A prominent Indian-American public interest lawyer and immigration reform activist, fighting a rare form of brain cancer, has been appointed by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio as senior advisor on a major initiative that focusses on democracy, immigration and healthcare. Nisha Agarwal, 40, has been named as Senior Advisor to Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives Phil Thompson to advance the administration’s Democracy NYC initiative that is focussed on expanding and protecting democracy for millions of New Yorkers. Agarwal had served as Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs since the beginning of the de Blasio Administration, building landmark initiatives like IDNYC, the city’s municipal identification card, and Cities for Action, a national advocacy coalition of local elected officials.
The mayor described Agarwal as a “fierce and dedicated” woman, who has made it her life’s mission to bring the voices and needs of marginalized communities to the forefront. “Her service to this city’s millions of immigrant residents will reverberate for generations of New Yorkers to come through programs like IDNYC, and I have no doubt her work on the DemocracyNYC initiative will be equally meaningful,” he said in a statement announcing the appointment. Bitta Mostofi has been appointed Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs. Mostofi had served as Acting Commissioner since August 2017 during Agarwal’s medical leave. Agarwal was diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer in 2016.
She said as she continues with deal with cancer, she will work for communities in New York. “We are in a moment of unparalleled attacks on the rights of people across the United States to take part in our democratic process, access government services, and assert their voices. The Trump White House has made it their mission to spread falsehoods about voters, limit critical social services, and suppress participation in the census. These assaults have immense impacts on New Yorkers in the short and long term,” Agarwal said. She said it was an honor to serve as Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs in the city. “As I continue to deal with cancer and the recovery from my stroke, I’ve zeroed in on the way I can give the most back to New Yorkers in this moment,” she said. Agarwal added that by working together and empowering the city’s people, solutions can be achieved to resolve difficulties facing the city’s population. “I’m thrilled to join the team of Deputy Mayor Thompson to build the DemocracyNYC initiative from the ground up,” she said.
Agarwal will take on the role of Senior Advisor to the Deputy Mayor to boost civic engagement among New Yorkers and build DemocracyNYC’s efforts on immigration, disability, and healthcare. Prior to joining the administration, Agarwal, the daughter of Indian immigrants, worked with the Chief Judge of the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to establish the Immigrant Justice Corps, a nonprofit that pairs recent law school graduates with non-profit legal services providers to offer free legal representation to immigrants. Agarwal was also the co-founder the Center for Popular Democracy and served as its Deputy Director. Agarwal studied at Harvard College and Harvard Law School and was a Marshall Scholar at Oxford University.
Thompson said Agarwal has a track record of success in building organisations and initiatives from the ground up. “Her skills and passion are exactly what we need to ensure DemocracyNYC is inclusive of all New Yorkers,” he said. In a report last year in The New York Times, Agarwal had said she has a form of brain cancer known as glioma. She said that during surgery to remove the tumor, she had a stroke, due to which she was initially unable to speak or walk. Her diagnosis and surgery did not stop her from traveling to Washington last year to protest provisions in the Republican tax bill that would have impacted medical research and caused cuts in medical funding necessary to enable researchers find cures for rare diseases like the one she was diagnosed with.