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

The Number One Skill for Immigrant’s Success: English

Monday, July 13th, 2015

Practicing English at Catholic Charities International Center

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, Mario takes on the key skill for immigrant success.

By C. Mario Russell

There are so many reasons why immigrants are important. They sustain the diversity of this nation, they create businesses critical for the health of the economy, and they contribute to the wealth and welfare of our society.  But underpinning all this is one vital skill they need in order to make these things happen: the ability to communicate in English.

Immigrant parents need English so they can become involved with their children’s education; according to the National Institutes of Health, the level of a mother’s literacy skills is the most important factor affecting a child’s literacy. Workers need English so they can obtain jobs that pay a living wage; it is no accident that the unemployment rate for adults with low literacy is twice that of literate workers. Entrepreneurs need English so they can navigate the bureaucracy involved in starting their own businesses.  Students need English so they can finish their secondary education and go to college. This education benefits all of us. Each worker with a high school credential generates $324,000 in net benefits for the New York City and will rely less on public benefits and contribute more in taxes.

But what is being done to support immigrants who want to learn English? How are so many individuals with different English learning needs finding help? One progressive program, the Catholic Charities International Center in Manhattan, is designed precisely to meet the challenge of giving culturally, socioeconomically, and linguistically diverse students instruction at their level to achieve the same goal: to learn English and develop a greater understanding of American life.


Inside Scoop From Former Immigrant Teen

Friday, July 10th, 2015


By Alice Kenny

Catholic Charities’ own Migration Counselor Elvis Garcia Callejas was invited with a group of immigrants and refugees to participate in the national 2015 Migrant and Refugee Leadership Academy held last month in Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Only 85 people were chosen for this three-day conference.   And only eight, including Elvis, were chosen to meet at the White House with top government officials.

The conference goal was to train future leaders to advocate for laws that provide protections for immigrants and refugees.  Elvis and his group of eight then met with officials about immigration policies and the role the U.S. should take protecting these vulnerable populations.

Elvis’ selection was sweeter still because he once was a teenage migrant alone in the U.S.  Now he helps new arrivals who face struggles similar to his.

After the conference Elvis shared his background with Robert Carey, director of the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement.

Fifteen years old, hungry and alone, Elvis hitched rides, scrambled atop freight trains and dragged himself through deserts for 1,200 miles to reach his promised land, the United States.  His native Honduras had turned into a wasteland where teenage gangs held shootouts on village streets.

“Coming to the U.S. all by myself at the age of 15 was really tough, but I was lucky to have help from so many great people and organizations,” Elvis told Mr. Carey. “I’m proud to now work for Catholic Charities, who with the help of ORR, make sure unaccompanied children know their rights and are able to access protection under US law. From personal experience, I know how important this support is.”

Civics 101

Thursday, July 9th, 2015

20150629-DSC_0839-676x385By Yvonne Marcotte

Epoch Times

“If you were asked, “What is the ‘rule of law’?” you might respond with a blank stare,” writes Yvonne Marcotte in the international Epoch Times.

…The exam can be intimidating but the Office for New Americans ONA is there to help. Teaching U.S. history is one of the many services (ONA) offers so immigrants can pass the test required for citizenship.

“We want to encourage people that the exam is doable,” says Shannon Kelly, associate director for Hudson Valley Services of Catholic Charities.

(Catholic Charities Program and Volunteer Coordinator) Jennifer Ramirez coordinates the state-sponsored program Office for New Americans, located at the Catholic Charities office in Newburgh, N.Y. Ramirez says ONA not only prepares immigrants for the citizenship exam, but also offers classes in English, and gives entrepreneurship seminars on a regular basis throughout the year for those who want to start a business.

New York has 4.2 million immigrants within its borders, and one in four New Yorkers of working age are foreign-born, according to the ONA website.

To accommodate this valued workforce, the Newburgh ONA provides outreach to tell immigrants how ONA can help.

…An amazing 31 percent of business owners in New York are immigrants, and immigrant business owners generate $12.6 billion in business revenue for the state, according to ONA.

ONA provides assistance in developing job skills through entrepreneurial seminars. …Ramirez says a tough task for many immigrants is learning English.  Jessica Lazo, Catholic Charities migration counselor, is on staff to provide one-on-one coaching.

…So, what is the rule of law? You’d be right if you answered “everyone must follow the law,” “leaders must obey the law,” “government must obey the law,” or “no one is above the law.”

Read the full story in Epoch Times.

$25K Swindled From Recent Immigrants

Monday, July 6th, 2015


In one of the latest publicized examples of immigrants preyed on by swindlers, Hispanic couple Jorge and Gloria were scammed out of $25,000, reports Telemundo in a recent televised news program.

“Immigrants meet with notarios and other people who tell them that they are qualified to adjust their status and nothing happens in the end,” Catholic Charities attorney Johana Vega tells Telemundo’s on-air reporter Liz Gonzalez.

In this latest case, Telemundo reports:

Vivi Nandalai, 49 years old, admitted to larceny after presenting supposedly official identification documents to a Hispanic couple.

She apparently claimed that she worked for the department of motor vehicles. And that she could get them drivers’ licenses and resident cards. And she charged them $25,000 in cash!

Catholic Charities, fortunately, runs the New York State New Americans Hotline and through that hotline, they are able to tell callers how and where to verify whether or not they are dealing with a real attorney and/or a person with the right credentials to help them with their immigration cases. In addition, the hotline is able to refer callers to the right non-profit organization that can provide them with free or low cost assistance.

…Please keep the following in mind:

·         Never pay in cash.

·         Always ask for payment receipts.

·    Always require contracts to be in your own language.

·    Call the immigration helpline at: 1-800-566-7636

Wonder what happened to the swindler?

Watch this televised report in Spanish on Telemundo.

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


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

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.


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;

  • 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