“There is no state in the 50 states that provides more services than New York — no city that provides more services in America than New York City.”
Boasted Allan Wernick last Monday (April 20th) in regards to immigration in the United States. The words “boasted” and “United States” hardly seem to fit in the same sentence, but credit goes to New York for standing out amongst the crowd.
Executive Vice President of the Undergraduate Student Government Carolina Martinez held a very successful panel for Immigration Heritage Week called “Civil Rights and Immigration 50 Years Later”. The panelists included Professor at Baruch College and Director of CUNY Citizenship Now Allan Wernick, Maribel Hernandez Rivera from the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, Jojo Annobil from the Legal Aid Society, and Jorge Montalvo from the NYS Office for New Americans. With a special appearance from President of CCNY Lisa Coico, who started the night off by reminding students to “be proud of who you are, be proud of your heritage” and also that “we are very strong supporters here at City College and CUNY of the Dreamers.”
With that, Wernick dived right into a brief overview of the modern history of immigration policy from the mid-1900s until today. He spoke about President Carter’s appointed commission on immigration, Reagan’s 1968 Immigration Control Act, California’s 1994 Proposition 187, the DREAM Act, the most recent 2013 immigration reform that was proposed by the Senate but unable to pass the House, and Obama’s executive actions. Wernick pointed out before some of the most oppressive anti-immigration policies were implemented there were roughly four to five million undocumented people living and working in the U.S. Now, that number is eleven million. He also reminded the crowd that it was President Bill Clinton who passed two of the most restrictive pieces of legislation.
Jojo Annobil took the stage and spoke about the status of litigation over deferred action programs. In layman’s terms: the current lawsuit against Obama’s attempt to shield 4 million immigrants living in the country illegally from deportation. Texas is currently filing suit against the President, claiming he acted unlawfully, and are doing so in a strategic part of Texas that is particularly unfavorable towards immigrants. But Annobil is hopeful that something positive will happen. Because he is speaking to primarily college students, he makes it a point to warn them not to get into trouble — the worst thing someone trying to attain citizenship can do is get arrested, even if for jumping the turnstyle in the subway.
But it was not all dire news and sobering history. The representative from the Mayor’s Office, Maribel Hernandez Rivera, came from an immigrant family whose father passed before attaining citizenship — which made her want to help people in her same situation. She said, “when you’re undocumented you’re always afraid — to go to the grocery store, to school, to ask a policeman for help.” But Rivera turned a disparaging situation into one of hope because “as immigrants this is what we do. We fight.” She spoke about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DACA and DAPA, respectively). Basically, DACA and DAPA holders were at one point undocumented but now have a work permit that allows them to get a social security card and drivers license — it helps people come out of the shadows and gives them an easier path to get a green card. Rivera ended her piece by urging undocumented people to apply for these types of permits because “there is a lot of power in numbers — the more people that apply and get DACA and DAPA, the more we are going to get heard.”
Last but certainly not least, Jorge used his time to expand on DACA and DAPA, as well as remind the audience not to lose their empathy or sight of the underlying theme. “We’re all talking about structure and what seems to be missing is the focus on people — when we’re talking about immigrant affairs, we’re talking about people.” He too is hopeful because this issue is not sexy, but something so unsexy has made great headway (at least in NY). Jorge talked about immigration fraud and the many agencies scamming undocumented people. Two new felonies were created so that immigration fraud scammers can be sued and, if found guilty, punished severely. In the end, “this isn’t baseball — this is people.”
To wrap up, the event was a great success. It was informative, provided real answers to real problems, and shed light on policy side of immigration. To learn more information go to the Citizenship Now! office on the CCNY campus: NAC 1/206.