Queens residents who aren’t sure of their documentation or citizenship status have somewhere else to turn, thanks to CUNY and a pair of City Council members.
Starting this week and lasting through the end of June, City Councilmen James Gennaro (D- Fresh Meadows) and Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) are allocating $160,000 to help pay for legal services counseling in several parts of the borough.
The target areas, parts of Jamaica and St. Albans, are known for having high populations of Central American and Caribbean immigrants.
Now, with the help of lawyers from the CUNY Community Legal Resource Network, immigrants who are unsure of their legal status, are seeking asylum, or are trying to reunite their family stateside can receive help in their own language.
“People here are so happy to have somebody listen to them and give them honest advice,” said Lisa Reiner, an attorney and counselor who has worked with immigrants in the past through CUNY. “They’re just so happy we’re not trying to drum up business. Everyone is very grateful.”
The program runs Monday nights at Iglesia Pentecostal Ebenezer, located at 145-15 Jamaica Ave., and at the Church of God at 90-25 160 St., both located in Jamaica.
For the time being, two attorneys work from 5 p.m. until 8 p.m., giving half-hour time slots to anyone who signs up. The program is run by appointment only and has already drawn huge numbers of people.
Anyone who wishes to schedule an appointment should call (347) 960-7229 on Tuesdays and Wednesdays between 6:30 and 8:30 p.m.
Edgar Tax, a Guatemalan immigrant who works in youth outreach at the church, said the program already has a strong reputation — and a long waiting list — even though it only started this week.
“They’ve just thrown fliers all around the community, so everybody already knows about it,” Tax said. “There’s 20 people more on the list, just waiting for another lawyer to help them.”
Gennaro said he was thrilled that money from the city could be used to help grease the wheels of the immigration process for families looking for a better life.
“It’s very heartening to be able to play a role and bring them these services,” Gennaro said. “These people, to get their piece of the American dream, need to have the ability to navigate in the legal world.”
“Immigrants, who have always been the bedrock of American society, continue to play a major role in New York’s economic stability and growth,” said Fred Rooney, the director of CUNY’s CLRN, in a statement. “This program helps them to work within the confines of the law, to strengthen their families and to have a greater stake in America’s future.”