capacity as a BxD social worker, I work with attorneys who represent individuals who are facing deportation and may be struggling with mental health, substance abuse, trauma, and domestic and community violence. As members of holistic defense teams, my social work colleagues and I assess our clients’ needs, provide referrals to community-based service providers to meet those needs, engage in ongoing case management and offer supportive counseling to clients as they navigate their legal cases and complex social service systems. I am very familiar with the consequences that the lack of access to appropriate services has on individuals, families, and communities. I also see firsthand how federal immigration enforcement affects the mental health, physical health, and financial wellbeing of the individuals who are targeted, as well as their family members and the gaps for addressing these impacts in our current healthcare networks. 

  • We see a plethora of barriers to accessing mental health services that immigrant New Yorkers face, and, in particular, barriers facing immigrant communities of color that are economically marginalized and disproportionately impacted by intersecting legal systems. 
  • Our clients have complex mental health needs that are exacerbated by the detention and deportation processes. 
  • We propose an additional measure the city can take in funding the creation of a re-entry center to provide much-needed wrap-around support for New Yorkers returning from immigration detention.

Listen to the City Council testimony starting around 3:49 here and read the full testimony here