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

Without a Lawyer in Immigration Court, Children Are Lost

Wednesday, January 28th, 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. 

By C. Mario Russell

Catholic Charities New York

Isabel, 16 years old and 4 months pregnant, fled Honduras with her aunt last April. They were on the run because Isabel’s boyfriend’s brother, a notorious gang leader, had assassinated Isabel’s mother weeks before and they feared retribution for having reported the murder to the police.

U.S. Immigration apprehended Isabel at the border and transferred her to the Bronx for deportation proceedings. Six months later, in October, I met Isabel, who was a very young, new mother. She had not yet seen an immigration judge and her asylum-filing deadline was about to pass. She had no lawyer.

Had Isabel crossed the border alone—like the 51,000 children who did so last year—she would have been placed in temporary shelter care with the Office of Refugee Resettlement. She would also have been given a legal orientation and consultation. She would have immediately seen a judge. And she might have been assigned a free lawyer through a federal program or through a collaborative legal defense program for Unaccompanied Minors in New York City. By some estimates, almost 50-percent of Unaccompanied Minors have a lawyer.

But Isabel is not an Unaccompanied Minor. She crossed the border with her aunt so the Department of Homeland Security labeled her an “accompanied” child. This means Isabel’s deportation case was put indefinitely on hold. She was not entitled to shelter care or to a legal orientation and she was not eligible for a free lawyer. Last year, over 68,000 children like Isabel—accompanied by family—were apprehended at the border. Little has been reported about these children.

But the consequences for children facing the court system alone are staggering. Unable to mount a case in their own defense—whether for asylum or special immigrant juvenile protection—they might permanently be disqualified because of missed filing deadlines and, as a result, ordered deported in absentia. A 2011 report from a panel headed by a federal judge found that immigrants with lawyers are five times more likely to win their cases than those who represent themselves. A recent analysis shows that 90-percent of children who have a lawyer appear in court. But without a lawyer, only 10-percent, most lacking the courage, knowledge or understanding of English and U.S. law, attend these key proceedings. This should not come as a surprise. What 16 year old facing deportation to a violence-filled country would show up in court without a lawyer to defend her?

Children facing life or death consequences in immigration court shouldn’t suffer because there is not enough legal assistance. While not every child may have a legal right to remain here, each deserves due process and legal representation in court. The U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause and the Immigration and Nationality Act’s provisions requiring a “full and fair hearing” before an immigration judge should require the government to provide all children with legal representation in their deportation hearings. Isabel and children like her deserve defense.

* Names have been changed

 

  1. Mario Russell is Senior Attorney and Director of Immigrant and Refugee Services at Catholic Charities, 80 Maiden Lane, NY, NY 10038. He teaches immigration law at St. John’s University School of Law.

Read this in Spanish now in El Diario.

Questions About President Obama’s Executive Action on Immigration?

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015

NEWAMERICANSHOTLINE-6By Alice Kenny

There are so many questions about President Obama’s Executive Action on Immigration!

Who does it cover?
When does it start?
Where can you get advice?
How do you avoid hucksters defrauding those seeking help?

Check out our answers here in:
• English and Spanish
• Chinese

More questions or looking for a referral to a non-profit agency for free or low-cost advice on your immigration case?

Call our Catholic Charities operated New York State New Americans Hotline at 1 (800) 566-7636.

Alien or Human? You Decide

Thursday, January 8th, 2015

mario-msgr-protestAs we honor of National Migration Week, January 4 – 10, with this year’s theme, “We Are One Family Under God,” the weekly digest CMS Migration Update honored us by publishing as its lead story a public statement by C. Mario Russell, Esq., director of Catholic Charities Immigrant and Refugee Services.

Recognizing an immigrant’s humanity is a prerequisite for genuine legal reform, Mr. Russell says in this thought-provoking address he delivered to the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies at St. John’s University.

“Congress can treat whom it wants, how it wants, when it wants, and if it wants to at all,” Mr. Russell says:

“So why does this dysfunction exist? In my view it is because the immigrant person—the alien—is not considered a ‘person’ in the fullest sense under the constitution, what I have referred to as our social charter. For over 300 years, since ‘we’ first arrived, we have conceived of aliens (even those within our borders) as just that—beings who are outside of our sphere, as ‘other,’ and therefore, as people with diminished status—both existentially and on paper. And, this destines us to repeat a mistake time and again—that of designing laws and policies that are always reactive, not planful, that are product of crisis, not of intention. And so long as this is true, future generations of immigrants in America will not find their right place in society.”

Join us in honoring National Migration Week and check out the full address here.

Catholic Charities’ Mario Russell Speaks About Immigration on NPR Radio

Friday, December 12th, 2014

“Crossing the U.S. Mexican border is a harrowing journey for many Central Americans,” reports Alexandra Starr on National Public Radio (NPR).

“More than 57,000 child migrants made that trip this year and many reported being physically and sexually abused.”

The State Department launched a program this month that creates a safe passage to the United States from Central America. It would give some U.S.-based Latino parents the chance to bring over children they left in their home countries…

Parents who want their children to interview to come to the U.S. will have to submit the requests through organizations like Catholic Charities.

Mario Russell, with Catholic Charities in New York, says he thinks this new program acknowledges how bad things are in some Central American countries.

“The old models, I think, by which families were divided, that is to say that some children stayed in the home country were raised by a grandparent, just don’t work anymore because the conditions have become really unsustainable, and that’s why I think they’re leaving in large measure,” Russell says.

Listen to the full program on NPR.

Day Laborer Holiday Celebration

Thursday, December 11th, 2014

poasadasMembers of Obreros Unidos, day laborers and their families served by Catholic Charities in Yonkers have begun Posadas, a Mexican Christmas season tradition that dramatizes the search of Joseph and Mary for lodging. They were joined this year by six monks from the Franciscan Friars of Renewal, three seminarians and a host of others including the Fátima choir from St. Peter Church.

So many joined along because they wanted to mark this special time for these laboring men and their families who, during the frigid winter and all year round, wait on street corners hoping for work.  During this holiday they talk, sing and pray as they carry a statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe from home to home. Nine families chosen to host the statue place it on uniquely decorated alters.  After that, they share personal prayers, the Holy Spirit and a welcome for their fellow travelers.

During the feast, they share a little about their current hardships, challenges, and hopes for the future. This process continues night after night until December 12, the date the Virgin of Guadalupe is commemorated and put to rest at St. Peters Parish.

“The goal of the Posadas, aside from the commemoration and ability to celebrate a tradition, was to create another environment where workers could unite, share their beliefs, and discuss their challenges,” says Catholic Charities Day Laborer Organizer Janet Hernández.

Have Questions About Immigration Reform?

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014

By Alice Kenny

With tempers flaring and others cheering President Obama’s recent executive action on immigration reform, online commentator Joe Torres dedicated an entire WABC 7 Tiempo show to explain the action’s ins and outs.

To help break it down, he turned to Catholic Charities Community Services Executive Director Beatriz Diaz Taveras and fellow experts during this recent Sunday televised round-table discussion.

The executive action grants special legal status to up to five million immigrants.

The order protects from deportation mostly parents of children born in the United States who

  • Have lived here for 5 years or more
  • Pay a $500 fee
  • Have no criminal record

“This is a humanitarian effort and its really keeping families together,” Ms. Taveras tells Torres.“It’s keeping those United States citizen children and lawful permanent resident children with their parents. …I really think we have to focus on the families as a whole unit and keep the families together and that is exactly what this executive action does.”

Do you have questions about immigration reform?

Call Catholic Charities-administered New York State Immigration Hotline at 800-566-7636.

How Will President Obama’s Immigration Executive Action Affect Me?

Monday, December 8th, 2014

“On Thursday of last week, President Obama brought hope to half of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in America,” writes Catholic Charities Director of Immigrant and Refugee Services C. Mario Russell in his recent El Diario column.

“He did this in a way no other president has done before and showed America at its best.

  • He promised to treat them with dignity and with compassion.
  • He told them they would be given a fair chance to be part of society.
  • He lifted from their shoulders the burdens of fear and uncertainty.”

Do you have questions about President Obama’s recent executive action on immigration reform and wonder how it may affect you?

Read Mr. Russell’s full El Diario column below:

Starting in the next several months, about 4 million undocumented immigrants in the United States—mothers, fathers, children—will be able to apply for “deferred action” status. If eligible, they will work legally in the United States for a few years without the daily anxiety of deportation. One estimate puts the number eligible in New York State at just under 340,000.

There are those who accuse the President of acting like a king, of making rules outside the law, and of doing something unprecedented. These accusations are legally and factually wrong.  More important, they come from people who have used their power to frustrate the American people’s desire that immigrants be treated with dignity, compassion, and inclusion under the law. Facts are important: in 2013 comprehensive immigration reform did pass the Senate by a wide margin of votes, a bi-partisan vote for reform in the House of Representatives was blocked by Republican leaders, and 75% of Americans polled as recently as 3 days ago still support a plan for immigration reform and a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented.

America has always believed in basic truths about immigrants. Immigrants don’t threaten our way of life, they enrich it. Undocumented immigrants, like people, are not “illegal”; they just lack status. For hundreds of years they have married, grown families, prayed, and set roots in our communities. And they have worked hard. Undocumented immigrants added a net $100 billion to Social Security in the past 10 years, paid $11 billion in taxes in 2010, and will further contribute $45 billion in payroll taxes over the next 5 years if given work permits.

These truths go back a long time—as far as 1868—when Americans approved the Constitution’s 14th Amendment guaranteeing citizenship to the children of Chinese, Gypsy, and African slave immigrants, and to every person born on American soil. Senator John Conness of California, himself a naturalized Irish citizen, and a believer in justice for immigrants, said at the time in support of the amendment that immigrants were “entitled to equal civil rights.”

On Friday of last week, the day after Mr. Obama’s extraordinary announcement, I met with a Mexican family I have known for more than five years. The mother and father find day labor when they can. They pay taxes each year and live quiet, careful lives in upstate New York with their four young children. When they learned they would not qualify for Mr. Obama’s deferred action plan their faces fell; their anguish was barely contained.

This anguish is shared by millions. These are the people for whom America still needs to fulfill its promise of equal civil rights, a promise it spoke of more than 140 years ago.

 

Mario Russell is Senior Attorney and Director of Immigrant and Refugee Services at Catholic Charities, 80 Maiden Lane, NY, NY 10038; he teaches immigration law at St. John’s University School of Law.

 Click here to read this post online in Spanish.

Threatened Gambian Journalist Wants to Rescue His Daughter

Thursday, December 4th, 2014

photo 3By John Otis

The New York Times

Friends are few in number and relatives live an ocean away, but since moving from his native country, Gambia, Buya Jammeh has gained something precious,” writes John Otis in this New York Times Neediest Cases article.

“This is the land of liberty,” Mr. Jammeh, 32, said. “Since I stepped my foot in the United States, I feel like I’m O.K., I’m a free man. I’ve regained the life I lost. I have nothing to fear in the U.S.”

Mr. Jammeh grew up in the north bank region of Gambia. After high school, he began a career in journalism. Gambia has a weak independent press, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists; Mr. Jammeh said he had been threatened many times, and beaten by the military police…

With help from the immigration department of Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New York, Mr. Jammeh was granted asylum in June.

Catholic Charities, one of the agencies supported by The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund, is also helping Mr. Jammeh petition to bring his wife and 2-year-old daughter to the United States. He wants them to arrive before his child gets much older.

“In Africa, they still practice female genital mutilation,” Mr. Jammeh said. “I have a daughter. If she’s 4 or 5, she’s going through the same process, and I don’t want her to be subjected to that kind of process. It’s tradition. They don’t need to take permission from you as the father.”

Read the full New York Times story now.

Help us help the Jammeh family and fellow courageous New Yorkers.

Catholic Charities Honored for Defending Defenseless Children

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014

awardCatholic Charities Community Services’ participation in the Immigrant Children’s Advocate’s Relief Effort (ICARE) was honored by the American Immigration Council on December 1, 2014 with the Public Service Award for “invaluable service and enduring dedication to immigrant children in need of legal representation.”

The American Immigration Council bestowed this honor on Catholic Charities and its ICARE partners at its Immigrant Achievement Awards event held during the 17th Annual American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) New York Chapter Symposium at the New York Marriott Marquis in midtown Manhattan.

Jodi Ziesemer, the attorney who leads the CCCS team responsible for representing newly arrived unaccompanied immigrant minors on the New York Immigration Court’s so-called “surge dockets” and Elvis Garcia Callejas, who provides “Know Your Rights” presentations to these minors and to their custodians before they attend court, accepted the award on behalf of Catholic Charities.

Their goal and that of Catholic Charities is to provide every child in immigration court with due process and a fair opportunity to explain why return to their country of origin would be harmful and dangerous.

“Jodi and Elvis, assisted by many other members of our staff, have been working tirelessly to provide information and legal screening to minors who have been appearing on the ‘surge dockets’ since August 13, 2014, ” said Raluca Oncioiu, Director of the Immigration Legal Services Department at CCCS.

“This award recognizes the importance of their work, which has touched hundreds of minors over the past three and a half months. We are immensely grateful to the New York City Council and the New York Community Trust, for funding – together with the Robin Hood Foundation – the work of ICARE with minors who live in New York City, and to the Executive Office for Immigration Review for funding the ‘Know Your Rights” presentations we provide to unaccompanied minors and their custodians who reside in New York State.”

Find out more.

Daring to Hope

Sunday, November 30th, 2014

President Obama’s recent executive action on immigration reform leaves many searching for answers to this complicated and controversial topic.

 Put your questions in context:  Read this third in a series of El Diario editorials.

Will the President Act on Immigration? Daring to Hope; Preparing for Change.

By C. Mario Russell

For El Diario

Time is running out for Mr. Obama.  He must deliver soon on his promise to change the lives of immigrants in America. The President’s promise restored hope, for which immigrants gave him support and their votes. But it also was made at great cost, in exchange for hundreds of thousands of deportations.

We find ourselves halfway into the President’s second term, and we ask again: will Mr. Obama act on immigration? Many in the nation are more frustrated than ever before, their chorus calls for bold legalization having become pleas for modest and temporary documentation.  Millions of immigrants, whether resident or undocumented, whether living in the open or under cover day-by-day, whether waiting to reunify with family or avoid deportation, are yearning for something new.

No comprehensive legalization law has been enacted for almost 30 years. Washington lawmakers have allowed a generation of workers to continue to work, a generation of children to grow into adults, and a generation of families and faithful to set roots in their communities. Yet, those same lawmakers in Washington have shown social neglect and moral indifference, and, as a direct result, have stalled the lives of millions from full participation in America.

For some time now we have heard Mr. Obama signal his intent to use his presidential power to do “something about immigration”–perhaps before the end of 2014 or soon after 2015 begins.  We have heard this before, and we know better than to rely on words only; the ground in politics has the quality of quicksand, changing and dangerous.  But there is time, and the window of opportunity is open. We must dare to hope.

And if we hope, we must also prepare.

So, permit me to offer practical tips for how to prepare now for any rules that might come from the White House in the future. These are steps that make for good citizenship and for good stewardship. They will be the essential components of any an immigration benefit, whatever form it takes:

First, begin to collect documents:

  • All personal and family identity documents
  • Evidence of arrival to the US and evidence of residency (utility bills, leases, medical records, etc.)
  • Evidence of any trips outside the US
  • Evidence of work (especially undocumented workers)
  • Evidence of education in the US
  • Copies of any immigration applications made to INS/USCIS
  • If ever arrested, criminal Certificates of Disposition (originals from the court), because certain convictions may be disqualifying

Second, consider English classes. It is probable that English proficiency of some kind will be required.

Third, begin setting money aside for filing and (possibly) penalty fees and other legal fees.

Fourth, review tax payments for years worked, to make sure taxes were submitted (even if late) and were accurate and complete.

And, finally, no one should give money to notaries, agencies, or lawyers to prepare an application or help them gather documents at this time. If and when there is a new rule there will be reliable agencies to help people at low cost or for free. There is no need to pay thousands of dollars now. 
To check on the status of any immigration law or rule, call the New York State Hotline at 1-800-566-7636.

Mario Russell is Senior Attorney and Director of Immigrant and Refugee Services at Catholic Charities, 80 Maiden Lane, NY, NY 10038; he also teaches immigration law at St. John’s University School of Law.

Read the full El Diario editorial in Spanish here.