Director's Corner

Volunteer Corps


Allan Wernick July 18, 2014

The Border Crisis

The big immigration story of the month is the border crisis.

Two factors typically drive undocumented immigration. Both are in play in the increase in young people coming to the United States. The push factor, the conditions that drive people out of their country, in this case are violence, particularly gang violence. The New York Times provides an interesting perspective.

The pull factor, the benefits in coming to the United States, is also in play as some argue the youth are coming here on the belief that new rules will allow them to stay. Here’s an article that explores this issue.

We will be following and reporting on events at the border in coming months. This may turn out to be the immigration story of 2014.

Allan Wernick
Director
CUNY Citizenship Now!



Past Columns

June 20, 2014: Updates and Thoughts on DACA and Immigration Reform >>

A recent article from the American Immigration Council provides valuable information on DACA renewal. Note that applicants need not resubmit proof of basic qualifications. Those qualifications include having not reached the age of 32 on June 15, 2012 and having been in the United States for at least five years on that date.

I'm pleased that the New York Times reports a poll showing that Americans support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Nevertheless, I feel that so long as the anti-immigrants seem politically strong, immigration reform is unlikely.

May 16, 2014: 2014 CUNY/Daily News Citizenship NOW! Call-in Recap >>

Last month’s CUNY/Daily News Citizenship NOW! call-in was another event where volunteers made a difference to New York’s immigrant community. Information is power. Over five days, ten hours each day, hundreds of CUNY/NYC Citizenship Now! Volunteer Corps members informed callers about how to become a U.S. citizen, whether they qualified for other immigration benefits and where to get help. We answered more than 10,000 calls bringing our total to 133,777 since our first Call-in in 2004. And this year, we were joined by the National Association of Elected and Appointed Officials as they helped by answering more than a thousand calls at their Los Angeles call center in California.

The call-in attracted a wide range of visitors including Senators Schumer and Gillibrand, Mayor de Blasio, and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. All were impressed by our volunteer’s dedication and commitment. All understand the important role that the CUNY Citizenship Now! Volunteer Corps plays in providing help to New York’s immigrants.

We are already looking forward to next year’s call-in. See you there!

April 18, 2014: Citizenship Now! Prepares for the Citywide Citizenship Application Assistance Event at John Jay >>

Spring is a busy time for Citizenship Now! and the NYC/CUNY Citizenship Corps. Following the CUNY/Daily News Call-in (April 28th to May 2nd), CUNY will lead New York’s largest single-day citizenship effort ever on May 10th at John Jay College in Manhattan. At this event, experienced lawyers, paralegals and over 150 volunteers will provide free legal assistance to help lawful permanent residents apply for United States citizenship. Most of the participants will be callers from our Citizenship NOW! Call-in, referred to this event by our volunteers during the week of the call-in. Partnering with Citizenship Now! on May 10th will be John Jay College of Criminal Justice, New Americans Campaign (NAC), National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), Legal Aid Society, Immigration Defense Project, CitizenshipWorks, New York City Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs (MOIA), New York State Office for New Americans (ONA), Korean Bar Association, and Asian American Bar Association of New York.

With your help, we will help more individuals complete naturalization applications than at any event in New York City history. Join us next month by clicking here to register to volunteer at this event.

March 21, 2014: Preparation for the 2014 CUNY/Daily News Citizenship NOW! Call-in >>

By now, NYC/CUNY Citizenship Now! volunteers have received an invitation to join us at our annual CUNY/Daily News call-in. This year we will again be holding the event at Guttman Community College on 40th Street across from Bryant Park. The dates are April 28-May 2 from 9a.m.-7p.m. Our training for the call-in will be held at a new location, John Jay College on April 16. Sign up now to make sure you get a seat.

This year, with media partners Univision and ABC7, we expect a high number of calls. In the past, the volume was so high that some callers, particularly those calling on Spanish language lines, couldn’t get through. To address that concern, our newest call-in partner, the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, has offered its Los Angeles phone bank during call-in week to help with answering questions from Spanish language callers. Thanks to support from our Tech partners, Cisco and Presidio, when the Spanish lines fill, Spanish line callers will have their calls forwarded to NALEO. Call answerers there will be supervised by local attorneys and Citizenship Now!’s own Tamara Bloom and Rosie Eugenio who will travel to California to help with the NALEO effort. If our collaboration with NALEO is successful this year, as I expect it will, we may be able to greatly expand our efforts next year.

February 21, 2014: CUNY Citizenship Now! holds its first fundraiser. >>

By Allan Wernick, CUNY Citizenship Now! Director

On March 25, at John Jay College, CUNY Citizenship Now! will hold its first fundraiser. It is the beginning of a plan to double our capacity within the next five years. Since its founding 17 years ago, CUNY Citizenship Now!, has helped more than 200,000 immigrants on the path to U.S. citizenship through application assistance, consultations and by providing information and referrals through the CUNY/Daily News Citizenship NOW! Call-in. While we wait for immigration reform, New York’s immigrants need us more than ever. That is why we are putting resources into strengthening the NYC/CUNY Citizenship Now! Volunteer Corps and why we will soon be upgrading our website as we prepare to hold our first fundraiser.

Under the theme of New Yorkers Helping New Yorkers, the event will celebrate the contribution of individuals who through their service or through their example, have made a difference in the lives of New York’s immigrants. This year’s honorees are:

  • Carole Berotte Joseph, President, Bronx Community College/CUNY.
  • Robert E. Juceam, Esq., Of Counsel, Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver and Jacobson LLP.
  • Lin-Manuel Miranda, Actor and Composer.
  • Fatima Shama, former Commissioner of the NYC Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, currently Vice President, Strategic Development an External Affairs Maimonides Medical Center
  • Mortimer Zuckerman, Owner and Publisher, New York Daily News.
Judge Robert Katzmann, Second Circuit Court of Appeals, who has led the effort to increase representation for immigrants facing deportation, will introduce Mr. Juceam.

For more information and to purchase tickets, click here.

January 17, 2014: Advanced Immigration Law Certificate Program at the CUNY School of Professional Studies >>

Some say citizenship and immigration is the most complex area of law in the United States. Fortunately, CUNY has the country’s most advanced immigration law educational program, the Advanced Immigration Law Certificate program at the CUNY School of Professional Studies (SPS). The program focuses on teaching the practical as well as theoretical aspects of the law. Put another way, the SPS program teaches you how to help people solve their citizenship and immigration law problems. The program is geared toward paraprofessionals and community activists though many attorneys looking to expand into the immigration field find it useful as well. Without doubt, the SPS program is the best place to start your immigration law education.

The Immigration Law Certificate courses include Introduction to Immigration Law, and advanced courses in Naturalization and Citizenship, Proceedings in Immigration Court and Business Immigration Law. Courses are offered online and in-class at the CUNY Graduate Center, 34th street and Fifth Ave. If you successfully complete the introductory course and two out of the four advanced courses, you earn a New York State Immigration Law Study Certificate. You can study online or in-class in Manhattan. Because this is a graduate certificate, you’ll need at least a four-year college degree to enroll. Faculty include leading immigration law practitioners, former and current government attorneys and sitting immigration judges.

While many of the SPS program students are preparing themselves for work in private law firms, others are seeking the education necessary to qualify them to become Board of Immigration Appeals Accredited Representatives. While the BIA does not certify particular programs, the rigor of even the introductory course should suffice to convince the BIA that students have met the training requirements.

For more information, go to www.sps.cuny.edu/immlaw, write to information@sps.cuny.edu, or call (212) 652-CUNY (2869).

December 20, 2013: New York State Bar Admission Based on Foreign Legal Education >>

Under rules set by the Court of Appeals for the State of New York, some individuals with a foreign legal education qualify to take the New York State Bar Exam. If they pass, they may qualify to get the same law license as lawyers who studied in the United States. Other foreign-educated law graduates may qualify to sit for the Bar exam if they complete a Masters of Law program and receive an LL.M. degree

This week I asked Tom Shea, Citizenship Now!’s Senior Attorney, to answer a question asked by many volunteers who studied law in their home country: How do foreign attorneys get licensed to practice law in New York State?

Eligibility Requirements to Take the New York Bar Exam Based on Foreign Legal Education
Before someone, who obtained their legal education abroad, can sit for the New York State bar examination, he or she must first comply with the following requirements. The applicant:

  • Must have a law degree from an accredited law school that allows them to be admitted in a foreign country;
  • Must have completed a period of study “substantially” equivalent in duration to an American Bar Association (ABA) accredited law school and that complies with the instructional and academic calendar requirements of the New York rules; and
  • Must have completed a “program and course of law study” that is “substantially” equivalent to the legal education provided in a U.S. ABA-accredited law school. The foreign country’s jurisprudence must follow the English Common Law.
The evaluation of these foreign academic credentials is done by the Board of Law Examiners (BOLE).

Eligibility Requirements to take the New York Bar Exam based on having obtained a U.S. LL.M degree
Where a foreign law graduate’s education does not meet the “durational” requirement or is not substantively equivalent to a legal education from a U.S. ABA-accredited law school, s/he can “cure” either the “durational” deficiency or the “substantive” deficiency by obtaining a Masters of Law (LL.M) degree from an ABA-accredited law school in the United States. The LL.M degree, however, cannot “cure” both the “durational” and “substantive” deficiencies; only one or the other.

The current rules for “curing” deficiencies in the foreign legal education went into effect at the start of the 2012-2013 academic year. For people who start LL.M programs in (or after) the 2012-2013 academic year, the rules require that the applicant provide:
  • A transcript proving that s/he was awarded an LL.M degree within 24 months of matriculation into the LL.M program;
  • Proof that the LL.M program provided a minimum of 24 semester hours of credit. With limited exception, the 24 credits must all be through classroom instruction. There is a requirement of 700 minutes of classroom instruction per credit;
  • Proof that the LL.M program continued for at least 2 semesters, each semester of which was at least 13 weeks long;
  • Proof that the U.S. law school is ABA-approved;
  • Proof that all of the LL.M coursework was physically completed at the campus of the ABA-accredited law school in the United States (as opposed to any coursework done online or outside the United States or through correspondence courses or distance learning);
  • Proof of completing the required coursework during the LL.M program:
For more information about people with a Foreign Legal Education applying for admission to the New York State Bar, please visit http://www.nybarexam.org/Foreign/ForeignLegalEducation.htm.

November 15, 2013: CUNY Citizenship Now's Fee Waiver Process >>

Two years ago, CUNY Citizenship Now began offering fee waiver assistance at our community naturalization events. USCIS allows some permanent residents applying for U.S. citizenship to have the agency waive the $680 filing fee. To qualify for a fee waiver, the applicant must prove an “inability to pay” the filing fee. You have an inability to pay if you are receiving a means-tested public benefit, your household income is below 150% of the federal poverty level or a financial hardship such as recent unemployment, high medical expenses or other unexpected large expenses make it difficult for you to pay. A “means-tested” public benefit is one you qualify for because of low or no income.

Completing fee waiver applications can be time consuming. However, Citizenship Now has long understood that for many New Yorkers, the fee was keeping them from applying to naturalize, so we added a station to our community citizenship events to help applicants seeking fee waivers. With the help of our volunteers trained to provide fee waiver assistance, we have helped almost 2,000 permanent residents with fee waiver applications over the past two years at our community events alone. That represents almost 41% of all applicants served. That’s besides the hundreds helped at our immigration centers.

Inability to pay the fee should never be a reason for a permanent resident to forego applying to become a U.S. citizen. Some applicants, and some attorneys are confused about the rules. Unlike most applicants for permanent residence, a naturalization applicant need not prove that he or she can live in the United States without receiving public assistance. The law does require that naturalization applicants obligated by law to file tax returns file those returns. But permanent residents receiving public assistance may naturalize without filing tax returns.

Fee waiver assistance is an important component of Citizenship Now's services. A component that would be difficult to carry out without the help and support of our volunteers.

October 18, 2013: CUNY Citizenship Now Volunteer Training Program >>

To improve the quality of our services, to further empower our volunteers and to increase efficiency, CUNY Citizenship Now has greatly enhanced our training program. Over the past two years, we have offered Volunteer Corps members 19 trainings. We have alternated between training on the basics of citizenship application assistance and more advanced topics. Attendance at the 19 events reached 370, with 75% being active Corps members and most of the others, new recruits. Now, 87% of our volunteers have received training in application assistance. All your gained expertise will serve you well at the seven citizenship application events scheduled for November, CUNY month.

Dedicated and knowledgeable volunteers are the backbone of our events. By increasing and improving our trainings, we ensure that free, high-quality, low-cost citizenship application services are available to all New Yorkers.

Meanwhile, as USCIS prepares to issue a new N-400, we are hard at work preparing training materials and an updated Citizenship Guide. The federal government shutdown seems to be delaying issuance of the N-400. Count on Citizenship Now to keep you up-to-date on the new form and other developments.

September 20, 2013: NYCitizenship in Schools Extended >>

I am pleased to report that NYCitizenship in Schools, the program providing free naturalization assistance to the parents of New York’s school children, has been extended for another year. NYCitizenship in Schools is a partnership of the Mayor’s Office for Immigrant Affairs (MOIA), Citibank and CUNY Citizenship Now working with other agencies. The CUNY/NYC Citizenship Corps is a key component of this effort. NYCitizenship in Schools provides free immigration information, assistance and financing options to eligible parents of students in the city’s public schools who are lawful permanent residents and seeking to begin the application process to become U.S. citizens.

Last year, NYCitizenship in Schools, with help from the CUNY/NYC Citizenship Corps, assisted 1,179* permanent residents apply for U.S. citizenship at ten events. I thought it would be interesting to share some information about those who we have served, for you to have a better idea of the impact you are making in our communities.

Here are some interesting facts about these 1,179 immigrants:*

  • The majority of them are woman (754, 64%).
  • The majority are from the Dominican Republic (209) followed by Haiti (125), Jamaica (121) and Trinidad and Tobago (103).
  • Most of them live in Brooklyn (460, 39%) and Queens (352, 29.8%).
  • Most participants tell us they are employed (605, 51%), while 387 (32.8%) are unemployed. One hundred and twenty seven did not answer this question. (We probably should keep an eye on participants filling all fields in the PRFs for us to have complete information the next time around).
  • More than half of the participants (610) are in the 24-44 age bracket.
  • We help many people in need. Six hundred and thirty four (53.7%) of our participants are receiving some form of public assistance (including Medicaid and food stamps).
With the help of our dedicated volunteers, we expect to exceed that number in the coming twelve months and continue helping parents who struggle to make ends meet. Thanks for being part of this initiative. Thanks also to our other partners: the Department of Education, the Office of Financial Empowerment, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the East River Development Alliance and the Neighborhood Trust Federal Credit Union.

*As per data available as of 9/11/2013.

August 18, 2013: The Landscape for Immigration Reform as Congress Goes in Recess. >>

With Congress in recess, both sides in the immigration reform debate are actively promoting their views throughout the nation. That’s good news for immigrants. My bet is that those seeking justice for the undocumented, including leaders of most major religious denominations, will win the debate. At their side will be business leaders from the agricultural, manufacturing and high-tech industries.

Meanwhile, some immigrants’ rights advocates are arguing that President Obama should grant deferred action status to undocumented immigrants if Congress fails to pass reform legislation this year. The program would get benefits similar to those received by DACAmented youth (individuals with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals): the right to reside here temporarily, employment authorization, and the right to travel for humanitarian, business or educational reasons.

The idea is that Obama would offer deferred action to defined groups, including parents of DACAmented youth, family members of permanent residents and U.S. citizens, and needed workers. The Obama administration says that it has no plans to offer deferred action should reform legislation fail. The administration insists it can get a reform bill through Congress this year.  

I’m hopeful that we won’t need deferred action for undocumented immigrants because immigration reform will become a reality. Still, it is good that advocates are considering alternatives to federal legislation.