Posts Tagged ‘Immigration Reform’

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.

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.

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.

Women Bought and Sold

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015

El diario

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 the grotesque reality of human trafficking.

By C. Mario Russell

March is filled with days that should be considered so much more than Hallmark holidays.  It has been designated as Women’s History Month; March 8th celebrated International Women’s Day and March 25th is marked as an International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery. These are important dates designed to recognize the woman for her profound place in the human community and to remember in solidarity the deep wounds she bears at the hands of that community.

Yet these wounds continue, particularly in the world of immigration.

For example, we soon will come upon another important marker: the one-year-anniversary of the mass abduction of 276 schoolgirls by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram in Nigeria when, according to Human Rights Watch, children were taken into captivity and sold into marriage, forced to convert from their religion, and made to endure physical and psychological abuse, forced labor, and rape.

Unfortunately, there are other examples as well that are far too close to home. Evelyn, 21, a top ranked student in her native country, was lured from Cameroon into the U.S. by a rich Maryland couple who promised her a bright future and a top-rate education. Instead, she was given no education and forced into servitude for the wealthy couple. And just this January 2015, Cristina Andres pleaded guilty to two counts of commercial sex trafficking. She was prosecuted for recruiting two girls, ages 13 and 17 at the time, with promises of a job in a Nashville restaurant. Instead, she used physical force and threats against the victims and their families to keep the girls in brothels in Memphis and Nashville.

The market for buying and selling of humans is sophisticated and robust, and only occasionally do publicized scenes like these force us to enter into its grotesque and brutal reality.


Catholic Charities Faces Off Against Judicial Order Live On ABC7

Wednesday, March 4th, 2015

CMarioRussellTiempoBy Alice Kenny

Join Mario Russell from Catholic Charities and Senator Adriano Espaillat on ABC7 as they take on the controversial judicial order that just blocked immigration reform.

“I think (the judge) is hiding the ball,” Mr. Russell, Catholic Charities Director of Immigration and Refugee Services tells ABC7 host Joe Torres on the Sunday talk show. “The President isn’t doing anything new that hasn’t been done before.  Deferred action is given all the time.  Employment is just a side benefit.”

So what should the 338,000 potentially eligible people in New York do in the mean time?

“This is a momentary block… that the courts will work out over time,” Mr. Russell says.

“What’s key and this is what we do at Catholic Charities is we work to keep people informed. We give presentations.  We go to community meetings. We’ve met with over a thousand people…sending the same messages-

“Don’t be afraid.  Stay informed.  Continue working on developing the evidence of your case, whether its evidence of residency, of your identity, anything else.”

Watch and learn as Mr. Russell and Senator Espaillat take this controversy head on.



Don’t Let a Judge’s Temporary Stay Get in Your Way: PREPARE NOW for Immigration Reform

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015

By Alice Kenny

You know the drill; the back and forth on immigration reform.

Don’t let it get in your way.

This time it was a Texas Judge Andrew Hanen’s recent ruling that put a temporary halt on President Obama’s Executive Action on Immigration.

So instead of starting this month, changes in U.S. law to help immigrant parents, children, spouses, skilled workers will not kick off until later this year.

Get ready now!

Don’t be scammed: Do NOT give anyone money to help you in advance with an application!

Check out these flyers in multiple languages to learn what YOU need to know!

 Spanish · French · Korean  · Russian · Hindu

Call Catholic Charities at the New York State New Americans Hotline. That’s 1-800-566-7636

  • For more information,
  • Referral to a nonprofit legal service provider,
  • Community presentations
  • To report schemes and attempts to defraud immigrants

Immigration Reform Answers in Every Language

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015

So many questions about immigration reform!

¡Tantas preguntas!

At Catholic Charities we have answers in nearly every language.

Join us today, Tuesday, Feb. 3, for an informational meeting held in Spanish at PS 20, 161 Park Avenue in Staten Island, to learn more about President Barack Obama’s immigration reforms.  Topics will include Deferred Action for Parental Accountability, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and more.

Top experts — including Catholic Charities, El Centro Inmigrante, the Mayor’s Office of Immigration Reform and more  –will be there to answer your questions.

Read all about it in

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.

More Immigration Reform Questions

Saturday, 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.

Wonder What Cardinal Dolan Ponders in the Confessional?

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

By Alice Kenny

Who can resist Sharon Otterman’s tease this weekend in The New York Times?

“If you ever wondered what Cardinal Dolan might ponder in the confessional,” she writes, “read on.”

Wonder about our New York Archbishop’s inner thoughts?

How has Pope Francis inspired him?

How does this impact our diocese’ focus — carried out through Catholic Charities — on the key issues of poverty, inequality, prison ministry and immigration?

Your questions are answered thanks to this in-depth Q and A with Cardinal Dolan published this weekend in The New York Times:


Are you, or is the diocese as a whole, increasing focus on issues such as poverty, inequality, prison ministry and immigration?


I think what has happened is that Pope Francis has made it easier for us to be heard on these issues! He has inspired many people to think more about how we care for one another, especially the “least among us.” The bishops of this country have been a leading voice on immigration reform, for many years.

I get a lot of criticism that we bishops preach too much about the immigrant, the poor, the sick, the economy. These are all areas in which the Archdiocese of New York has always been enthusiastically involved…It’s my responsibility to carry that on, just as it is my responsibility to continue and expand our work in charity, education, health care. Yes, Francis inspires me in this regard, as he has inspired people everywhere. That’s a great gift he has given us.

For more than a century, Catholic Charities has helped solve the problems of New Yorkers in need – non-Catholics and Catholics alike. The homeless family, the prisoner and the immigrant are among those for whom we provide help and create hope. We rebuild lives and touch almost every human need promptly, locally, day in and day out, always with compassion and dignity. We help your neighbors as you would like to be helped if your family were in need.


Download a PDF version of Catholic Charities At-A-Glance  for a look at what we do in any given year for those in need.

Read the full interview with Cardinal Dolan in The New York Times.