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
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.
An immigrant from Bangkok, Thailand, Chaleampon Ritthichai is the
editor of The Citizen.
A typical day at work for Bobby Khan at the Coney Island Avenue Project
involves listening to stories about immigrants who have been harassed,
arrested or detained.
"Last week in Midwood, Brooklyn, a guy named Malik Muhamad was stopped by
police officers while walking back from work," Khan said. " They asked him
about his immigration status but he refused to answer. So they beat him."
Stories such as this have led Khan to believe that tension between police and
immigrants in New York City is at its worst.
A local police officer can now ask immigrants about their status and in
effect deport them on a visa violation. As part of the war on terror, this
past August for the first time the federal government allowed local police to
enforce immigration law.
"There is greater racial profiling today, and it goes beyond just the Black
and Latino communities to include Muslims, Arabs and South Asians and other
immigrants." said Steven Yip, a member of
October 22nd Coalition. "Since September 11, the police are more bold."
Because of strong criticism from immigrant communities, The New York City Pol
ice Department issued a statement saying that "The NYPD works cooperatively
with the INS and other federal agencies to locate and apprehend criminal
aliens.... However, the NYPD does not and will not enforce civil violations of
But immigrant advocates said that this is not actually the case. "They have
asked people about immigration status, for no particular reason," said Saurav
Sarkar of Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, an organization
that represents some detainees,
The U.S. government has interviewed and detained thousands of Arab and South
Asian immigrants since 9/11. None have been charged with crimes related to
the attack, but are being held indefinitely as material witnesses.
According to a report by the Daily News, last December the police department
participated in interviews with 86 visa holders from the Middle East and
South Asia. "As a result of these interviews, they have been incarcerated,
many of them without access to legal counsel," said Abdeen Jabarra of the
Center for Constitutional Rights
So far Mayor Michael Bloomberg has not expressed his position on using the
local police force as an extension of the Immigration and Naturalization
Service. But an executive order in place since the Koch administration
forbids the police department from checking immigration status of crime
victims, people seeking assistance, or those coming forward as witnesses.
Immigrant Affairs Commissioner Sayu Bhojwani has said that the Bloomberg
administration is exploring ways to keep that order in place without
interfering with the federal law.
In the City Council Queens Councilmember Hiram Monerrate introduced last May
a resolution with a similar goal, but nothing further has been done since.
While public officials were figuring out what to do, immigrant groups took to
the streets. In October, more than a dozen immigrant groups marched from
Union Square to City Hall to protest racial profiling by the police. The
protest was repeated in November.
"If you ask the Arabs, Muslims and South Asians in this city what's the
difference between the NYPD, the FBI and the INS," Refat Doza of
Up & Moving, said to the crowd. "They'll tell
you, nothing. They're all the same."
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.
Glossary of words and phrases
used regarding immigrants and immigration, provided by the Immigration and
The New York Immigration Coalition, an umbrella advocacy
organization for approximately 200 groups in New York State that work with
newcomers to our country -- immigrants, refugees, and asylees. The site, which
focuses on a civic campaign from last year to get immigrants involved in
politics, has not been kept up to date. But the Coalition (which is where I
work) will have a full site later in the year.
Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society - At 120 years old, HIAS is
the oldest international migration and refugee resettlement agency in the
United States. Its site contains some legislative updates; some information
on the process of obtaining permanent residence and citizenship.