Call to Action: Help Oppose USCIS “Tip Form” by Sept. 9

USCIS is currently taking the steps to implement a “tip form” to collect information from the public regarding purported immigration fraud. This is yet another example of how the Trump administration is readily seeking out ways to transform USCIS from an agency that serves immigrants and adjudicates their applications for immigration benefits, into an enforcement agency that will complement the mission of ICE in its deportation efforts.

Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC) has created a click to comment on their website regarding ways to oppose the proposed tip, as well as resources and links to additional information about the proposed tip form. It is a long-known fact that many people often threaten to call “immigration” when they want to intimidate a person who is undocumented or someone who has a pending case. Take a moment and oppose this latest proposal that will create yet more fear and intimidation in our immigrant communities.


Oppose USCIS’ New Dangerous and Divisive Profiling Weapon!


Sue Chaffee

DOJ Accredited Rep

Ithacan Immigrant: Paw Beler

This week’s Ithacan Immigrant features Paw Beler, a former refugee from Burma who is now a U.S. citizen.  Paw originally was resettled as a refugee in Ohio in 2006 but moved to Ithaca in 2007.  She recently spent part of her summer interning for the Immigrant Services Program and Tompkins Learning Partners assisting us with the Office for New Americans grant.  We want to thank Paw for helping us out and also congratulate her on earning an associate’s in Human Services from TC3 this past year.

ISP: Why did you come to US?

I came because I was a refugee in Thailand and during that time I wasn’t allowed to leave the camp or to visit Burma. Finally we had an opportunity from UNHCR to go to a different country (Norway, Australia or the US) and my husband and I decided to come here.

ISP: Why did you decide to live in Ithaca?

At our refugee interview they asked us where we wanted to live in the U.S. and we didn’t know anything about the U.S. so we told them to pick for us. They picked Ohio but we didn’t have any opportunity there. My husband’s nephew was living here so we joined him in Ithaca.

ISP: What was your first impression of Ithaca?

I liked Ithaca’s hills and its trees, nature, and that it was a small city. It felt more like home.

ISP: What is your favorite American food?

I like Domino’s garlic cheese pizza.

ISP: Where is your favorite place to shop in Ithaca?

I usually go to Aldi’s – it’s cheaper and I can find almost everything there. I like Ithaca Tofu, also.

ISP: What is the biggest difference between Ithaca and your home town?

For one thing, our house is different. Our house in Burma was bamboo and didn’t have any windows. In Burma it was hard to have a good house because the soldiers would burn them. In our town, we had guard dogs and when they barked the men would jump up and  run into the woods because that meant the soldiers were coming. In the morning, the women would go look for the men. There was a lot of fear there but here we have freedom and I can sleep peacefully all night.


Catholic Charities Kicks Off Workshop Series for Immigrant Community

On a sunny day at the end of June, nearly a dozen women gathered together to 20190627_101423attend the first of eight workshops that will be provided by Catholic Charities to Tompkins County’s immigrant community. The workshops are a result of an Office for New American’s grant and are designed to foster economic and civic participation among the New American community. Since holistic well-being is crucial to achieve maximal and meaningful participation, women’s wellness was the first topic offered. The workshop was specifically designed for Ithaca’s Karen/Burmese refugee community and had interpreters available to ensure that attendees who had limited English proficiency could be fully engaged.   

20190627_105116Celeste Rakovich, who is a registered nurse and certified lactation counselor at Tompkins County Health Department’s MOMS program, presented at the inaugural workshop since she has a wealth of knowledge on topics surrounding women’s health. Her presentation included a range of topics that included information for new mothers (i.e., the importance of spacing pregnancies apart), and information on subjects that can be complex to New Americans (i.e., immunizations and health insurance). Information like this promotes informed decision-making on important health issues and can help prevent unnecessary illnesses or lifestyle conditions that could hinder someone from working or fully participating in community life. 

In addition to her expertise, Celeste’s willingness to answer the audience 20190627_103409members’ questions and to explain complicated concepts patiently and clearly made her an excellent presenter for a very worthwhile presentation. And our attendees agree! According to one woman: 

“I’m glad to be here. It was very helpful to know about this topic. I like and it help us to share with others who haven’t know or hear these things before. Thank you for taking your time and share with us.” 

20190627_100940Catholic Charities is very grateful that we can count on community partners like Tompkins County Health Department to work with us to serve the New American community in Ithaca! 


Ithacan Immigrant: Viviani

We interviewed Viviani, a Belize national, for this week’s Ithacan Immigrant.  We first met Viviani in 2009 when she came to Catholic Charities seeking help to apply for her green card; ten years later she returned seeking assistance to become a U.S. citizen.

ISP: Why did you come to US?

I followed the “love of my life.”

ISP: Why did you decide to live in Ithaca?

Ithaca is so open-minded and inclusive; it’s completely opposite of Belize.

ISP: What was your first impression of Ithaca?

Everything was exactly as it was in the movies.  At first, I was terrified because everybody looked different and I wasn’t used to seeing people wearing tattoos and dressing creatively.  In Belize people dress conservatively and here people were dressed carefree.

ISP: What is your favorite American food?

Franco’s pepperoni & mushroom pizza.

ISP: Where is your favorite place to shop in Ithaca?

Petrune on the Commons – they have vintage apparel and it’s so unique.  They carry a lot of mustard color which is my favorite – even if it’s not in the fall.

ISP: What is the biggest difference between Ithaca and your home town?

In Belize there’s a rainy season and a dry season – there aren’t 4 seasons.  Here there’s different seasons – it’s interesting to observe how the mood changes and how the people change depending on the season.  You wear different colors depending on the season – things are in rotation.  In Belize it’s only wet or dry.

Call to Action: Justice for Farmworkers

10,372 signatures hand-delivered to the Capital

Catholic Charities’ Justice & Peace Ministry staff and social ministry volunteers from parishes have been delivering the petitions to our  state elected officials.  But to get this bill passed we need to keep nudging them! You can help by making some quick phone calls. 

Here’s what you can say:

I’m calling to ask your support for the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act, which is Senate bill 2837 and Assembly bill 2750.  People in our Catholic diocese of Rochester have collected over 10,300 signatures supporting this legislation.

This bill would end the exclusion of farmworkers from basic workplace rights granted to other workers in New York State, including overtime pay, a guaranteed day of rest per week and protections while                  bargaining collectively.  

I support this bill because…

I believe that farmworkers deserve equal rights….

As a person of faith, I believe that all workers should be treated with respect …

There is no moral or legal justification for excluding this group of workers from labor laws…

Or speak from your own experience and convictions!

State Senate switchboard: (518) 455-2800 

State Assembly switchboard: (518) 455-4100

Governor’s office: (518) 474-8390

The switchboard operators will connect you with your state senator and assembly members and can even look up for you who they are if you don’t know. 


Call to Action: Demand TPS for Venezula NOW

Join us in calling on the Trump Administration to protect Venezuelans from being forced to return to unsafe conditions at home.

Venezuela has been enduring civil unrest and massive food and medicine shortages, forcing millions of people to flee the country. This week saw an escalation in levels of violence linked to the struggle for control of the country, with the situation expected to deteriorate. Further loss of life appears imminent.

Due to extreme civil unrest and infrastructure collapse, the State Department and U.S. Centers for Disease and Prevention have issued warnings that it is unsafe to travel to Venezuela. Despite U.S. government alerts and the Trump administration’s pledges to aid the people of Venezuela, it has failed to provide humanitarian protections for Venezuelans already in the U.S.

The administration has the authority to designate Temporary Protected Status for Venezuela now, ensuring that Venezuelans in the U.S. are safeguarded from danger, disease, and starvation. TPS could protect upwards of 72,000 people.

Ways to take action:
Call the DHS comment line: 202-282-8495 or call your representatives at the Capitol Switchboard: 202-224-3121

Not sure who represents you? Visit:

Sample script: My name is [NAME]. I am calling today to request Acting Department of Homeland Security McAleenan immediately designate Temporary Protected Status for Venezuela. Along with a devastating food and medicine shortage, the civil unrest in the country is escalating. TPS was created to protect people from situations like this and we must use it now.

Ithacan Immigrant: Thein

This week’s Ithacan Immigrant features Thein, a former refugee from Burma who came to the U.S. in 2006 through refugee resettlement. Several years ago we assisted Thein with becoming a U.S. citizen. Since then, Thein’s spouse and several of their family members have also received help from Catholic Charities to become U.S. citizens.

ISP: Why did you come to US?

I was living in a refugee camp and came to the US as a refugee.

ISP: Why did you decide to live in Ithaca?

First, I lived in Ohio and then I moved here because I had a cousin living here.

ISP: What was your first impression of Ithaca?

I was kind of surprised because our life in Burma had very little.  So it was big here, it was like a dream.  I felt like I was watching a movie.

ISP: What is your favorite American food?

Cheese pizza from Papa John’s.

ISP: Where is your favorite place to shop in Ithaca?

Wegmans.  I like the fresh food there.  The meat is very fresh.

ISP: What is the biggest difference between Ithaca and your home town?

Everything is different.  The roads, the houses, electricity.  The roads in Burma were all dirt, there was no concrete.  If it was rainy, you needed big boots to walk in.  You had to either go with boots or no shoes.  In Burma, rich people had houses but my own house was like a tent. Here I have a nice house.

Honoring Julie


Julie Rudd Coulombe (far right), in whose honor the new ESL program has been established (Credit: Don Karr, photo shared on GoFundMe page)

This past week we were saddened to hear about the passing of a dear colleague and good friend to our program, Julie Rudd Coulombe.  We’d like to share the following GoFundMe page that will allow Julie’s passion as a ESL teacher to continue in our community.

From the GoFundMe page:

“The Julia Rudd Coulombe ESL (English as a Second Language) program is named for a life-long ESL teacher in the Ithaca, NY community.  Julie recently passed on from a battle with breast cancer; the JRC program is being established to continue her work and provide ESL services for adults in the greater Ithaca area.

The JRC will provide English language instruction, civics education, community integration, and English for employment to the region’s burgeoning population of international residents (of which Burmese refugees are the primary constituents).  These kinds of integration services are crucial to support immigrants and refugees as they become contributing members of their new community.

Donations for this fund will be used to establish the program in a physical space, create a formal 501(c)(3) non profit, and promote it within the community.  The current program, with over 100 students (and growing), is operating in a temporary donated space with an entirely volunteer staff of professional teachers.  There is a great need for an office space to establish a center of operations for shared resources and teaching space.


  • Application 501(c)(3): $5,300
  • 1 year’s rent in space: $15,000
  • Projectors for classrooms instruction: $1,500
  • Office equipment: $6,000
  • Office supplies: $2,000
  • Educational materials: $4,000
  • Student assistance programs & scholarship: $10,000

The JRC is honored to carry Julie Rudd Coulombe’s name and to continue her life’s work and mission through its services.  Thank you for your contributions and for helping making an impact on this community.”

If you would like to donate to the GoFundMe fundraiser to support the Julie Rudd Coulombe ESL Program:

  • Click this link OR
  • Copy and paste the link below into your browser OR
  • Search for “Julie Rudd Coulombe ESL program GoFundMe”

2020 Census Controversy

This April, the Supreme Court will hold a hearing to determine whether the U.S. Census Bureau can ask 2020 Census survey respondents if they are citizens of the United States. The controversial question has not been included since the 1950’s but has been proposed supposedly to help the Justice Department enforce the Voting Rights Act by providing more detailed information about eligible voters. However, opponents and critics of the question argue that including the question might actually lead to collecting even less data.

The idea is that noncitizens – especially undocumented immigrants – would be less likely to participate out of concerns for their privacy and the potential misuse of their data. Although the survey will not ask whether noncitizens are in the country legally, some may still fear that the collected data could be used for legal or judicial purposes against them.

Noncitizens may not be familiar with their legal protections as survey respondents or may simply choose to err on the side of caution and opt out of responding. This would not just affect the statistical accuracy of the 2020 Census, but would have a significant impact on the way that political power and nearly $800 billion in federal funds are distributed within and among the states. 

A fair and accurate count on the Census is important because it ensures that communities receive the funding for crucial services and resources. The Census is also the basis for determining how many congressional seats and electoral college votes each state gets. This means that states with higher foreign-born populations, such as New York, stand to lose far more than those with smaller immigrant populations if the citizenship question is included.

Even if the citizenship question is deemed unconstitutional, the Census Bureau is already planning other ways of obtaining this information, including by partnering with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The practice of partnering with other government agencies is not new, but this partnership concerns many. In the past, the Census Bureau was encouraged to collect as little personally identifying information as possible. This article highlights how data that DHS might share with the Census Bureau could include not only citizenship information, but noncitizens’ full names and addresses, birth dates and places, as well as Social Security numbers and highly sensitive alien registration numbers.

Many are also concerned that Census information may be shared with the DHS in return. Fortunately, the Census Act provides basic privacy and confidentiality protections that make it illegal for Census results to be shared with other agencies, including DHS. However, it is up to DHS and this administration to publicly commit to continue upholding this legislation. This is particularly important given the current push to restrict immigration, which calls into question the exact motivation behind these pointed attempts to gain insight into the noncitizen population.

Policy experts, such as NYU Brennan Center for Justice’s Wendy Weiser, contend that the Commerce Department itself can still change its position or that Congress could override them.  Additionally, ordinary citizens can use their power to advocate against the citizenship question. If you would like to contribute to the conversation, resources such as this petition put forth by the Leadership Conference on Human and Civil Rights are available. Your voice counts to make sure as many people, citizen and noncitizen alike, are counted in the 2020 Census as possible.

Paige Cross, ISP case manager

Ithacan Immigrant: Evelyn

This week’s Ithacan Immigrant features Evelyn, a Guatemalan national, who came to the U.S. almost 10 years ago looking for a better life. We first met her in 2013 when she came to Catholic Charities to apply to become a legal permanent resident and more recently in 2018 when she wanted assistance to become a U.S. citizen. Evelyn recently had her citizenship application approved and will naturalize later this month.

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ISP: Why did you come to US?

I came for a better life and to make my dreams come true.

ISP: Why did you decide to live in Ithaca?

I came because I had family here.

ISP: What was your first impression of Ithaca?

I thought it was a beautiful place because the waterfalls were amazing.  I like Ithaca because people here have a tolerance for immigrants, they like different cultures, and they are friendly.

ISP: What is your favorite American food?

My neighbor Bill’s pancakes.

ISP: Where is your favorite place to shop in Ithaca?

I like the Ithaca Mall.  I like Old Navy, Bath and Body, and I love Best Buy.

ISP: What is the biggest difference between Ithaca and your home town?

Ithaca has waterfalls, snow, and more opportunities.  My home town in Guatemala has creeks, it’s very hot, and there are no opportunities.