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Reaching out to local immigrants, with sound advice - Religious institutions sponsor forum

Bushwick’s immigrants received valuable immigration advice about visas, green cards and immigration law from lawyers with CUNY’s Citizenship Immigration Project the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office at an Immigration Forum sponsored by Bushwick’s religious community.

“There have been a lot of changes in the community and unfortunately a lot of people have fallen prey to fraudulent lawyers who take their money,” said Reverend Lydia Mendoza, vice president of the 83rd Precinct Clergy Council, which organized the forum. “We want to educate immigrants on procedures and policies in place, and inform them about what to do to obtain their immigration status and maintain their legal residency.”

The forum, in its third year at St. Joseph’s Church (185 Suydam Street), was designed to connect members of Bushwick’s immigrants regardless of religious denomination with vital legal resources in the community.

Immigrants who came listened to two lawyers from CUNY’s Citizenship Immigration Project warn about overstaying visas and applying for green cards in both English and Spanish.

“If you entered illegally without a visa, you are unable to file for a green card and you are essentially waiting for the law to change,” said Maggie Kawinski, an attorney with CUNY.

Kawinski and her colleague Luz Medrano warned the audience that if immigrants entered the country after April 30, 2001, when the immigration law 245i changed and became stricter, they should not apply for a green card. Kawinski also explained that immigrants are unable to return to the country for ten years if they overstay their visa for more than one year. If they only overstayed their visa by six months to one year, immigrants could not return to the country for three years.

“[Getting a green card] depends on how you come, when you come, whether you overstayed your visa, what kind of status your relatives have, and other things,” Kawinski said. “This is the kind of thing we can go over in a private consultation.”

Community liaisons from the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office explained that victims of certain crimes, including domestic abuse and felony assault, may be eligible for U-Visas, a special visa program to speed up access to green cards and US citizenship for victims who cooperate in criminal investigations and prosecutions of their case.

“If you’re the victim of a crime, feel free to come to the DA’s office,” said Lance Ogiste, an attorney with the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office. “We don’t care if you’re undocumented. DA Hynes wants to protect all residents of this county.”

Father Mariano Cisco, pastor at St. Joseph’s, worked with the mainly Protestant ministers, who make up the membership of the Clergy Council, to host the forum at the church. St. Joseph’s adjoining community center, the Scalabrini Center, has been offering free legal services, ESL classes, and initial orientation services for the past few years.

“They are still crossing the border but it is very hard now,” Cisco said. “We help them with their immediate needs. People come here who don’t have any clothes so we give them clothes. Anything that we do for immigrants we do for free.”

The Scalabrini Center is located at 1080 Willoughby and is open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

For more information about CUNY's immigration services, visit the City Tech Immigration Center (300 Jay Street) at (718) 260-5597 and the Medgar Evers College Immigration Center (1150 Carroll Street) at (718) 270-6297.

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