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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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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The 10 Million of the 99 Percent

December 1, 2011 § 2 Comments

By Rebecca Ellis

Jose works 55 to 56 hours a week as a full-time chef at a downtown pizzeria. One of his specialties is a 15-inch pizza with pepperoni around the edges and lined down the middle, a popular item among the protesters at Occupy Wall Street. The pepperoni is arranged in the shape of the universal protest symbol, served up piping hot to hungry and freezing Wall Street occupiers.

Jose, who is undocumented and asked his last name not be published, is one of the 99 percent.  Jose is one of more than 10 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States and without comprehensive immigration reform he has no way to legalize his status.

“I am not afraid to say I am illegally here,” Jose said. “I came like all Mexicans who come here, to work.”

Jose is more focused on what he calls the  “the Mexican dream” rather than “the American dream.” Instead of buying a big house in the suburbs, Jose looks forward to the day when he can go back to his home country and be with his children.

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