Mayor Eric Adams launched a new childcare assistance program for undocumented families that don’t qualify for federally subsidized childcare by January 2023. The city expects to support at least 600 children over the next six months.

“Every child deserves the opportunity to succeed, no matter where they came from, and as a city of immigrants, we know that the American dream starts here in New York City,” said Adams in a statement.“Navigating obstacles in a new city and a new country are tough, and coupling those issues with a lack of childcare can prevent parents and families from achieving the dream they so desperately set out to achieve.” 

Adams said Promise NYC will alleviate stress for undocumented parents supporting children.

At the historic two-day oversight hearings convened by the City Council to review the current handling of the migrant crisis on Dec. 19 and 20, city officials and community groups testified on how to best serve “New York’s newest neighbors.” The timing of the Promise NYC childcare program will certainly help newly arrived asylum seekers find stable housing and employment, but it’s been a long awaited change for many. 

“Before this announcement, children who were undocumented did not have access to childcare, meaning they were shut out of some of the city’s childhood education programs,” said Policy Director for Advocates for Children of New York Randi Levine. “It predates this influx of asylum seekers.”

Undocumented children and others were ineligible for existing programs due to restrictive federal immigration rules, namely the Welfare Reform Act of 1996, said Levine. 

A Brookings report stated that the 1996 law was meant to “assist needy families, fight welfare dependency by promoting work and marriage, reduce nonmarital births, and encourage the formation and maintenance of two-parent families.” This was seen as Republican efforts to combat the growing rate of “children are growing up in poor, single parent families” in the ’90s. 

At the time, there was an increase of non-marital and teen births, and many thought the law would encourage families to get off welfare to become employees and marry to create traditional two-parent homes, said Brookings. Eligibility for these federally funded benefits was also limited to U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents and others with “qualified” immigration status.

“While some state and federal child care programs are out of reach for many immigrant families with undocumented children, New York City will not leave any child behind. The historic launch of Promise NYC allows our city to continue to advance the promise of a better future for all New Yorkers, regardless of their immigration status,” said Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs Commissioner Manuel Castro. “As the city works to support recently arrived asylum seekers, Promise NYC will have a positive impact on their ability to seek meaningful opportunities so they can improve their lives in their new homes.”

Councilmember Shahana Hanif, chair of the immigration committee, added that the city committed a historic $10 million to fund childcare for undocumented New Yorkers. “Promise NYC is a historic investment in our immigrant communities with transformative potential,” said Hanif. “Providing free childcare to working-class immigrant families in our city is truly building social infrastructure rooted in care and compassion.” 

The department for child services is contracting with four community based organizations to serve immigrant communities and families: Center for Family Life in Brooklyn, Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation in the Bronx and Manhattan, La Colmena in Staten Island, and the Chinese American Planning Council in Queens. 

When contacted for comment, the organizations said they hadn’t had too much contact with families just yet and none were available to speak about their experiences with childcare.
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about politics for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting:

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