Seeking for all to realize the urgency of the moment, top officials with New York State and Catholic Charities announced the launch of a pro bono legal network to expand services for immigrants throughout the state. It is a special combined effort to step up support and services available to the immigration community, state and Church officials said, in light of immigration policy changes recently announced by the federal government.
Rossana Rosado, New York’s secretary of state, and Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, executive director of Catholic Charities of New York, gave their noontime remarks April 6 at St. Peter-St. Denis parish in Yonkers during a free immigration legal clinic and information session, which ran from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Several such clinics have already occurred; more are planned throughout the state in the coming months.
“I’m very pleased to be here, but I am not happy to be here because of why we are here,” Msgr. Sullivan said somberly. “We are here because of the unacceptable rhetoric and policies that are impacting immigrants—policies that are coming from our national government…Immigrants should always feel that they have a home in New York. Immigrants should always feel that they have a home in the Church.”
Ms. Rosado, in her remarks, said, “New York State understands the vitality of our immigrant community. As the governor is fond of saying, ‘Lady Liberty is standing tall in our harbor.’ We have pledged to continue fighting.”
Both Msgr. Sullivan and Ms. Rosado delivered their remarks in English and Spanish.
More than 100 people registered to obtain information and/or seek related assistance, organizers said. Attorneys from Catholic Charities Immigration Legal Services were present, as were paralegals and volunteers who screened participants before they met with the lawyers.
The event was sponsored by Catholic Charities Community Services’ Immigration & Refugee Services Division, in partnership with the New York State Office for New Americans, and the state’s Legal Defense Project, which was created last year.
Organizers said the clinic was just one example of the critical work Catholic Charities is doing across the five boroughs and the Lower Hudson Valley—with the support of the City and State of New York—to provide immigrants and refugees with free legal services and training.
Participants received comprehensive legal consultation so that they would learn about remedies that may be available to them. And they received rights training so that they would know what to do during contact with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and how to best prepare their families.
One of the clinic attorneys was Franco Torres, special projects supervising attorney with CCCS. He gave CNY permission to interview a participant, Jeanneth Lasso, 38, who became his client during the clinic that day. Ms. Lasso attends Mass at St. Joseph’s in Spring Valley. She has two daughters, ages 15 and 4.
“I feel very fortunate to be here at this gathering. It is my hope that they can help me with my case. The information that they provide is very sound advice,” Ms. Lasso, who is from Ecuador, has an immigrant worker’s permit and is seeking permanent resident status, said in her native Spanish.
“They are very ethical and professional. This is a very important service for the Latino community.”
Molly Full, a Manhattan-based immigration attorney, told CNY, “These legal clinics are very important, because these people need the services. These services are not always available, and they can be very costly. We are protecting people—protecting their rights.”
Reporters interviewed Msgr. Sullivan and Ms. Rosado before they spoke to participants. “It is an ongoing effort because the need is so necessary and so important. The State of New York is a wonderful partner in defending immigrants,” Msgr. Sullivan told CNY, adding that the rhetoric and policies from Washington, D.C., are creating fear among immigrants and hurting their lives. “Immigrants make this country stronger,” Msgr. Sullivan said.
Ms. Rosado told CNY, “It is not only important, it is urgent. We are living in very difficult times for people who have questions about their status. I hope that with events like this we can get people out of the shadows and get them help.”