Archive for the ‘Welcoming and Integrating Immigrants and Refugees’ Category

With Deportations, a Single Day Can Make All the Difference

Thursday, June 25th, 2015

Photo: Getty Images

The premier Spanish-language newspaper “El Diario” turns to Catholic Charities Director of Immigrant and Refugee Services, C. Mario Russell, for regular updates on immigration reform.

In this latest issue of El Diario, learn  how a single day can make all the difference.

By C. Mario Russell

One day can make a big difference. For many long-time resident immigrants who are facing a small misdemeanor criminal charges or who have served their time for a crime such as shoplifting, one day can mean the difference between staying with their families or being separated from them forever.

New York should consider following California’s example when, last year, its governor, Jerry Brown, signed a new law reducing the maximum sentence for lesser crimes–called misdemeanors–from 365 days to 364 days.

While a one-day reduction may not sound like much, it can be very important for immigration purposes.  In New York, a mother who shoplifts diapers for her baby or a teen-ager who shoplifts food from a convenience store could be being sent to jail for up to one year. This fact, alone, can make both the mother and the boy permanently barred from staying in the United States, regardless of how much jail time they got.

Immigration law lists two types of convictions that make an immigrant deportable. The first is called a “crime involving moral turpitude”, which is a certain type of crime punishable by a year or more or in jail.  Long-time residents convicted of shoplifting could not remain in the United States because their jail sentence could have been up to a year, that is 365 days. If the law were changed to make the maximum penalty 364 days, just one day less, they would not be barred from staying.

The second impact of a law such as California’s is that it reduces the risk a misdemeanor will be an “aggravated felony” under immigration law. Aggravated felonies carry especially serious immigration consequences. Not only are aggravated felonies offenses that require someone to be detained and deported, they eliminate nearly any possible defense to deportation.

But how do you know if you were convicted of an “aggravated felony”? You have to look at the long list of crimes in the immigration law, which includes non-violent crimes such as fraud and other crimes that are not a felony—yes, that’s correct—including misdemeanors with a “term of imprisonment” of a year (365 days) or more.

So, if the shoplifting mother and boy were given a term of imprisonment of a year for their shoplifting misdemeanors they will be considered aggravated felons. Yes, aggravated felons who would have to be detained and deported by immigration. Had they been given a term of 364 days, they would not.

Read this now in El Diario.

Mario Russell is Director of Immigrant and Refugee Services at Catholic Charities, 80 Maiden Lane NYC. He also teaches immigration law at St. John’s University School of Law.

Hurray for Our Rising Star!

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015

Jessica LazoBy Kristin Jensen

Jessica Lazo, a Migration Counselor at the Catholic Charities New American Opportunity Center in Newburgh, was named a 2015 Orange County Rising Star. The award recognizes up-and-coming professionals under the age of 40 who live, work  or volunteer in Orange County. It’s presented jointly each year by Junior League of Orange County and Leadership Orange.

Jessica has successfully assisted hundreds of Orange County residents with legal advice and applications for immigration benefits, including US citizenship, green cards, and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status. When the immigration program relocated to the Newburgh Armory Unity Center, Jessica took on the challenge of promoting its services in the community, educating immigrants about their rights, and forging strong relationships with other agencies that serve immigrants.

“Jessica is a tireless and devoted advocate for immigrants’ rights, always going the extra mile for those in need,” said her supervisor Raluca Oncioiu, Director, Immigration Legal Services and Immigration Hotline.”

Gender & Justice – in the Age of Mass Incarceration

Wednesday, June 17th, 2015

gender-and-justice-685

By Alice Kenny

Hard to believe – yet true. American women make up only 4.5 percent of women in the world.

Yet they represent nearly 33-percent of the world’s female prisoners!
Worse still, the number is growing in part because of the mass detainment of impoverished and persecuted immigrant women and girls who fled to the U.S. for safety.

“Detained women are already a vulnerable population; detained children, even more so,” says Catholic Charities Immigration Staff Attorney Lorilei Williams who spoke at a Gender and Justice symposium held last week at Vera Institute in downtown Manhattan. “Many detained immigrants have no criminal history, and yet they are detained in a system that is not subject to rigorous review.”

At Catholic Charities we help girls and women who fled gangs, rapes and violence that too often dominate their homelands.

Do you need immigration help?

Call our New York State New Americans Hotline operated by Catholic Charities.

1-212-419-3737 or 1-800-566-7636 (Toll-free in NYS)

Celebrating World Refugee Day 2015

Tuesday, June 16th, 2015

By Kelly Agnew-Barajas
Director of Refugee Resettlement at Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York

Staff, interns and volunteers from Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement were joined by clients new and old to celebrate World Refugee Day last Friday, June 12. Also joining them were staff and clients from fellow immigration service providers including the International Rescue Committee, CAMBA, Refugee and Immigrant Fund, and Safe Horizon.

The event was held at the Friends Meeting house in Manhattan on a hot summer afternoon. Although World Refugee Day is officially on June 20th, the celebration was scheduled earlier to allow Muslims who will be fasting during Ramadan (starting June 17th) to join in the celebration.

Catholic Charities staff and interns set up a photo booth with props and signs.  They also provided sidewalk chalk for kids to draw with. These were a big hit.

The New Americans Hotline that provides information and referrals for immigration questions over the phone  also shared resources and materials.

Everyone enjoyed homemade classic Cuban ropa vieja, Colombian ceviche, Mexican flan, cool watermelon and tons of snacks.

Tsering Dolkar,  an asylee client who was helped by Catholic Charities in 2009, came as a representative of her whole nine person family.

She described how Catholic Charities helped to provide a foundation of support and knowledge which has allowed her and her whole family to thrive. She also expressed profound gratitude for setting her and her family on the right path.

Brothers Break Barriers; Set Legal Precedent

Monday, June 15th, 2015
Vargas

Carlos Vargas

By Alice Kenny

Cesar Vargas just joined his now much publicized brother, Carlos, in breaking barriers so big that his story also landed in The New York Times.

As CrossStreets readers, you probably  remember Carlos. He interned with Mark Zuckerburg at Facebook.  He washed dishes at a restaurant to help support his family at age 13.  He put himself through the College of Staten Island, taking seven years to graduate because he held down full time jobs while studying at the same time.  But because his mother brought him from their impoverished Mexican home to the U.S.  when he was 4 years old, he could not gain legal status.

Catholic Charities helped him renew his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status.  This program does not alter his immigration status but does allow him to work and not face deportation.  And The New York Times reported on our success in this New York Times Neediest Case.

Now Cesar, who, like his brother, also has DACA status, just won a precedent-setting legal ruling.  An appellate panel of the State Supreme Court approved Cesar’s application to join the New York State Bar last week.  That makes him the first immigrant without legal status to be approved to work as a lawyer in New York.

The decision could be a test case, writes The New York Times, not only for the city but also for the country.  It could affect hundreds of immigrant would-be lawyers.  And it could empower fellow immigrants who arrived as children to the United States and received a reprieve from deportation.

Closer to home, this Supreme Court decision also directly affects Cesar’s brother.  Carlos just entered law school.

And both brothers plan to continue breaking barriers.

“In the end, if you are really going to be an advocate,” Cesar told The Times, “you can’t hide and you can’t just wait in the shadows.”

Read all about it in The New York Times.

Win the Jackpot – Become a U.S. Citizen!

Monday, June 8th, 2015

Immigrants become American citizens in Newark, N.J. on Jan. 28, 2013. A free legal clinic will advise immigrants seeking citizenship on immigration law and naturalization applications. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

By Alice Kenny

If you already have your green card – AKA legal status in the U.S. – join us to take the next big step.

Catholic Charities, in partnership with New York State’s Office for New Americans, is hosting free legal and naturalization clinics.  Attorneys who are experts in immigration law will be available for free legal consultations.

Why?

Naturalized citizens:

  1. Earn between 50 and 70-percent more than non-citizens
  2. Are half as likely to live below the poverty line.
  3. Have higher employment rates
  4. Gain access to jobs and licensed professions requiring citizenship
  5. Acquire rights such as the ability to protect children’s rights to remain in the U.S.

When, where and what to bring?

When:  Wednesday, June 10

Where:  Newburgh Armory Unity Center, 321 South William Street, Newburgh, NY.

What to bring: 

Register by contacting Jennifer Ramirez  today, June 9, at  845-562 -4736; Jennifer.Ramirez@archny.org

  • When:  Saturday, June 13

Where Catholic Charities Community Services, 218 Church St. Poughkeepsie, NY

What to bring? Click here.

Register by calling 845 452 1400 x 4259.

Questions:  Call our New York State New Americans Hotline at 1-800-566-7636

Read more in The Epoch Times

A Thank You Note That Made Our Day

Friday, May 29th, 2015

EntranceInternationalCntr-15smBy Alice Kenny

There is already a lot of buzz about how our Refugee Resettlement department helps people who fled torture and oppression in their native lands.

These refugees often once held high positions.

And they often arrive here with nearly nothing; no English, no job.  Just an undefined hope for a better future.

But what does our help really mean to them?

Take a look at this thank you note.  It’s from one of our clients who received help from our casework and job development team.

It speaks for itself – and it made our day.

I am very much pleased to inform you that I have got my Green Card in the last of March.

I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to you for everything.

When I was hungry, you gave me food; when I was jobless you gave me job; when nobody was beside me in real, you gave me hope and encouragement.

I never saw angels, but it seems to me that the spirit of angels exist in you.

I can never forget what you have done for me.

May God bless you.

We thank you for your support!

Catholic Charities Takes Charge When the Melting Pot Boils Over

Wednesday, May 20th, 2015

Victor Cueva, 25, an Immigrant Justice Corps fellow. He is eager to give new immigrants in the Hudson Valley the help his family did not receive when it arrived there from Peru. Credit Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times

By Liz Robbins

The New York Times

(Excerpt below)

New York City’s melting pot has been boiling over in the larger metropolitan area…

The city is where most of the funding for legal assistance has been concentrated before this year…But only a smaller amount of state and private funding for services and lawyers has gone to nonprofit organizations outside the city.

“The lower Hudson Valley, like Long Island, is critical to New York life, and there’s this swath of human beings who support those structures, and yet there is really nothing to support them,” said Mario Russell, the director of immigrant and refugee services for Catholic Charities Community Services.

The organization, under the auspices of the New York Archdiocese, oversees part of New York City, and Westchester, Orange, Rockland, Putnam, Sullivan, Ulster and Dutchess Counties. For decades, those counties have had only paralegals processing requests, such as green card applications, deferred action for childhood arrivals and adjudication of unaccompanied minors’ deportation claims…

Victor Cueva, a 25-year-old Justice Corps fellow and soon-to-be graduate of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, is eager to give new immigrants in the Hudson Valley the help his family did not receive when it arrived there…

He and another Justice Corps fellow, John Travis, will work in Catholic Charities’ Poughkeepsie and Newburgh offices part of the week, and the other days in Manhattan at 26 Federal Plaza, New York’s immigration court, serving clients from the lower Hudson Valley region.

Read the full story in The New York Times.

Harvard Law Touts Groundbreaking Catholic Charities Project

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015

Credit: Mark Bonifacio

By Kim Ashton

Harvard Law Today

When Vladimir Gongora, a deaf teenager who fled El Salvador, first met with Brett Stark ’12 two years ago in the Immigrant and Refugee Services Division at Catholic Charities in New York, the two had to draw pictures to communicate. Vladimir had never been taught to write or use sign language, and he needed Stark to help him win the legal right to stay in the United States.

Stark found him a special interpreter, one versed in communicating with hearing-impaired people without formal language skills. He then built a successful asylum case for the teenager on the grounds that Salvadoran law forbade people with serious disabilities from marrying or even acquiring a passport.

This was part of the inspiration for Terra Firma, a project co-founded by Stark, with Dr. Alan Shapiro and Dr. Cristina Muniz De la Pena, which offers legal and health services to unaccompanied minors who’ve crossed into the U.S.

Initially started with funding from an Equal Justice Works fellowship, Terra Firma is now supported by Catholic Charities, Montefiore Medical Center, and the Children’s Health Fund, and more sources of private and public funding may become available as the issue of unaccompanied immigrant children attracts more national attention.

Terra Firma provides a panoply of services to young people like Vladimir, to address the wide range of issues that often accompany their cases. This holistic approach not only helps to meet children’s immediate needs; it helps Stark in the courtroom.

Reports by Terra Firma doctors and mental health professionals often include evidence that children were persecuted and even faced life-threatening dangers in their home countries. In addition, medical and mental health providers can help to stabilize children, preparing them to assist and testify in their own cases.

Terra Firma has worked with around 100 children so far, and it is expecting to see twice as many over the next year. Clients in immigration cases, including children, do not have the legal right to publicly funded immigration lawyers, so the demand is great.

Read the full story in Harvard Law Today.

Hard to Believe But True: Find Out About Potentially Good News During Deportations

Monday, May 11th, 2015

The premier Spanish-language newspaper “El Diario” turns to Catholic Charities Director of Immigrant and Refugee Services C. Mario Russell for regular updates on immigration reform.

Learn this week in El Diario  about a possible silver lining for a lucky few during deportation proceedings.

By C. Mario Russell

Immigrants who have lived in the United States for a long time and seek legal help regularly ask: “Can I get my residence under the Ten-Year Residence Law?” You may be wondering the same thing.

The answer, for better or worse, is always the same: “It depends.”

The ten-year residence law, called “Cancellation of Removal,” was created by Congress in 1996 to help long-time undocumented residents living in the United States receive legal permanent residence.  A key point is that it is available only to immigrants whose case is being heard by an Immigration Judge. Let me repeat, no one is eligible for this residence unless he or she is presently in immigration court in deportation proceedings.

To qualify for cancellation of removal and receive legal permanent residence, you must:

  • have continuously resided in the U.S. for at least ten years
  • have had good moral character for ten years
  • prove that your deportation would cause “exceptional and extremely unusual hardship” to a relative who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, meaning a spouse, parent or child

This is a difficult burden, and the results of these cases vary depending on the prosecutor and the judge. Cancellation of Removal cases are especially complicated to prepare because they require lots of documentation.  They also require a competent attorney who spends hours helping witness prepare for and give their testimony.

Take for example, someone who entered the U.S. from Mexico in 2003, married another Mexican national and had two children while in the U.S.  Since the children were born here, they are U.S.  citizens.  During his time in the U.S., he worked and paid taxes (or is willing to pay back taxes) and has no criminal record.  If that individual wound up in removal proceedings, he could apply for Cancellation of Removal and argue that his removal to Mexico would cause exceptional and extremely unusual hardship to his U.S. citizen children.  His life, his contributions to our society, and the needs of his children would be the subject of a real inquiry by an Immigration Judge.  Sometimes, U.S. citizen children may have special medical or educational needs that would be inadequately treated in another country if they were to move there with their parents.

Finally, only 4,000 immigrants can be granted Cancellation of Removal in any year.  Per year.  Nationwide.

Therefore, under no circumstances should any lawyer or preparer of any kind offer to file a Cancellation of Removal claim if there is no immigration court case. And, even then, the decision to pursue it should be made carefully, as the result will always “depend”.

Read the full post in Spanish in El Diario.

Mario Russell is Director of Immigrant and Refugee Services at Catholic Charities, 80 Maiden Lane NYC and teaches immigration law at St. John’s University School of Law.