By Soulei Thomas
Published: March 7th, 2018
Students and faculty shared their concerns and personal experiences as immigrants, or friends and family of immigrants, both documented and undocumented, at the Immigration Rights and Resources in City University of New York (CUNY) panel last Tuesday Feb. 27.
“When I came, my family came with a green card. We were lucky,” said Anselma Rodriguez, Associate Director and Community Outreach Liaison at CUNY Brooklyn College Graduate Center for Worker Education. Since the start of CUNY Citizenship Now! she has volunteered with the program at least once a year as a way of giving back to the community. “It’s important for the community to know that there are trustworthy and readily people available to help them with their immigration needs; people who will not steal from them.”
A 23-year-old BC senior, who preferred to remain anonymous, stated that she attended the event to get a sense of the complicated process of naturalization.
“We are all protected under the constitution regardless of immigration status,” said Favio Ramirez-Caminatti, Executive Director of El Centro Del Immigrante, an immigrant organization based in Staten Island. “You have the right to seek legal advice, but the government is not obligated to provide that service for free,” he added. However, there are non-profit organizations, like El Centro Del Immigrante, which serves all five boroughs, and CUNY Citizenship Now!
Established in 1997 under the leadership of Professor Allan Wernick, CUNY Citizenship Now! is reportedly the largest university-based legal assistance program in the nation. Each year, its attorneys and paralegals provide free, confidential citizenship and other immigration services to approximately 10,000 individuals at its centers and close to 2,500 at its community based events. CUNY Citizenship Now! services, which are offered to the community in several languages including Spanish, Mandarin, Polish, French, Cantonese, Haitian Creole and Italian, have been expanded to serve all immigrants in New York.
Throughout the presentation, Rodriguez stressed that the purpose of the event was to inform students and the community about the resources and services available to them. She urged students to pass on the information provided to others on campus, as well as those in the community who may be in need of immigration services. Ramirez-Caminatti also informed the audience that there are attorneys available to prosecute those who are scamming and abusing the immigration community, which has become a major problem.
“It was very helpful,” one student said. “I did not know where to even start and how, but now I understand what the government expects from the citizenship applicants.” She added that she learned so much because of how well the presenters summarized the entire process and provided helpful tips that could prevent future chaos.
Rodriguez stated that there currently is no CUNY Citizenship Now! office at Brooklyn College but students are urged to contact Jesus Perez, Director for Academic Advising at CUNY Brooklyn College and an active member of CUNY Citizenship Now!. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or (718) 951-4866. Students can also contact Kevin Parker, who is the Senator for District 21 and a Brooklyn College graduate. He can be reach by visiting https://www.nysenate.gov/senators/kevin-s-parker.