Pilot Project Helps Some Immigrants Avoid Deportation

Sitting in a row on an ordinary bench and looking at the floor almost the entire time, five handcuffed people wearing orange-colored clothing waited their turn to approach Judge Noel Brennan in the New York Immigration Court.

It’s a common sight in that court, located on Varick Street in Lower Manhattan, where around 900 New Yorkers are processed each year to find out whether they will get deported.

Mayra Rodríguez went through the ordeal yesterday, although she probably wasn’t under any illusions. Rodríguez had been arrested for a misdemeanor related to trafficking marijuana, but that was the lesser [offense]: the tourist visa with which she had entered the country had expired a while ago. With a compassionate expression, Judge Brennan sent her off, wishing her good luck in the future.

Rodríguez will be deported without the possibility for appeal, but at least half of the more than 1,600 New Yorkers who are processed each year in the immigration courts of New York and New Jersey would have an actual chance of avoiding deportation if they received adequate legal representation.

That’s the conclusion of the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP), a platform of various community organizations that has launched a groundbreaking pilot program in the country to offer quality legal defense to those facing deportation.

Since this program, which is being funded by the City Council, started operating last November, its lawyers have represented 101 New Yorkers, based on their income level. In 50 percent of the cases, [the lawyers] were able to find a way to build a defense argument, and 17 percent of the clients have already been saved from deportation.

Juan Guzmán, a 39-year-old Dominican man, is among those who will be able to stay in the country thanks to NYIFUP’s intervention. Despite that he had a green card and lived in the U.S. for nine years, Guzmán was arrested at customs at JFK Airport after a return flight from the Dominican Republic. Two misdemeanors that he had committed 20 years ago were enough for him to enter the deportation process.

His lawyers managed to gain him a temporary release thanks to a humanitarian visa, which the judge granted due to Guzmán’s history of mental health problems; he suffers from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Now his lawyers are trying to get his green card back.

“I didn’t have money for a lawyer and I saw my future as very bleak,” said Guzmán. “I was very scared of losing my family and ending up without the medical treatment that I have here and which I need very much.”

Oscar Hernández, a 21-year-old Mexican man, was also saved from deportation when he had lost all hope.

“When they explained to me that I had a chance to fight, I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “Now that I’m staying, I’m determined to improve my English and earn my GED.”

Yesterday, NYIFUP presented this [case] and other achievements before a panel of the City Council comprised of Carlos Menchaca, chair of the Immigration Committee, and Julissa Ferreras, chair of the Finance Committee, among others. The goal is to increase the $500,000 that the council granted to launch the pilot program to $5.3 million in the next municipal budget, so that no New Yorker facing deportation will be without representation.

Building pressure with a hunger strike

A group of pro-immigration reform activists started a two-week hunger strike yesterday with the aim of seeking a solution to alleviate the immigrants’ situation and put a stop to families getting separated.

“I’ll be making this effort for my daughter, for all those who are detained and who also have the right to be with their families,” said Herminia Gallegos, one of the people who will participate in the hunger strike in front of the ICE (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement) offices in Phoenix, Ariz.

So far, six people are taking part in the hunger strike. Gallegos’ daughter has been detained for five months, after she showed up at the border in Nogales, Ariz., asking for permission to re-enter the U.S.

Rosy Griselda Rojas is a 20-year-old “dreamer” who lived in the U.S. since she was 9, but chose to return to Mexico after her father was arrested.

Rojas said she suffered physical and mental abuse in Mexico, which is why she decided to try returning to the U.S.

Menchaca: “Immigrants are the fabric of New York”
Carlos Menchaca, the new chair of the City Council’s Immigration Committee, spoke with El Diario/La Prensa to express his views on this issue.

Are you optimistic that the NYIFUP will receive the $5 million it needs to legally represent all New Yorkers facing deportation?

I believe the data and the powerful stories we heard will spark discussion among my colleagues in the City Council, and that the mayor will also get involved. I hope we will obtain that minimum increase in the municipal budget ($5.3 million) so that everyone who needs legal aid can access it.

What other realistic goals can be achieved for the immigrant community through the Immigration Committee that you lead?

Through this commission and by collaborating with this new council, headed by Melissa Mark-Viverito, we are going to change the way immigration is talked about in this city, and we want the mayor to also be part of that conversation.

We understand that immigrants are the fabric of New York, but what we still don’t understand is how the system can improve life in these communities.

The first step will be searching for funding to provide all immigrants in the deportation process with legal aid. The second is to improve the discretionary detention law (legislation to protect arrested undocumented immigrants from deportation), because we want to reduce the number of cases that enter the deportation process. Afterwards, we also want to increase the number of ESL programs for our community members, in schools as well as centers that adults have access to.

Can you give more details on the mayor’s proposal for a universal city ID?

This program will be the most successful of its kind in the entire country, because we’ve studied all the previous ones in-depth. In March, we’re going to have a big public hearing in which many members of New York’s immigrant community will participate, so we can listen to their proposals and plan how to implement them in the best way possible.

Voices of NY

Posted by on Mar 14 2014. Filed under Community News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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