Deported to the Dominican Republic

January 11, 2012 § Leave a comment

By Cory Bennett

As Ruddy Mirabal remembered it, he had a few hours to kill before a night class in April 2010. So he got in his cousin’s car not knowing where they were going.

When they made a pit stop in Hoboken, N.J., his cousin handed Mirabal something to hold.

It was cocaine. They were quickly arrested by undercover police and Mirabal said he was unknowingly caught up in a drug deal by his cousin.

Nineteen months later, this one night led to a felony cocaine possession conviction and the deportation of Mirabal, 21, back to the Dominican Republic, a country he left behind when he was 8 years old.

For Mirabal, the day was simply a blur.

“Everything was happening so fast and all I could think was, ‘Get me out, get me out, get me out,’” said Mirabal, sitting in the Essex County Correctional Facility, in an interview before his deportation.

As an immigrant without permanent residency, Mirabal’s aggravated felony charge was classified as a “Level 1” offense, resulting in a permanent ban from the United States.

His supporters hoped to reverse the decision citing that he the first student in New York State to earn his high school diploma in jail. But Mirabal was deported on Nov. 15, 2011.

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Fighting for Women’s Rights in the Arab World

December 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

By Lilian Tse

At a young age, Hala Deeb loved to argue with others and her parents knew that she was destined to be a lawyer. Deeb enrolled in law school at the Amman Arab University in Jordan and she distinctly remembers a moment that made her passionate about women’s rights. During one of her criminal law classes, the topic was on rape.

“The male students did not want any of the female students to join the class because it would make it awkward for them to ask honest questions. I refused to comply with this. If I have a client in the future who is raped, what will I do if I don’t attend this class?” she asked.

Deeb ignored her male classmates, got permission from the professor and sat in the class. There was only one other female student who was willing to stay in the class with her. Deeb realized that it was crucial for her to stand up for women’s rights in the Arab region. Standing up for women’s rights is about defending her own rights, she said.

Today, Deeb is a human rights activist helping to fight discrimination and violence against women in Arab countries. She works at the Jordanian Women’s Union that is based in Jordon, and collaborates with local NGOs in Egypt, Lebanon, and Morocco.  Deeb explained that female workers from poorer neighboring countries often leave their children at a young age and move to Jordon for work. “Many women get smuggled into Jordan with promises to have jobs in restaurants or hotels But when they arrive, they are forced into the sex trade and their families never find them,” she said.

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Binational couples raise family across borders

December 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

By Marianna Nash

Inger Knudson and Philippa Judd knew their lives would change when they said their vows on Colorado’s Lookout Mountain a little over two years ago. The two women are raising – and until recently, were homeschooling – a daughter together, despite the fact that they have been separated by nearly 5,000 miles since Judd’s visa expired and she moved back to England.

Because gay marriages and partnerships are not recognized under federal law due to the Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 law defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman, Americans cannot sponsor their same-sex partners for citizenship. The Knudson-Judd family doesn’t know when they will be reunited. Knudson says the separation has taken an emotional toll on the entire family, including her daughter.

“We were out shopping and she said, y’know, I miss her,” said Knudson. “The scary part is that she’s getting used to it. She’s getting used to the upheaval, the back and forth. I guess it’s just a coping mechanism.”

A recent Williams Institute study found that there are an estimated 28,500 binational same-sex couples living in the United States. Thirty-five percent of male binational couples and 39 percent of female binational couples are raising more than 17,000 children in the United States, according to the study.

Among the legislation that might help families like the Knudson-Judds is the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal DOMA, allowing same-sex couples the same marriage rights as anyone else. The Uniting American Families Act would provide protections for permanent partners, regardless of their marital status.

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Counting Birthdays

December 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

By Cory Bennett and Rebecca Ellis

Birthdays are how Sanjana Hussain, 8, marks time. Her dad hasn’t been home in three birthdays: hers, her dad’s and her sister’s, Sebreena, 13.

The girls’ father, Taimur Hussain, has been held in immigration detention the last nine months, facing deportation for overstaying his visa after coming to the United States from Bangladesh 16 years ago.

“One day it was Fathers’ Day and I made stuff for him and was really sad I couldn’t give it to my dad,” Sanjana said.

Sanjana is among the more than 4 million U.S. citizen children who have at least one parent who is undocumented. Detention and deportation take an emotional toll on these mixed-status families.

In the last decade, the number of children with U.S. citizenship but undocumented parents has increased from 2.7 million in 2003 to over 4 million in 2008, according to a 2009 Pew Hispanic Center report. The increase in these types of families has highlighted the long-standing issue of whether undocumented parents should receive leniency because they have U.S. citizen children.

According to David Thronson, an immigration law professor at Michigan State who has published several articles on children and family rights in immigration law, the argument that a parent’s deportation will harm children and their U.S. citizenship is one of the most frequently used, and repeatedly dismissed, arguments in deportation hearings.

In an article for the Nevada Law Journal, Thronson pointed to multiple immigration cases in the United States Circuit courts where, “As a starting point, courts are quick to assert that ‘[c]itizen children have, of course, an absolute right to remain in the United States.’”

But lawyers and activists have argued that deporting the parents of citizen children impacts their rights as a U.S. citizen because the removal of their parents all but guarantees the child’s exit. Repeatedly, the courts have ruled against this notion.

“These claims have been rejected uniformly by courts in virtually every circuit,” Thronson wrote. “The court views the children’s possible removal from the United States not as a governmental decision but rather as a parental choice.”

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Video Calling Transforms Immigrants’ Connection to Family Back Home

December 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

By Dervedia Thomas and Cristabelle Tumola

“He looks okay,” Rosa, 77, said in Spanish before bursting into tears.

Video conferencing has allowed her to see her son Luis, 40, who has been living in the United States for the past eight years.

Through a big-screen TV, Rosa and her family, Luis’ wife, three kids and his new 8-month old grand son, saw him as he stood alone in an enclosed room at the office of Austro Financial Services in Jackson Heights.

The family made the half-hour trip from the rural town of Guapan, Ecuador, to Austro, where an Ecuadorian bank with branches in the United States, Italy and Spain offers video conferencing services.

Luis was happy to see his family. They had only spoke by telephone before. If he finds steady work, he will go back to the conferencing center at least once a month.

Like many immigrants, Luis is working in the United States to provide for his family back home. He cannot return to Ecuador for vacation, weddings or special holidays because he is undocumented and cannot easily come back to the United States if he leaves. Even for those who are documented, special days like Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day and Christmas are spent in Internet cafes, video teleconferencing centers or on their phones connecting with loved ones.

One out of four U.S. immigrants who own smart phones make use of PC or mobile video calling according to a study by Rebtel, a leading mobile company based in Sweden.  The company’s research has also found that smart phones are the primary source of Internet access in many immigrants’ home countries as fixed broadband Internet is not as readily accessible.

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Speaking for the voiceless

December 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

By Alessandra Potenza

It was a warm, sunny day at the end of November in Manhattan. Camilo Godoy, 22, walked on 42nd Street next to Gerardo Santana, 34. They wandered  through a crowd of tourists and businessmen,  passed by fancy movie theatres, giant black and white portraits of Marilyn Monroe and huge McDonald’s signs with flickering light bulbs.

“Capitalism at its best,” Godoy told Santana, slowing down a New Yorker’s walking pace that would otherwise be frenzied on a normal Sunday afternoon in Times Square.

But this was not a normal Sunday afternoon. Santana was granted asylum a couple of weeks before after spending eight months in prison in New Jersey. Godoy, a volunteer who has been visiting him in detention, wanted Santana to experience the world he had been secluded from for so long. This was the first time Santana saw Manhattan, and he saw it as a free man.

Although swamped by the upcoming deadlines of several school projects and the development of ongoing artwork, Godoy decided to dedicate his spare free time to the sturdy Cuban man who walked next to him in awe. He led the way through the bustling sidewalk, past the unlit New Year’s Eve’s ball, into the square. There, he took out his big camera and started snapping pictures of Santana, arms wide spread in front of the NYPD booth.

“It’s very nice,” Santana said.

While immigration laws all over the country are stalling, Godoy is trying to make a difference by helping one immigrant at a time. Originally from Colombia and now a naturalized U.S. citizen, Godoy is a passionate volunteer, an artist, a social activist, an idealist fighting for immigrant respect and speaking for the voiceless.

“Being an immigrant myself, being an immigrant of privilege, having a piece of paper and nine digits that so many people desire to be recognized as people who have rights in this country, forces me to really be a voice,” he said.

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Financing immigrant women businesses

December 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

By Yumna Mohamed and Lilian Tse

Fauzia Abdur-Rahman’s  food cart on 161st Street and Sheridan Avenue in New York is fully equipped with a grill, electricity, and running water. She starts every morning at 9 a.m. by firing up the grill. Then she decides what she would like to cook for her customers that day.

“I don’t have printed menus because I decide what I am going to cook each morning,” she said. “I think food is exciting, so I enjoy changing the menu every day.”

The jovial 49-year-old’s mind rushes through her menu ideas, from her native Jamaica’s famous jerk chicken, to Mediterranean salads, to German chocolate cake, a favorite among her customers. By 11 a.m. her hand-written menu goes up on the front of her shining silver cart and customers start to trickle in.

Abdur-Rahman has been running this cart for 16 years. Six years ago, she decided to take out a loan to upgrade her cart but couldn’t find a bank that would provide her with a small loan. Eventually, she was able to secure a $16,000 loan from ACCION, a microlending institution.

Immigrant women like Abdur-Rahman are one of the fastest growing groups of entrepreneurs the United States, according to a 2007 report by Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation of Missouri. This group has been recognized by local and international microfinancing organizations that are increasingly choosing to invest their money in women.

The Kauffman Index of Entrepreneural Activity reported that immigrant women started businesses at a rate 57 percent higher than American-born women, and their likelihood to start their own businesses has led many organizations to lend their financial support.

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The Heart of Full Disclosure

December 14, 2011 § Leave a comment

By Yumna Mohamed

Gabriel is a 24-year-old New Yorker who has just recently made the transition from being an undocumented immigrant to applying for legal residency. Tune in to hear Gabriel’s story.

Every day, Gabriel, 24, is faced with the challenge of articulating his identity, guarding himself and carefully choosing to whom he reveals himself and when. To put it another way, he inhabits more than one closet.

For 17 years, Gabriel lived in the United States as an undocumented immigrant. He also is gay.

“My undocumented status had a large impact on my upbringing,” says Gabriel, who moved here from Quito, Ecuador with his parents when he was seven.

“Without my papers, I felt like I was trapped in a box. I could see everything outside of it and I wanted to access it but couldn’t and I just wanted to get out of it,” he says.

This year, his uncle was able to sponsor Gabriel and his family’s application for legal residency. As his mother’s brother, Gabriel’s uncle, who is a U.S. citizen, is able to sponsor his immediate relatives’ application for an “adjustment of status,” which will hopefully lead to permanent residency and eventual citizenship. In the meantime, Gabriel has finally been able to get a state ID, Social Security number and work permit.

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Undocumented Dreamer

December 14, 2011 § Leave a comment

By Alessandra Potenza

In October 2010, Angy Rivera, now 21, an undocumented student and core member of the New York State Youth Leadership Council (NYSLYC), began writing an online column named “Ask Angy,” a place for undocumented youth to share their experiences and ask for help.

“What is the point of me trying so hard to make it through college when my diploma is not even going to be worth it?” asked Cat, an undocumented college sophomore, after she had to reveal her illegal status to explain to her school why she couldn’t get a student loan.

Sam, another undocumented youth who had problems finding a stable job because of his status, asked Angy whether he should stay in the United States or leave the country to fulfill himself. “The recent failure to pass the federal DREAM Act has made me realize that even though I love the U.S. Maybe I am not destined to be here,” he wrote in September 2011.

The “Ask Angy” column is the virtual alter ego of who Rivera is in real life: a source of comfort and inspiration for undocumented youth who have fears or are confused about their opportunities and limits.

“I try to provide that support they need, because I was once in their shoes, feeling like I was alone and there was nobody out there,” she said.

Rivera is one of a growing number of undocumented students coming out and actively helping others to do the same. She came here illegally from Colombia when she was 3. As an activist in the NYSYLC, Rivera supports the passage of the New York Dream Act and helps others cope with the struggles of being undocumented.

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Micheal Castaldo: The Unofficial Italian Ambassador

December 12, 2011 § 3 Comments

By Cristabelle Tumola

If you met Micheal Castaldo you wouldn’t think he was an immigrant. But he isn’t American—he grew up in Canada. It’s easy to mistake a Canadian for an American, but Micheal actually isn’t a native Canadian either—he is, as his name suggests, Italian.

This two-time immigrant left Southern Italy’s Calabria region when he was three years old. He grew up in Toronto Canada, and as an adult came to America to study music, later falling in love with New York and staying for good.

It was in the United States that Micheal, 49, started his career as an Italian ambassador, but not in the literal sense.

For the past 10 years, Micheal has been exploring his Italian culture through his music, olive oil business and his restored family villa that he rents out to tourists in Calabria.

“I feel blessed that I’m able to go back to my roots and tell my story because everybody has their own story to tell and put it out there and see who likes it and who doesn’t,” he says.

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