As the city celebrates the contributions of immigrants during Immigrant Heritage Month, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards Jr., alongside elected officials, advocates and leading immigration service providers, officially launched the soft opening of Queens Borough Hall’s new Immigrant Welcome Center with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Tuesday, June 15.
The Immigrant Welcome Center is a first-of-its-kind service hub at Queens Borough Hall — located at 120-55 Queens Blvd. — representing an unprecedented investment in immigration-related resources available for more than 1 million immigrants who call Queens home.
“There’s a reason why we’re called the ‘World’s Borough.’ Every day, families from all corners of the globe come here to Queens to start businesses in our neighborhoods, send their children to our schools and be integral parts of our thriving communities,” Richards said. “We could not be prouder to open the first-ever Immigrant Welcome Center at Queens Borough Hall to better serve our immigrant families and provide a vast array of critical services.”
More than one-third of New York City’s 3 million immigrants reside in Queens, with nearly 50 percent of the borough’s 2.4 million residents born abroad, according to Richards.
Beginning with the soft launch of the center and continuing into the future as capacity and the variety of available services expands, families contacting or visiting Queens Borough Hall will be connected with comprehensive, multilingual services such as legal assistance and referrals to community-based organizations and city services.
The center will be staffed by a full-time coordinator and Richards’ director of Immigrant Affairs – both of whom are immigrants themselves and fluent in Mandarin and Spanish, respectively — and will assist in case management.
CUNY Citizenship Now! — the largest university legal assistance program in the nation providing free and confidential citizenship and immigration law services — will partner with the Queens borough president’s office to help assist with legal consultations. Additional partnerships with other service providers, as well as city and state agencies, are expected as the center’s operations expand in the future.
Allan Wernick, director of CUNY Citizenship Now!, applauded Richards for his commitment and efforts to create an Immigrant Welcome Center, bringing much-needed services to Queens’ immigrants.
“We are pleased that CUNY Citizenship Now! will be providing free, high-quality immigration assistance at the center,” Wernick said.
According to Richards, in order to broaden their general appeal to the public, the office will be utilizing social media, while also going out to the communities to ensure that they know that the center is open.
“We want people to know when they come to Queens Borough Hall, that this is the people’s house. We really mean and believe that and you should be able to come in here and get a one-stop shop opportunity for services,” said Richards, who also noted other services provided at Borough Hall, such as IDNYC.
Coinciding with the soft launch of the center is the borough president’s office’s first-ever language access phone line. Non-English speakers who call the office in search of services facilitated by the center will be connected to an office staff member and a third-party translator, breaking down any potential language barriers between the staff member and the caller.
May Malik, deputy commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, said they look forward to partnering with the center to empower and advocate for immigrant communities across Queens.
“By focusing on language access and connecting visitors to city and community-based programs, the center signals that further supporting our immigrant neighbors is critical to the city’s future,” Malik said.
Alana Cantillo, who is the interim vice president of Advocacy for the New York Immigration Coalition that represents over 200 immigrant and refugee rights groups across the city, said they will also work with the borough president’s office to ensure that the local government continues to prioritize improving access and services for immigrants throughout the city.
An immigrant from Colombia, Cantillo recalled her experience as an undocumented young adult going to her local library, where she read a short list of countries that were made available for naturalization, but Colombia was not accessible, she said.
“That feeling felt isolated. It didn’t instill in me the virtues that I believed in government as a change agent to improve society and to be accessible to me and my family at that time,” Cantillo said. “It’s not only symbolic, personal and emotional to me to be able to connect people and my own neighbors to this resource, but to know that we are sort of disrupting our notions of what the government can and should do, and we are able to do that with tremendous leadership like our Borough President Donovan Richards.”
Local elected officials in attendance at the ribbon-cutting ceremony included Congresswoman Grace Meng, Council members Barry Grodenchik, Peter Koo, Selvena Brooks-Powers and James Gennaro, and Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz, who all commended Richards for creating the critical hub for immigrant families in Queens.
It was a dream come true for Cruz — the first “Dreamer” to be elected in the state Assembly — to open the center on the ninth anniversary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Initiative, which was established by former President Barack Obama on June 15, 2012.
“The Immigrant Welcome Center at Queens Borough Hall will be the first-of-its kind in the state of New York, and amongst only a handful nationwide,” said Cruz, who collaborated with Richards on the proposal. “Now we have a place where we can go and find the help that we need. A place that feels safe and welcoming, and a place where you don’t have to worry about whether you speak the right language, have the right status, or the color of your skin, it doesn’t matter. If you are an immigrant, you are welcomed to the center.”
As a daughter of immigrants, Meng said Borough Hall’s new center is a needed investment in things such as legal assistance and referrals to community-based organizations and city services.
“We must do all we can to empower immigrants and help them thrive. I’m proud to help do that on the federal level, and pleased that these resources are being provided locally here in our borough,” Meng said.
According to Grodenchik, Richards’ new Immigrant Welcome Center will provide a range of critical services in a centralized location that will immensely benefit Queens residents.
“In a nation of immigrants, in a city of immigrants, Queens is a truly international place that residents from across the world call home,” Grodenchik said.
The new Immigrant Welcome Center is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and can be contacted via phone at 718-286-0644 and via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In-person visits are by appointment only. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the center is currently not accepting walk-ins.
Additional information about the center can be found at queensbp.org/immigrantwelcomecenter, the center’s dedicated webpage, complete with a community calendar and links to a wide array of resources.