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

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.

Learn English on Your Cell Phone

Friday, May 1st, 2015

All immigrants in New York State will have access to a free English program pending the results of a pilot with Spanish-speaking residents. Shutterstock/Rob Marmion

Plenty of politicians think that immigrants should learn English, but now one of them is doing something about it, reports Latin Times.

Catholic Charities is partnering with the New York State Office for New Americans to enroll immigrants in the program.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-New York) made his state the first to offer English lessons via cellphone as a part of a pilot program run by the social venture Cell-ED. The first phase of the program, directed at Spanish speakers in selected New York counties, reportedly costs the state a mere$14,000. The program will be free for participants, aside from the cost of minutes and text messages on their phones. Cuomo’s administration hope that the English lessons will help struggling immigrant who hope to improve their English but don’t have time to attend classes in person.

The program, overseen by the The New York State Office for New Americans (ONA) and contracted to Cell-ED combines text messages, voice tutorials, and two-way communication with tutors. Pending a successful pilot, all New York state residents will be able to call a Cell-ED number to begin receiving tutorials as well as the ability to send back answers to be automatically reviewed and corrected. While the pilot program is offered in Spanish, the ONA says that other languages such as Mandarin, French and others could be added in the future.

Read the full story in Latin Times.

Parallels Between My Jewish Faith & the Mission of Catholic Charities

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015

meiraFordham University social work graduate student Meira Zack is completing an 8-month internship with Catholic Charities Community Services.

By Meira Zack

I am Jewish and interning here at Catholic Charities has been my first real exposure to Catholicism and its observances. What better place to experience it than the Archdiocese!

As a religious individual, I have always been inspired by the mission-driven attitude behind our work at Catholic Charities Community Services.  This meaningful connection was intensified for me by the period of Lent and the Lenten message repeated in multiple agency emails: “Forty days before Easter when, through prayer, sacrifice and helping others, we transform our Christian love into action.”

This message particularly spoke to me because it parallels the three-fold mantra of the Jewish High Holy Days “Teshuva, Tefeela, uTzedaka, ma’aveerin et ro’ah hagezayra – Repentance, Prayer, and Giving revoke the evil decree.”

It inspired me to meditate on the messages of Teshuva, Tefeela, and Tzedaka, and what they have meant to me in the context of my time here at Catholic Charities.

  • Teshuva/Repentance – repairing damage done and healing wounds between self and God and self and others.  At Catholic Charities Community Services, we repair the relationship between society and its vulnerable populations; we help clients repair damage done in their personal lives.
  • Tefeela/Prayer – faith in God, supplication to God, dialogue with God; communal prayer and solidarity.  At Catholic Charities Community Services we are in a unique position where clients may ask us to pray with or for them; where they may turn to us for religious inspiration and hope.
  • Tzedaka/Giving – giving of one’s self, time, and money.  At Catholic Charities Community Services, we not only give of our time and selves in the work we do every do with clients, but also of our own resources in raising funds for the St. Nicholas Project and pantry items for Feeding Our Neighbors.

The united messages of “prayer-sacrifice-helping others” and “repentance-prayer-giving” teach the same lessons of repair, giving, honesty and togetherness with a focus on God as inspiration, partner, and conduit for “providing help, creating hope, and upholding the dignity of each person as made in the image of God by serving the basic needs of the poor, troubled, frail and oppressed of all religions.”

This is the vision and mission of Catholic Charities.

Bombarded by Tragedies?

Friday, April 24th, 2015

Photograph by Chris Ramirez PhotographerBy Alice Kenny

When one tragedy hits, other tragedies too often follow.  We lose a job and then have a tough time paying rent.  We need help with immigration but can’t explain ourselves clearly in English.  Our home floods and we lose our furniture and clothes as well.

Making things worse is the hard time we have when we try to navigate the systems that are supposed to assist us.

Catholic Charities is here help.  Our knowledgeable professionals can help you deal with overlapping problems and cut through bureaucratic red tape.

This can make the difference between getting the help you need and simply giving up.

Click here to find a Catholic Charities agency to coordinate the services you need.

Contact us through the Catholic Charities Help Line: 888-744-7900.

Executive Action Q & A

Thursday, April 23rd, 2015

About 338,000 undocumented immigrants living in New York State may qualify for President Obama’s Executive Action on immigration reform.

YOU – or someone you know — may be one of them.

Q: Four Letters – What Do They Mean & How Can They Help?

A: The President’s Executive Action is still being fought in the courts.  If it goes through, these four letters – DACA or DAPA – could change your life.

  • Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA)
    DAPA helps parents who arrived in the United States on or before January 1, 2010, and who have at least one U.S. Citizen or Legal Permanent Resident son or daughter. This allows immigrant parents to stay in the country, work legally for 3 years, and apply for travel permission.
  • Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)
    DACA helps immigrants who came to the United States before their 16th birthday and arrived on or before January 1, 2010. This program allows immigrants who qualify to stay in the country, work legally for 3 years, and apply for travel permission.

Q: Why are these programs important?

A: The U.S. government will not deport immigrants who qualify for either of these programs for 3 years. This promise is called “Deferred Action” and will be written on a Work Authorization card with your name and picture. Even though these programs are temporary, if you believe you qualify, continue to gather documents and evidence for your application.

Q:Too Complicated to Read – Time for a Face-to-Face

A: Several times each week, Catholic Charities and its partners in the Archdiocese and in the New York area offer free informational presentations.

For other events in the New York City area, visit the Mayor’s Offices of Immigration Affairs events page

Largest Free Legal Screening Event on Deferred Action Just Held in NYC

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015


By Alice Kenny

More than 600 people, mostly immigrants desperate for honest information on immigration reform, packed Temple Emanu-El on East 65th Street City for free legal screenings on Sunday, April 12, 2015.  Catholic Charities joined fellow not-for-profit immigration service providers and New York City in organizing and staffing this event with over 300 volunteers–including experienced immigration attorneys, administrative staff, interpreters, and law students–to deliver quality advice about immigration options.

The event was held to combat scammers and cheaters including “notarios” (immigration service providers) that have flooded the immigrant community with false promises of help with President Obama’s Executive Action program. But the President’s program is still on hold as opponents duke it out in the courts.

Sunday’s event, considered the first large-scale information/assistance event of its kind in New York City, is our way of fighting back.

“The range of cases was as broad as it was challenging,” says Mario Russell, director of Catholic Charities Immigrant and Refugee Services, “but we seemed to meet so expertly all the questions and needs presented.”

Attendees received clear information in their native tongues about the status of executive action.  They also received individual screenings to learn if they may qualify for various types of immigration relief.  Screenings focused on President Obama’s proposed Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA).  DACA focuses on those who entered the U.S. before age 16.  DAPA focuses on persons without documentation who were here on Jan. 1, 2010 and had a U.S. citizen or permanent resident child born on or before Nov. 20, 2014.

Missed this big event and still need help?

We’re holding free immigration legal screenings across the New York archdiocese.

For more information call Catholic Charities at the free New York State New Americans Hotline at 800- 566-7636.

Read more in the Daily News

Don’t Be Scammed

Friday, April 10th, 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 – and below — about how to avoid immigration scams.

By C. Mario Russell

As we wait to hear what will happen to the Texas court decision that blocks President Obama’s Executive Action program on immigration, scammers and cheaters have already begun moving in. In early March, the Queens District Attorney arrested a travel agent for stealing thousands of dollars from an undocumented immigrant. The travel agent stole the victim’s cash with false promises of getting him immigration status.

Immigration fraud comes in many forms.  Sometimes it is in the form of a notario or an “immigration service provider” who makes false promises of help to get a work permit or a green card.  Other times it comes in the form of an attorney who promises to do work for you and never does it, or someone who claims to be an attorney but who is not.  Going to the wrong person for help can put your immigration case at risk and filing the wrong application can make it more difficult for you to obtain relief later on.

So if you are unsure about your immigration case or you want help getting connected to the right assistance, here are some things you can do:

  1. Get a free screening from a trustworthy immigration attorney. 
    On Sunday, April 12, New York City legal services agencies and the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs will hold a free Immigration Legal Screening event where an experienced immigration attorney can advise you about your immigration options.  Call Catholic Charities for an appointment: (212) 419-3700 Mon-Fri 9am-8pm.

  2. Don’t believe any offer to apply for Executive Action programs.
    These programs are not available yet. But if you think you might be eligible, you can start preparing your documents now.  A presentation on how to prepare your documents—including a free booklet guide—will be offered at the April 12 screening event. Remember, only lawyers and certain licensed representatives can give advice and assistance on immigration matters.
  3. Call the New Americans Hotline for free confidential help.
    If you’ve been scammed before or need more information about immigration issues or to get a referral for assistance from a local community-based organization, call the free New York State New Americans Hotline at 1-800-566-7636.

Read the full post 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.