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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Fighting for Change

December 12, 2011 § Leave a comment

By Dervedia Thomas

One year ago, a walk home from work turned into a nightmare for Abraham Paulos, 30, an immigrant born in Sudan to refugee parents from Eritrea.

Paulos came to the United States as a political asylee when he was two years old. But his future in this country was threatened one afternoon when a victim of a robbery told police that he was one of the perpetrators.

This led to four days behind bars, including two at Rikers Island prison complex, before his roommate bailed him out.

Abraham Paulos advising a detained immigrant on Families for Freedom's hotline

“I felt like I was in a dream, with endless cages, handcuffs and dark faces,” he said. “I was angry because I realized that the criminal justice system has little to do with justice and more to do with racism and poverty, and I was extremely sad to see that almost all of the prisoners in one of the biggest city jails in the world were men of color.”

His experience would do more than just make him sad and angry, it would give birth to his career as an activist fighting to change U.S. immigration policies.

After being warned by family and friends that his criminal charges could also lead to the cancellation of his green card and possible deportation,  Paulos called the hotline of Families for Freedom a non-profit immigrant rights organization. One year later, he became the executive director of the same non-profit that gave him legal advice and counsel.

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City Council bill would restrict ICE

December 2, 2011 § Leave a comment

Ragbir

Ravi Ragbir is an advocate for immigrant inmates at Rikers Island facing detention and deportation. Photo: Courtesy Ravi Ragbir, Change.org

By Marianna Nash

A bill introduced in the New York City Council and gaining traction could change how immigrants are detained after arrests. Resolution 656, co-sponsored by 38 council members, would prevent New York City’s Department of Corrections (DOC) from sharing information about some inmates with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Its objective is to reduce the number of illegal immigrants deported  — granting stays for those without convictions, including misdemeanors. The bill includes exemptions for cases that are deemed to pose a threat to national security or public safety.

“It’s a huge first step, but it is only a step,” said Daniel Coates, an activist with Make the Road New York, who is trying to get Rikers Island to stop giving information about inmates to immigration authorities.. “What it does is if you are somebody who has no criminal record and you’re found innocent, the city will protect you — but if you have a criminal record and are found guilty of a crime, misdemeanor or felony, it does not distinguish, and the city won’t protect you.”

Coates isn’t the only activist who believes that convictions for minor, nonviolent crimes should not be used to deport individuals.

Ravi Ragbir has never been held at Rikers Island, but he took up the cause of immigrants being held there after he was detained at an Alabama detention facility.

The 15-year green card holder has a relatively serious mark on his record — wire fraud, which is a felony. But he maintains that people like him should be allowed to make amends as long as their crimes are nonviolent. He has served his time.

Ragbir arrived in New York in 1991 from Trinidad and Tobago on a visitor’s visa. He now works with The New Sanctuary Coalition of NYC as a community organizer, campaigning on behalf of New York’s illegal immigrants. But many of the immigrants he meets are surprised to learn that he, too, is currently facing possible deportation.

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