Pamphlets may be informational, but might not have the pizzaz to get the intended audience to stop and read.
New Immigrant Community Empowerment, a Jackson Heights-based organization dedicated to immigrant workers’ rights, launched an educational graphic novel on Thursday night at the Queens Museum of the Arts in an attempt to grab the readers’ attention.
About 60 people filled the museum’s auditorium for the Spanish-conducted presentation about the graphic novel, “JosÈ Busca Legalizarse” (JosÈ Seeks Legal Status), which teaches illegal immigrants how to watch out for fraud when seeking legal working status.
The graphic novel was based on the true stories of several undocumented workers who worked with NICE .
“It was very difficult to hear the stories of people losing all of their savings to fraud in an effort to bring their families here,” Astoria artist Alfredo Lopez said.
In the graphic novel, JosÈ illegally crossed the Mexican-U.S. border in 2006 for work. Now he wants to obtain working papers in the hopes of bringing his family to the United States legally. He meets with a lawyer who says because of law 245i, which states that illegal workers who crossed the border after 2001 are ineligible for visas, he can’t obtain papers.
The lawyer advises JosÈ to save receipts and pay stubs showing he has lived here since 2006, in case immigration policy changes and allows workers, without a criminal record, who crossed into the United Sates later than 2001 to gain legal status.
Later in the story, the protagonist talks to his friend Luis, who directs him to another lawyer who promises, and promised Luis, working papers if JosÈ pays $7,000 in cash.
The graphic novel at the end tells readers that the government fees for immigration forms are far less than the amount this lawyer is asking for. The novel also advises readers to never pay in cash, but instead write a check or money order to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.
The graphic novel also tells undocumented workers seeking legal status to create a written, legal contract with any lawyer they are dealing with. Also, unlike Mexico, notaries in the United States are not lawyers and cannot give legal advice.
“Know your rights so you can stop being victims of fraud,” NICE board member Gonzalo Casals said.
JosÈ pays the money and receives a work permit. However, as the first lawyer said, the protagonist is not eligible for a visa because he crossed the border illegally after 2001.
Immigrants can get work permits, without being allowed to live in the country. Therefore, the work permit essentially alerts the federal authorities that JosÈ is living illegally in the country and therefore he could be entered into the deportation process, according to the graphic novel. In the meantime Luis is deported because of the same fraud.
JosÈ tries to reach the lawyer who took his $7,000, but his number is disconnected and his office is up for rent.
The graphic novel is part of NICE’s Consumer Justice campaign, funded publically and privately. The Coro Immigrant Civic Leadership Program, in partnership with the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, One NYC One Nation, and the New York Community Trust helped pay for printing, and the Queens Museum of Art supported the artist.