New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has appointed Indian American human rights attorney Jenifer Rajkumar as the director of immigration affairs and special counsel for the New York Department of State, last month.
The Department of State is the agency in charge of immigration in the state and Rajkumar, who unsuccessfully ran for a spot in the state’s 65th Assembly District last fall, is going to be on top of all the immigrant issues. Rajkumar’s focus includes implementing the governor’s immigration initiatives.
From serving two terms as the first South Asian district leader of Manhattan’s 65th Assembly District to serving on the legal team behind one of the largest gender discrimination case ever to go to trial, Rajkumar built an impressive resume of public service even before landing a position in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office as the director of immigration affairs and special counsel for the New York Department of State.
“I dedicated my career to social justice and making a difference in people’s lives,” Rajkumar said. “Throughout my career I’ve explored the best ways to make an impact.” For Rajkumar, the heart of her work has always been finding the best way to aid those in need, whether through litigation, policy or governance. She said that it’s the potential benefactors of her work—immigrants, women, the struggling—that have driven her to accomplish so much.
“My secret is that I think about the people that I want to help every day, the people [who] I met when I ran for office, the people [who] I met as a lawyer, the women and the workers [who] I have worked to represent,” she said. “I think about my parents.
They immigrated to this country in the 1970s with just $300 and a suitcase. My mom was born in a mud hut in India. They immigrated to the United States with little and were able to thrive here because of the opportunity this country provided. So, I am grateful every day. Every day I think about that and I’m grateful, and that gratitude drives me to work hard to help others.”
In the New York Department of State, Rajkumar has found a place where she feels effective. She called Cuomo “one of the biggest change agents in the nation” and works in the department on projects across the state to empower immigrants.
This involves drawing on her work as a lawyer to ensure that immigrants’ rights are fairly upheld. She is currently working on the Empire State Immigrant Legal Defense Project, an initiative to gather the state’s legal talent in the service of expanding legal services for immigrants. More information will be available in the near future, Rajkumar said.
Rajkumar also works closely with the state’s Office of New Americans, which helps newly arrived immigrants to integrate into New York state. With this office, she supports the NaturalizedNY Initative, which helps immigrants become legal U.S. citizens.
“We want to make sure that all newcomers to New York are fully integrated into our life and economy,” she said. “I’m very proud to be here because I believe (Gov. Cuomo is) the biggest change agent in the nation right now,” Rajkumar, who also ran for New York City Council in 2013 but fell short, told India-West, adding the governor has focused on paid family leave and marriage equality, among other hot-button issues in his time leading the state.
“I will be a driving force to implement the governor’s initiatives including drawing upon top legal talent across New York State to make sure immigrants are protected,” she said.