Threatened Gambian Journalist Wants to Rescue His Daughter

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.

Humans of New York Features Kennedy Child Study Center

December 3rd, 2014

Super news.

Humans of New York, the widely popular online chronicle with 11,113,930 likes on Facebook — more than New York City has residents — featured our affiliate, Kennedy Child Study Center, in their post today.  Together we serve New York’s most vulnerable children.

Check out the Humans of New York post below:

“I’ve always been drawn to children with special needs. I had a bunch of stuffed animals when I was a kid, and I’d sit them in rows and pretend to be their teacher. There was one bear named Moscow who had a broken eye and ripped ear, and I’d always make sure that the other animals were especially nice to him. So I knew early on that I wanted to be a special education teacher. This is a photo of the first play group that I organized outside of class. I was teaching at the time, and a lot of my parents were telling me that their children weren’t socializing with other members of the family, and it was very painful for them. So I organized an after-school playgroup in my basement. I’d work with the children on their interaction skills, while the mothers had a support group upstairs. The support group was very important for them. It’s very hard to be the parent of a special needs child. Your child develops at a slower pace than his peers, and you’re constantly hearing other parents say: ‘Mine is sitting. Mine is talking. Mine is crawling.’ And with each missed milestone, it’s difficult not to grieve the child that you didn’t have.”

Catholic Charities Honored for Defending Defenseless Children

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.

Pope Francis Calls Us to Sow Hope

December 2nd, 2014

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We have Thanksgiving, a day for giving thanks.  We have Black Friday and Cyber Monday, days for getting deals.

And today, we have #Giving Tuesday, a global day for giving back.

“Poverty calls us to sow hope,” Pope Francis tells us. “Poverty is the flesh of the poor Jesus, in that child who is hungry, in the one who is sick.”

Celebrate #Giving Tuesday with Catholic Charities.

Help us sow hope.

Focusing on Education for Family’s Success

December 1st, 2014

photo 5By John Otis

“It is seldom easy to achieve one’s dreams, but Naomi Bradshaw, 43, wishes it had not been quite so difficult,” writes New York Times Reporter John Otis in this recently published profile in The New York Times Neediest Cases series.

She married and the couple had sons. But marital bliss was short-lived.

“’Things got crazy,’ Ms. Bradshaw said. “He told me that I couldn’t go to work or to school.” She recalled numerous instances of abuse and…said her husband repeatedly threatened to harm her with a cricket bat and large kitchen knives…

“In 2005, she left her husband and took her sons to a shelter…

“As a single parent, Ms. Bradshaw pressed on. She took a job at a printing factory and was adamant that her children focus on their academic success

“’My main thing was for them to stay on top in school,’ she said. All three of her sons are A students and on the high honor roll at their schools. Shaun, (her oldest), is a contender for class valedictorian at the Law, Government and Community Service High School in Jamaica, Queens. He is set to graduate in 2016, and is already enrolled in classes at Queens College, with ambitions to pursue a career in law.

There was time now for Ms. Bradshaw to focus on her own career.  So she turned to Grace Institute, a Catholic Charities affiliate that provides free business training for women in need.

“I wanted a start, a real start,” Ms. Bradshaw said.

“I’m going to keep pushing like I always do,” Ms. Bradshaw said (after graduating the program in October.) “I’m not afraid.”

Daring to Hope

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.

More Immigration Reform Questions

November 29th, 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 second in a series of El Diario editorials.

Deferred Action Intake Session-48_editChildren Looking for a Chance at a New Life

By C. Mario Russell

For El Diario

For many months, now, we have seen the pictures and read the stories of the thousands of children fleeing gang violence, severe poverty, and persecution in Central America. After a long and dangerous journey to the border, many are resettling with a relative in the New York area, each looking for a chance at a new life.

But to keep this chance alive, they must present themselves before immigration judges who have been assigned to decide their cases, whether they are 7 or 17 years old. This can be an overwhelming and sometimes scary experience for children; a long and confusing process for parents.  And while each child’s case and situation is unique, in this installment I will present a few, basic points about procedure and law that may help families manage expectations:

Going to court is important, even if without a lawyer. Judges will give new appointments to allow children time to find a lawyer. The may enter an order of deportation if no one appears.

A responsible adult should accompany the child to court. Some adults say they are afraid to go because they are undocumented themselves or because they have an old deportation order. In such a case they should contact the Catholic Charities Children’s Call Center at 1-888-996-3848 for the latest information about enforcement policies or for when to attend a live Legal Orientation Presentation.

Judges will not decide the child’s case at the first court appointment. Most cases will take months to prepare and to be decided.

Develop a strong defense. While the process will demand patience it also will be an opportunity to present as full a legal defense against deportation as possible. There are several common defenses. Some children will qualify for asylum, which means proving that they suffered or will suffer persecution if returned to their home country. While not all cases of violence or deprivation qualify for asylum, some victims of gang violence have been able to succeed in their asylum case.

Some children may be eligible for special immigrant juvenile status. This is available to unmarried children under 21 who were abandoned or abused by at least one parent. Children who are living with one parent or have a guardian in the United States may therefore be eligible under this law.

Children who were victims of a crime in the United States may gain status under the “U Visa.” To qualify, the person must have suffered physical or mental abuse because of criminal activity and must have cooperated with law enforcement. Consider how many children were victimized by their smugglers in the United States… Similarly, victims of human trafficking may qualify for “T Visa” status if they were brought illegally to the United States to engage in sex work or in other forms of labor or servitude against their will.

Finally, every parent, custodian and child must know that any child in the United States, regardless of legal status, has a right to public elementary and secondary education, and, in New York State, to certain basic medical care coverage, called Child Health Plus (CHP). (Call the New York State Hotline at 1-800-566-7636 for further information).

Ensuring that these new young immigrants are healthy and in school is as important as making sure that they are guided well in their court proceedings. This is what gives them a real chance at a new life and makes possible all of their promise.

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 story in Spanish.

Questions About Immigration Reform?

November 28th, 2014

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

To put it in context we are running throughout this Thanksgiving holiday a series of recently published El Diario editorials written by C. Mario Russell, Catholic Charities Senior Attorney and Director of Immigrant and Refugee Services.

marioeldiarioWelcoming and Integrating Immigrants and Refugees

By C. Mario Russell

For El Diario

For over 30 years, Catholic Charities Community Services (CCCS) has welcomed immigrants and refugees to the United States and has helped them integrate in New York. CCCS helps newcomers of all races, nationality, and religion to reunite legally with their families, obtain work authorization, learn English and civics, and prepare to pass citizenship exams. We help immigrants avoid legal exploitation by providing good information and realistic advice about immigration status.  We also help immigrants who are victims of persecution, violence, and abuse in their home countries to find safety here; today, this especially involves the thousands of unaccompanied children who have made their way to New York to be with their families.

With this bi-weekly column, CCCS will report important news and developments on immigration and will try to give you the best information and tools to assist you on your path to citizenship and legalization. We will also share stories of people just like you who have struggled and have achieved their dreams.

Each year, CCCS provides legal advice and representation to thousands of documented and undocumented immigrants in New York City and the Lower Hudson Valley. Our staff of lawyers and paralegals handles matters that include family reunification visa petitions, work authorization, naturalization/citizenship, special juvenile petitions, asylum, and deportation defense in the immigration court. Migration counselors with our New York State Hotline (1-800-566-7636 from 9AM to 8PM weekdays) each year answer 23,000 calls and give referrals on immigration in 9 languages and can cover up to 200 languages if necessary.  All calls are anonymous and confidential.

To help respond to the needs of recently arrived unaccompanied children, CCCS’s legal team has created the Children’s Call Center (1-800-996-3848, 9AM to 8PM weekdays) which gives parents and custodians of children basic information about law and gives them a referral for an in-person group orientation. We also offer group presentations to parents at the immigration court every morning, which we encourage you to attend if your child has a court appointment–they are safe and confidential. Our legal team also gives orientations and consultations to children in a dozen shelters in the New York City region and provides many of them with deportation defense assistance.

CCCS also helps vulnerable people with their basic resettlement needs in the United States.  Those who have refugee status—from any country in the world—can receive help to prepare them for the workplace, help with learning English, help finding a job, and help navigating new needs, such as Social Security, school enrollment, driver’s license. Others, such as children or victims of trafficking or abuse, who are still applying for status, can receive family reunification assistance and other case-management follow-up services.

More recently, CCCS brought into its family the International Center, which offers dynamic classes on English instruction and pairs learners with a “conversation partner”–one of over 200 volunteers at the Center. The Center’s yearlong Immigrant Support Program for low-income immigrants, refugees, and asylees offers access to all Center programs, including classes, conversation partnerships and consultations without charge.

Since its beginning, the United States has been built and shaped by immigrants. Our city, our state, and our nation are enriched and made stronger by the work, the families, and the faith of immigrants. Catholic Charities believes that immigrants are to be welcomed with dignity and care, and it is our mission to provide help and create hope wherever possible and whenever possible to each individual. And so we invite you to contact us and see how we can be of assistance.
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 editorial in Spanish in El Diario.

This Thanksgiving, Help Put a Meal on the Table for a Family in Need

November 27th, 2014

Paul Food KitchenDuring last year’s holiday season, Catholic Charities served 48% more meals than the year before – and this year we’re on track to feed even more. From soup kitchens in the Bronx to food pantries in Manhattan and mobile food pantries on Staten Island and upstate, the story is the same. Lines of our hungry neighbors in need are stretching longer.

Your donation of $50 could feed a family of four from now through Thanksgiving. That’s 12 meals for $50. Please share your bounty with hungry families.

This Thanksgiving, help families in need with a donation of $50 or more.

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Catholic Charities on Tiempo

November 26th, 2014

beatrizWhat Changes Will We See in Response to President Obama’s Executive Action on Immigration Reform?

Watch Catholic Charities on ABC7 for answers.

Tune in to Tiempo on ABC7 this Sunday, November 30, 2014, at 11 a.m. for a round-table discussion with Catholic Charities Community Services Executive Director Beatriz Diaz Taveras and fellow experts.

Get your questions answered.

Need help?  Call the New York State Immigration Hotline administered by Catholic Charities at 800-566-7636.