Daily News, CUNY kicks off 5-day call-in to help immigrants


NYC PAPERS OUT. Social media use restricted to low res file max 184 x 128 pixels and 72 dpiCorey Sipkin/New York Daily News

Citizenship NOW! organizers expect to field thousands of calls this year as angry anti-immigrant rhetoric has been flamed by Donald Trump and other presidential candidates.

Immigrants are under attack in the United States and should empower themselves, officials told volunteers training for the 14th annual Daily News/CUNY Citizenship NOW! program on Tuesday.

The free and confidential hotline, set to kick off April 25, provides immigration information and referrals to people seeking citizenship or permanent resident status. More than 400 volunteers will work the phones during the five-day call-in.

“I thank you for reflecting New York values,” CUNY Chancellor James Milliken told the volunteers, in a reference to GOP presidental hopeful Ted Cruz’s criticism of the Big Apple.

Organizers expect to field thousands of calls this year as angry anti-immigrant rhetoric by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and others has dominated the campaign. Trump has said he would ban Muslims from entering the U.S. and cut off billions of dollars in money transfers from Mexican immigrants unless a border wall is built.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) recalled the discrimination his parents suffered when they came to New York City from Puerto Rico on 1952. At the time, lawmakers said Puerto Ricans were criminals they feared would bring tropical diseases to the country, he said.

“Isn’t it wonderful that 60 years later, the response to people who say people come here to sell drugs, to rape and to murder is a different response and much more powerful response and a response you are leading right here in this room,” Gutierrez told the crowd at CUNY’s Graduate Center. By helping people become citizens and be able to vote, he said, the volunteers are aiding immigrants “respond in a meaningful and powerful way to the hatred and political rhetoric.”

Since it was launched in 2004, Citizenship NOW! has helped more than 143,000 callers in languages ranging from English and Spanish to Haitian Creole, Mandarin and Russian.

Allan Wernick, an attorney, Baruch College law professor and Daily News columnist who oversees the Citizenship NOW! hotline, said interest in applying for citizenship peaks during challenging political times. He pointed to the 1994 California referendum Proposition 187, which banned public health, education and other services for undocumented immigrants.

Trump’s comments that most Mexican immigrants are rapists and drug dealers is helping spark a new wave of interest, Wernick said.

NYC PAPERS OUT. Social media use restricted to low res file max 184 x 128 pixels and 72 dpiCorey Sipkin/New York Daily News

Since it was launched in 2004, Citizenship NOW! has helped more than 143,000 callers in languages ranging from English and Spanish to Haitian Creole, Mandarin and Russian.

“People who have put off becoming a citizen for many years are anxious to do it,” said Wernick. “They want to participate more. They want to vote.”

Daily News President and Chief Executive Officer Bill Holiber said helping immigrants is a vital quality-of-life issue the newspaper is focused on, along with health care, fair pay, gun control, education and housing.

“Every one of us has immigrant stories,” Holiber said.

Ana Mejia and Pedro Ribota shared their personal experiences of how calling in to the hotline last year transformed their lives.

Ribota, a 24-year old student at the New York City College of Technology, said becoming a citizen will allow him to aggressively pursue a career in computer systems.

Mejia, a student at Bayside High School, can now apply for college since receiving a deferral.

“My ultimate goal is to change people’s lives the way you changed mine,” she told the volunteers.

Fragomen Worldwide, a law firm that has volunteered services for the call-in, received a special CUNY Citizenship NOW! Service to immigrants award.



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