Thousands of immigrants sent to NY from Texas now trapped in a “dark tunnel” to obtain some legal status


When the Venezuelan ‘Jose Sarmiento’ decided to come to the United States fleeing the humanitarian and political crisis in his country, was based on a WhatsApp network that offered him a “package” that involved crossing the dangerous Darién Gap. The “coyotes” told him that “Just for being Venezuelan”, when turning himself in to the immigration authorities, they would give him “a piece of paper” that it already guaranteed him a safe ticket of legality for his “American dream”.

After a hard journey, in which his youngest son embarked, José managed to enter the country since last June, like thousands of his compatriots.

But that “paper” that his traffickers told him was nothing more than a “parole”, that is, a kind of humanitarian parole, which for real and legal purposes, it does not offer you any legal status. Much less to have the right to work.

Like Jose, close to 16,500 immigrants who arrived in New York City between May and October, are now in a complicated and dark tunnel. In some cases, with few exits, even to start an immigration process, which guarantees you in the long term an official authorization to work.

“It has been four months since I arrived and I am living in a shelter. And it is not true that because I am Venezuelan I automatically have political asylum approved, as the coyotes told me. I have to initiate and fight a process. I do not speak english. I need lawyers. And time goes by and life here gets complicated in everything. It’s heavier because I brought a child,” José told The newspaper.

Very complicated legalization path

Indeed, organizations such as Catholic Charities and the New York Immigrant Coalition (NYIC) that have supported thousands of South American immigrants (90% of them Venezuelans), who began to arrive in the Big Apple, after having crossed the southern border, reflected this Thursday in a virtual conference on the great challenges that people like José will face.

At this time, the general conclusion is that the options for thousands of newly arrived families to obtain immigration status, based on their current conditions, are “extremely limited”.

In this sense, Lauren Wyatt, lawyer of NY Catholic Charities Access to Justice Initiativesmade a long inventory of the inconveniences that these people could face, to specify in principle the sending of an asylum application, taking into account the adversities that they have to count on legal representation, language access, and in many cases, a stable mailing address to receive your notifications from the authorities.

“Since June we have been receiving in our offices notifications of immigration hearings from the Court addressed to people who have no contact with us. We don’t have a way to get this information to you. And, unfortunately, these people, by not going to these appointments, could already begin receiving deportation orders in his absence”, remarked the legal expert.

Of the group of 16,500 immigrants who arrived in New York, mostly sent by bus from Texas after crossing the southern border with Mexico, at least 9,500 had no family contact. For this reason, the City housed them in the shelter system, where access to mail is not always flows smoothly.

They have a term of one year

Wyatt said that due to the high volume of correspondence that was arriving at their offices, they contacted the immigration courts and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) and they replied that they would no longer receive it since August. However, shipments have not stopped.

“Unfortunately already we have heard of deportation orders of those who did not attend their appearance appointments”, he commented.

Likewise, the Catholic Charities activist assures that the other front that will mean a “great challenge” for immigrants, is to be able to comply with the period of one year regulatory, to make effective a formal request for political asylum.

“It is very difficult for people who do not have representation to know exactly what to do. English is a big barrier. And this application does not have the option to be made in Spanish. All non-profit organizations are at the top and under pressure. And without legal help, these people could be making wrong decisions that make it impossible for them to legalize themselves,” he estimated.

At this crossroads, Wyatt recalls that a request for political asylum is not a simple process, because it requires a rigorous sequence of actions, from its application to the moment of Create a file of arguments.

“We see that due to the situation in the country of origin, there are requests that could be very robust. But probono lawyers are not able to deal with thousands of cases in a short time. Our coalitions no longer have the budget to hire more advisers”, he stressed.

In the case of Catholic Charities, normally, your legal team Free advice to 1,000 families each year. Now, they are met with a barrage of 40 to 50 people daily requesting the assistance of a lawyer. In some cases, just to find out what they need to start their process.

For this reason, these coalitions are urging the state government and New York City to additional budget transferto hire new equipment.

“Let us remember that those who, for example, arrived today, October 20, must make an asylum application before October 20, 2023. If for some reason they do not, the options of seeking a legal route or an alternative will be very complicated”, concluded the expert.

Thousands of migrants have been sent on buses from Texas to NYC since last May. (photo: EFE)

“Easier to cross the jungle than to get papers”

For thousands who live in shelters set up in New York City, after the transfer of immigrants who crossed the border, waiting for a work authorization to start earning money and subsisting it is much more than a “long agony”.

For example, Jose Sarmiento highlights that after months of living in a shelter in The Bronx, It’s really hard to imagine having to wait another couple of months, to live in a “more normal place”.

“Unfortunately many like me are trapped. because it’s easier cross the jungle of the Darién and the Rio Grande, to obtain a work permit here. And much less, dreaming of decent housing, earning little. Everything looks very easy. But there is nothing left but to move on,” said the 35-year-old Venezuelan.

Wendel Ovideo, diverse America confudator: “There is a lot of misinformation in the immigrant community that arrived in NY this year. (Fernando Martinez)

Victims of the lack of information

In this sense, Wendel Oviedo a Venezuelan activistfounder of the New York-based organization América Diversa, confirms that many of his compatriots embarked on a dangerous migratory adventure, responding to many false information.

“Yes, we have observed that a large part of them have arrived in the city, hearing only rumors, without having the slightest knowledge of what the immigration process to this country means. Many were certain that only with the ‘parole’, they could already be legal. And they find themselves with a terrible shock”, explained Oviedo.

For thousands of recently arrived immigrants, who are living in shelters in the five boroughs, as legal experts and spokespersons for Human Rights advocacy coalitions agree, The path to obtaining papers to work will not be easy.

“Of all the people we serve, more than 90% are uninformed. They did not know that they had to start with an asylum application process. They live in shelters and have the great barrier of English to navigate in a new reality. They are just beginning to understand that everything here is very hard”, he adds.

For her part, the Venezuelan activist Niurka Melendezdirector of Venezuelan and Immigrant Aids (VIA) It is very relevant that at this moment it begins to change the “language” to address this immigration crisis.

“I was worried that all those who arrived, in the midst of this dramatic situation, they were automatically labeled as ‘asylum seekers‘. The reality is that you fall into that category, only if you have undergone this request to the authorities“, accurate.

The activist, who for more than six years leads an organization that supports asylum seekers in New York, points out that even “those who are applicants have no certainty that they will be approved, until their case do not be defended with arguments check a chase. And be approved by a nursing home officer or a court, ”he concluded.

According to the immigration authorities of the United States, a person can request asylum if they can demonstrate that in their country of origin they suffer persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a social group individual or for their political opinions.

Las economic conditionsfailures of public services, violence and insecurity are not sufficient arguments under the immigration law, to be able to request this immigration benefit.

3 keys to the immigration crisis in NYC:

  • The fact that these immigrants have arrived en masse in New York on buses, sent by the Texas government, is a fact confirmed by the Texan president himself, Greg Abbotwho admitted in June that sent groups of undocumented immigrants to New York, Washington DC y Chicagoconsidered ‘sanctuary cities’, responding to what he described as an “open border policy of the administration of President Joe Biden that was overwhelming the communities of his state.”
  • New York City authorities declared last october 7 the emergency due to this migratory crisis, estimating that at this rate of entry of people, it could be expected 70 thousand more immigrants in the Big Apple in 2024in a shelter system that had already collapsed and forced the City to install 23 emergency hotels and a humanitarian aid center.
  • The last october 12 the Joe Biden Administration imposed heavy restrictions at the border, sending a clear message to thousands of Venezuelansthat if they entered illegally from that day on, they would be returned to Mexico, as indeed has materialized in the last week.

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