By Tom Momberg
Residents from diverse Jackson Heights and beyond got a chance to have questions answered on changing immigration laws last week during an immigration forum hosted by U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), state Assemblyman Francisco Moya (D-Jackson Heights) and state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst).
Experts, advocates and lawyers from various immigration law groups, refugee centers, public agencies and nonprofit advocacy groups formed a panel to address residents’ concerns.
Several translators for a diverse crowd of about 75 people wore headsets to eliminate any language barriers between the audience and the panel, tuning into earphones of individuals from at least a dozen different ethnicities.
The majority of concerns were over the enforcement of President Barack Obama’s executive order, which offers temporary legal status to millions of illegal immigrants and indefinite reprieve from deportation.
“The executive order is no substitute for legislation and changing of statute by Congress,” Crowley said in addressing those concerns. “With the absence of that, we are giving people hope … to be able to live as normal lives as possible under the circumstances until we have the change in statute that can be incorporated more fully in terms of a pathway toward citizenship.”
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services did not begin accepting requests under the expansion of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA in February, as expected, and has suspended the implementation of Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent References, or DOPA. This was due to federal court action since Obama’s order that put a hold on such policies.
But these immigration policies may have allowed some parents of U.S.-born children to obtain work permits or make them exempt from deportation. The resulting political limbo had several of Queens’ foreign-born residents wanting answers, which neither the panel nor the lawmakers could really address. It left many frustrated.
Other hot points of the discussion included what was next for the New York State Dream Act, which would have expanded the Tuition Assistance Program to make funds available to illegal immigrants who wish to go to school if it had been included in either the 2015 or 2016 state fiscal budgets.
Peralta and Moya said they would be diligent in seeing the legislation brought to the table during the remainder of the regular legislative session.
Due to recent attention given to scams from agencies claiming to provide work permits, Visas or a fast track to citizenship in exchange for money, the panel also highlighted how immigrants can be taken advantage of.
Legal experts like Allen Kaye of the American Immigration Lawyers Association encouraged people to avoid such scams, and not to be afraid to report them to law enforcement or the district attorney’s office. He said reparations would be available if any agency was prosecuted for offering assistance in exchange for money, which is illegal.
Go online to the City University of New York’s CUNY Citizenship Now for any questions related to immigration, current laws and legal assistance, at www.cuny.edu/
Reach reporter Tom Momberg by e-mail at tmomb