Text and photo by Hash Sesay
In front of the North Academic Center at CCNY, a tight side hallway leads to a small office. Here you see employees working overtime making phone calls, sorting through mountains of paperwork, and speaking with multiple clients.
This office, the City College Immigration Center, residents can receive various services such as petitions, renewal of documents, naturalization advising, among others for absolutely free. In the back left corner of the office, thank you letters, and photos of people from all walks cover the walls. This outpouring of gratitude represents the life work of Enzo Soderini.
Soderini serves as the office manager and senior paralegal at the Immigration Center. As a key resource, he has noticed the unease within the immigrant population he serves here in New York. This past election season has caused what Soderini calls a “Strategy of tension,” in which immigrants, especially undocumented, are fearful to even begin the long journey to naturalization risking being deported and even separated from their families. “We have hundreds of students who contact us and are concerned about their status,” Soderini says. The City College Immigration Center tries to eliminate that fear by giving clients confidence through education and resources.
Soderini, 67, and Italian born, has dedicated his life to the politics of immigration. His journey began when he left his native Italy in 1977 to accept a contract to play professional soccer in Australia. Though things were going well for him personally, his social conscience would not allow him to live the privileged life of a professional athlete. “I recognized that I could be quiet and enjoy my life in Australia, but instead I’m a troublemaker,” Soderini says jokingly.
Being culturally aware from a young age, he immediately noticed social injustice towards immigrant and minority groups and wanted to take a stance. “I had to do something, I began organizing young people to inform them on political issues and perform community service,” Soderini says. Eventually soccer became an afterthought and political activism became his main priority. Creating radio programs, organizing conferences, establishing relationships with various unions, to even publishing a newspaper, it seemed that Soderini had found his true calling.
Now nearly 40 years later, Soderini sees his role as an educator above anything else. Understanding the complex road to citizenship, he analyzes an individual’s situation to determine what are the obstacles, their rights, and how to best perform in their current status. The department’s main challenge is time. With so many variables it can sometimes be difficult to gauge how long and expensive the process may be.
“Not only does he bring 40 years of experience, he is extremely energetic and compassionate which is hard to replace,” says Stephanie Delia, the supervising attorney for the CCNY Immigration Office.
Soderini believes that the fight for inclusion will only get tougher from here, which makes what he does ever more relevant to maintain a plural society. “I predict America is going to continue to become increasingly selective when it comes to immigration,” Soderini regretfully admits.
Knowing that great countries are based on diversity, Soderini has a fervent belief that if put in the right position everyone has the ability to contribute. A New Yorker for nearly 20 years Soderini has not lost a step in his fight to ensure that all people have a place in society. “Who are the immigrants? Are they separate from human beings? Soderini asks. “No, they are just people like you and me who are in search of a better condition.”