Internet resources for what you need to know about NYC Immigrants
Five Favorite Sites For Beginners

The Topic
Immigrants are foreign-born people and their families who enter the United States and settle. This is a catch-all phrase that usually includes everybody from the U.S-born children of foreigners to naturalized citizens to the undocumented.
The Context
New York owes much of its growth and character to its traditional role as the point of entry and settlement for immigrants from all over the world. The city may now be experiencing the largest wave of immigration in its history, with immigrants and their children making up to as much as 60 percent of the city's population. Most of today's immigrants come from Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia and the former Soviet Union and are, for the most part, younger and darker than immigrants from the past. While the federal government sets overall immigration policy, state and local policy directly affects immigrants on a wide range of issues, from education to health care to political representation.
The Reporter
Dulce Reyes Bonilla is a Dominican-born immigrant rights activist formerly on the staff of the New York Immigration Coalition.
The Archives
See past monthly updates for Immigration.

By James Wong

The Immigrant Agenda

Immigrants and their children account for nearly two-thirds of New York City's population, and about one-third of New York State's. As a sign of their growing political participation and civic awareness, about 600 immigrant community leaders and activists from across the state convened in Albany recently to bring to state legislators' attention the needs of immigrant and refugee communities, especially in the aftermath of September 11th.

This is an annual event, organized by the New York Immigration Coalition. This year's Immigrant's Day, which I helped organize, was the biggest ever - a sign, I think, of the tremendous impact 9/11 had on many immigrant communities.

If the 1996 federal immigration laws made life much more difficult for immigrants, the passage of the USA Patriot Act has made life for immigrants even worse. In order to make sure immigrants are well- versed in the law, the coalition called for funding to non-profits to provide them with legal services.

Tens of thousands of those who lost jobs in the wake of the terrorist attacks were immigrants, employed in industries that suffered mightily from 9/11 and the economic recession. Many immigrants who lost jobs do not have the English language skills needed to re-enter the workforce, and are not eligible for disaster relief because of their immigration status.

Those who lost their jobs also lost their health insurance. But, according to the census, immigrants were already 2.5 times more likely to be uninsured than the native born. One problem specific to immigrants is called sponsor deeming, a law that counts the income of immigrant sponsors (people who sponsor immigrant's requests for permanent residence status) in assessing whether the immigrant qualifies for Medicaid, with the result that many who might otherwise qualify are denied Medicaid. So, part of the immigrant agenda is to urge legislators to repeal sponsor deeming.

Jobless, without health insurance, and unable to receive disaster relief, many immigrants are further troubled by their ineligibility for essential safety net services that the state provides. Another item on the legislative agenda, then, is for legislators to make sure all legal immigrants are able to benefit from such programs as food assistance and services for the homeless, including residential domestic violence programs.

To ensure that language barriers do not come in the way of accessing these services, advocates would like to see bilingual personnel and bilingual printed materials available in districts that have a substantial need for it. They also call for increased funding for classes in English for speakers of other languages, known as ESL or ESOL classes. A recent study found that for the one million New Yorkers who wanted to learn English, there were only 50,000 such classroom seats available, forcing people to wait years to take classes.

Clearly, as much as 9/11 has changed the political map, there remain a host of issues that existed before 9/11 and that still need attention.

One of the major areas is education. There are nearly 200,000 students, most who live in New York City, whose native language is not English, making them English Language Learners. In order to better serve them, advocates would like legislators to maintain and add additional funds to a separate Limited English Proficiency aid category for school districts.

In a time of real teacher shortages, especially bilingual teachers, allowing permanent residents to become certified teachers in New York State, currently restricted to citizens, would increase the pool of qualified applicants for both bilingual and regular teachers

Another important education issue is the recent change to the City University of New York's tuition policy that forces undocumented immigrants residing in NYC to pay the higher out of state tuition rate. With two bills currently introduced in the Assembly that would resolve the issue, advocates want to make sure that anyone who attended a New York high school and graduated, regardless of immigration status, would be allowed to attend CUNY at in-state tuition rates.

With New York having the highest rate of immigrant deaths and injuries in the workplace, advocates call for eliminating mandatory overtime, the cause of many injuries; increasing the minimum wage, currently $5.15 an hour; and improving the operation of the Workers' Compensation board, which provides income benefits to injured workers, and is notoriously slow.

The brutal beatings of two Mexican laborers on Long Island in September 2000 is a horrific example of what can happen if tensions are not eased between the communities they work in and the laborers themselves. To that end, the advocates call for an expansion of centers for day laborers, funded by the state.

Immigrant's Day is just one day each year. But legislators might well feel compelled to pay increasing attention to the immigrant agenda. Over the past several years, the New York Immigration Coalition alone has registered over 175,000 new citizens -- immigrant New Yorkers -- to vote.

Five Favorite Sites For Beginners:

  • Immigration and Naturalization Service, the federal agency (within the United States Department of Justice) that provides services to immigrants (answering questions, processing applications for visas and for citizenship, etc.) and at the same time enforces the nation's immigration laws. INS also has a New York City district office and the New York Asylum Office
  • The New York City Mayor's Office Of Immigrant Affairs and Language Services, assists immigrants in a range of services and information. Here you can link to information about, for example, the New York Police Department New Immigrant Unit, where specially trained police officers conduct sensitivity training in the precincts and at the police academy, lecture at meetings of immigrant groups and work with the ethnic media. (212) 374-5112
  • Citizenship NYC, a city program, assists immigrant recipients of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and federal food stamps to become citizens. (888) 374-5100
  • New York Immigration Hotline - open 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM Monday through Friday and providing free and confidential information in 15 languages (Arabic, Bengali, French, Haitian-Creole, Hebrew, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Polish, Punjabi, Russian, Spanish, and Urdu) about everything from immigration law to employment discrimination to health referrals to a list of non-profit agencies that assist immigrants. (718) 899-4000
  • National Immigration Forum, a national pro-immigration advocacy group, with a rundown of facts about immigration, current issues, useful links.
  • Genealogical Resources in the New York Metropolitan Area, published by The Jewish Genealogical Society, for those wishing to do research on their immigrant ancestors.

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