March 24, 2012
Keeping immigrant families together
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. - In the first six months of 2011, 46,000 illegal immigrant parents of US citizen children were deported, according to Daniel Coates, lead organizer for Staten Island for Make the Road New York (MRNY).
Coates, speaking at “United in Defense of the Family,” a faith-based educational forum staged in the Unitarian Church of Staten Island, New Brighton, on March 14, told participants that more illegal immigrants have been deported under the administration of President Barack Obama than any other, contending that 396,000 people were expelled from the country last year — double the 200,000 deported during the entire decade between 1980 and 1990.
“It has orphaned tens of thousands of children across the U.S.,” Rev. Terry Troia, executive director of Project Hospitality, one of the forum speakers, told the Advance after the event, which attracted 15 religious leaders willing to assist affected parishioners remain in this country with their children.
“It is an anti-family initiative that destroys family for many children,” Rev. Troia observed. She explained that United States-born children of deported parents usually go to family members through kinship foster care or to extended church family members through regular foster care.
“The impact of deported parents is severe because the children grow up without one or both of their parents,” she said.
“It tears at the fabric of family life, it de-stabilizes the family unit. It creates severe emotional stress on the lives of the children, which can lead to severe behavioral issues and decreased attention in school work for the children.”
Hosted by the Rev. Susan Karlson, pastor of the Unitarian Church, the forum was sponsored by MRNY, El Centro del Immigrante, Staten Island Clergy Leadership, the Staten Island Council of Churches and the Staten Island Immigrants Council.
Among clergy present were: Monsignor James Dorney, co-vicar of Staten Island and pastor of St. Peter’s R.C. Church in New Brighton; Rev. Liam O’Doherty, pastor of Our Lady of Good Counsel R.C. Church in Tompkinsville; Rev. Robert Vogl, pastor of Zion Lutheran Church in Willowbrook; Rev. Rose Livingston, pastor of St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Pleasant Plains; Rev. Dr. Snehlata Patel, pastor of Woodrow United Methodist Church in Huguenot; Reverends Robert and Mary Hansen of Amazing Grace Interfaith Ministry in Concord; Imam Dr. Tahir Kukiqi of the Albanian Islamic Cultural Center in Tompkinsville; Reverends John Carlo and Jerimias Antonetty of Christian Pentecostal Church, Concord, and Rev. Brent Backhofen retired from Reformed Church of Huguenot Park.
They were encouraged to get out the word about an immigration legal clinic and forum scheduled from 1 to 4 p.m. on April 15 at St. Mary’s of the Assumption R.C. Church, 2230 Richmond Terr., Port Richmond. People with immigration/deportation issues will receive free, confidential advice from MRNY attorneys and other staff throughout the event.
Reservations are needed for legal appointments and may be made by calling Coates at 718-727-1222, ext. 3447. The forum for potential volunteers to help immigrant families will begin at 1 p.m.
It is estimated that the United States is home to 12 to 15 million undocumented workers. On Staten Island, it cuts across all races and religious denominations, said the Rev. Dr. Victor Brown, senior pastor of Mount Sinai United Christian Church in Tompkinsville.
“The issue we’re dealing with affects all our communities,” noted Rev. Janet Jones of Rossville AME Zion Church, adding, “We can help people help themselves to be prepared if they have to face deportation issues.”
Sara Martinez of Port Richmond, a College of Staten Island (CSI) student and undocumented young person whose plight has been profiled in the Advance, also addressed the gathering. She urged the clergy to have their parishioners call their state Senate and Assembly members to support a state Development, Relief and Education for Minors (DREAM) Act, which would allow teens and young adults to obtain driver’s licenses, health insurance, work authorization papers and financial aid for college. (For information about the state and federal DREAM Acts, visit the web sites Nysylc.org, Dreamactivist.org and Nydreamact.org.)
Coates speculated the Obama administration has been attempting to show that it’s strong on national security by being hard on illegal immigrants. Ironically, he said, a big part of the constituency that elected President Obama to office were first-generation immigrants.
He said the administration modified its tough stance last summer by encouraging US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to use prosecutorial discretion and focus on undocumented people who are on terrorist watch lists, have criminal records, are gang members, and those who committed immigration fraud or other violations.
“It’s really an opportunity to make a difference for a lot of people going forward to keep families together,” Coates said.
He said another goal of MRNY is to provide enough guidance and assistance to prevent undocumented people from being scammed for up to $10,000 by con artists who falsely promise green cards and other forms of identification.
His organization is encouraging each church to have a contact person or committee for parishioners facing deportation to contact. The volunteers would be trained and assisted by MRNY to provide information and assistance, such as helping the at-risk person gather documentation or organizing letter- writing sessions after services. The person facing deportation then could be referred to and assisted more efficiently by MRNY prior to dealing with ICE.
“We view the congregation as an extension of the family, where they can get services needed instead of them going to someone who will cheat them,” said Nick Katz, a legal fellow at MRNY.
MRNY is a community based organization that has been working in low income and immigrant neighborhoods on Staten Island and across the city for over 10 years to engage residents in the decisions that affect their lives and those of all New Yorkers, through community organizing and advocacy, adult education and legal and support services.
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