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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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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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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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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Model Ministry

December 3, 2011 § 1 Comment

By Luis R. Perez

What do you do if you  preach another sermon on immigration that prompts polite head bobs and gentle stares in the pews?

If you are  the Rev. Doug Fisher of the Grace Episcopal Church in Millbrook N.Y.,  you preach on the subject carefully, but with boundless determination until listeners become curious or interested.

“There wasn’t any enthusiasm  for it,” said the Rev. Fisher.

For someone as seasoned and as cautious as the Rev. Fisher, kindling an interest on a seemingly controversial and complex subject like immigration requires more than sharing well known biblical passages that call for embracing the neighbor, such as The  Parable of the Good Samaritan, or delivering a cri de coeur brand of sermon to rally the average 150 worshippers who attend his Sunday mass.

Fisher, a tall, lanky man  with a soft temperament and genial stoicism, knows that it takes the focus of a skilled golfer to “line things up” and the polish of a Madison Avenue marketing guru to make a now or never pitch.  So once, during a sermon in May 21, 2006, he employed  an illustration made up of two large posters that helped persuade the vast majority of his parishioners.

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City Council bill would restrict ICE

December 2, 2011 § Leave a comment


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

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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Immigration reform and workplace abuse

December 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

By Luis R. Perez

He works the standard long-hours of an investment banker, but he is paid like a pauper. Enrique, “El Neto,” an affectionate nickname in Spanish that can mean someone who is serious, has been working an average of 60-hour shifts at a horse farm in Dutchess County, NY.

Enrique said he earns $ 5 per hour for a scheduled 40-day work week, but he does not earn renumeration in the form of overtime or compensation time for extra work. Enrique’s wages fall short of the federally-imposed hourly rate of $7.25.

During a common work day, Enrique manages a 24-horse stable with the help of a fellow illegal immigrant friend who refused to give his name. Both of them take turns grooming, feeding and walking the horses. Also, they have to rake the stalls, clean out the horse debris, and pickup fresh hay and oats.

In the eyes of illegal immigration advocates, Enrique’s narrative is telling inasmuch illustrates why a stalled immigration reform process must be readdressed in an effort to stem the increase of abuses that take place at the workplace.

While highly-controversial immigration initiatives are being adopted by some states, such as Arizona and Alabama, at the federal level immigration reform has not gained any strong traction since a bipartisan legislative effort died in 2007. On the negative side, some employers are allegedly skirting basic responsibilities.

Donna Lieberman

Donna Lieberman

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said her office gets hammered with jarring phone calls that involve immigrants being taken advantage of.

“Workers have rights, “ Lieberman said.

Lieberman fears that if there is not a safety-net put in place for immigrants that labor exploitation will continue to go on. “If there is a situation not in compliance with the law, that situation is an invitation for abuse,” she added.

Undocumented workers  often do not address grievances in the workplace for fear of being deported, suffering reprisals, or being subject to scorn in their community for creating trouble with the authorities, said the Rev. Richard Witt, who is the executive director of Rural and Migrant Ministry, an educational and advocacy group with a main office in Poughkeepsie and with satellite offices in Lyons and Ithaca.

“They are being scapegoated over the economy. The kind of menial and low paying jobs undocumented workers perform to keep the country going is a non threat,” Rev. Witt said.

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