Ithacan Immigrant: Mario


This week’s Ithacan Immigrant features Mario, who came to the U.S. following the back-to-back hurricanes that destroyed many homes and businesses in the Caribbean, including the hotel where he was working in the Virgin Islands.  Mario, who was born and raised in the Dominican Republic, survived his first winter in upstate New York and even though he wasn’t too keen on the cold weather and snow, he said his first spring in Ithaca feels like “paradise.”  He’s been accessing our citizenship services in order to become a U.S. citizen.


ISP: Why did you come to US?

I was searching for more opportunities.

ISP: Why did you decide to live in Ithaca?

I was in the Virgin Islands and we got hit by Hurricanes Irma and Maria and there were a lot of damages.  The apartment where I was living lost its roof and the hotel where I was working got completely destroyed and I got displaced.  I have a cousin in Newfield so I came here.

ISP: What was your first impression of Ithaca?

It was love at first sight.  I love the buildings and the people are very friendly and helpful and it has everything you want.  Anything you want, you’ve got it.  It’s an academic city so I feel comfortable.

ISP: What is your favorite American food?

Pizza – I like pepperoni and bacon at Domino’s Pizza.

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

Walmart – everyday we end up there.

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

Ithaca kind of reminds me of my hometown in the DR – they’re not that much different.  It’s small and you feel the warmth of the people here like you do when you are there.  It’s not so big and not so small – both are the right size.





Public Benefits, Public Charge, and Public Comment


Public Benefits: Whenever new clients come to Catholic Charities seeking legal immigration services we pre-screen them for other services and programs (often public benefits) they might qualify for if they are living in low-income households.  We then follow-up with a referral to programs such as the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Women, Infants and Children (WIC), and SNAP (formerly known as food stamps), especially for those who have U.S. citizen children. So last February when I saw Reuter’s reporter Yeganeh Torbati was sending out the following tweets, I became concerned:

from @yjtorbati

SCOOP: The Trump administration is considering targeting foreigners in the U.S. who have used food aid and other public benefits, by making it harder for them to get green cards. More updates to this story coming

Story just updated w more details. DHS is considering effectively penalizing applicants for permanent residence who use or are likely to use a variety of welfare programs including CHIP, SNAP, Head Start, ACA subsidies, WIC, LIHEAP, and section 8 housing

Those tweets then linked to Torbati’s article  where she writes, “The Trump administration is considering making it harder for foreigners living in the United States to get permanent residency if they or their American-born children use public benefits such as food assistance, in a move that could sharply restrict legal immigration.” The leaked memo raised concerns with legal practitioners leaving them to wonder what was coming down the pike for those clients they might potentially represent with permanent residency applications or with petitioning for close family members to come to the U.S.  as legal permanent residents if they had accessed public benefits.

Public Charge: Currently, federal law allows immigration and consular authorities to deny admissions to the U.S. or adjustment to Lawful Permanent Resident status to a person they deem likely to become a public charge. Under the current definition, a “public charge” is a person who is primarily dependent on the government for subsistence. It’s important to note that while the public charge ground of inadmissibility doesn’t affect all non-citizens (e.g., refugees and asylees), it does affect non-citizens who are applying for Lawful Permanent Resident status through family-based visa petitions.

Public Charge and Public Benefits: The draft rule would dramatically change the benefit-related criteria used to make a public charge determination.  The draft proposal would put someone at risk of being deemed a “public charge” if that person — or anyone in the person’s immediate familyincluding citizen children — receive any of a far broader set of benefits. The benefits and tax credits that would be considered include CHIP, WIC,  SNAP, Medicaid, and the Earned Income Tax Credit, as well as subsidies to help people afford health insurance in the ACA’s marketplaces, and others.  This attempt for the Trump Administration to stop low-income immigrants from accessing healthcare, nutrition, and other critical program is a new low.

The proposal would have two main effects: 1) immigration authorities could use it to prevent some immigrants here lawfully who receive — or whose close family members receive — any of these benefits or tax credits from becoming permanent residents; and 2) prospective immigrants who want to reunite with their families could be denied from entering the United States, if the authorities rule that they or any member of their families have received or would likely receive any of these benefits in the future. Many see this as just another way for the administration to target immigrants coming to the U.S. through what Trumps has called “horrible chain migration.”

Yet again the Trump Administration is attempting to stoke fear in the immigrant community through its anti-immigration policies. And it’s working.  Since the memo leaked, I have received several inquiries from clients worried if accessing government programs might affect their pending immigration cases.  Clients ranging from someone who is a lawful permanent resident applicant and worries about receiving subsidies that help pay his ACA insurance premiums to a pregnant woman who is looking to adjust her status from fiancée to lawful permanent resident and needs emergency Medicaid for prenatal care are worried their applications may be denied because of accessing public benefits.  For cases such as these, it is important to note that at this time the rules governing public charge determinations in the U.S. have not yet changed.   But change might be on the horizon.

Public Comment: What started out as a memo, might soon be put into law as DHS has already sent it to the Office of Management and Budget for clearance. Any day now, the changes to how the government defines public charge might be published in the Federal Register where it will allow for 60 days of public comments. This document from the National Immigration Law Center gives more background into “public charge,” as well as advises immigration advocates to do the following:

Fight back! If a proposed rule is published, individuals and organizations can submit public comments and share stories about how the proposed rules would affect them and the communities or consumers that they serve.

For those who have never posted a public comment on the Federal Register, these tips might be useful.

Sue Chaffee

Accredited Rep


Ithacan Immigrant: Plel


This week’s Ithacan Immigrant features Plel, who came to the U.S. as a refugee from Burma in 2016.  His wife was joined him in the U.S. this past year through the refugee resettlement program we have at Catholic Charities.  We are providing Plel with legal immigration services so he can adjust his status from refugee to legal permanent resident.


ISP: Why did you come to US?

Because I had family here.

ISP: Why did you decide to live in Ithaca?

My mother lived here – we have over 100 relatives in the U.S. and probably 50 of them live in Ithaca.  We have lots of cousins.

ISP: What was your first impression of Ithaca?

There’s not a lot of people fighting in Ithaca.  There’s a lot of beautiful things here like waterfalls and it’s clean.

ISP: What is your favorite American food?

Salad – I like the ones at GreenStar.

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

I don’t really like to shop.

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

In the U.S. there’s good education and a lot of jobs.  Back home where we lived, we didn’t have a good education, we didn’t have freedom and we got punished by the Burmese government and the Thai police so we couldn’t go anywhere.  Here, everybody is happy.

Upcoming Concert for Refugee and Immigrant Families


Immaculate Conception Church

Friday, April 20th/7pm

featuring Pergolesi’s most beautiful Stabat Mater 

This hymn to the Virgin Mary encompasses the full range of human emotions from anguish to joy and its beautiful music will surely be both comforting and inspiring. A free will offering will be taken up to support Catholic Charities’ Immigrant Services Program. The concert is organized and conducted by Keehun Nam and sung by Juliana Child   and Nicole Rivera from Ithaca College School of Music.

*sponsored by Catholic Charities Tompkins/Tioga and Ithaca Welcomes Refugees*

Call to Action: National Call-in Day to Support Refugees is TODAY!


It’s no secret that efforts to resettle refugees in the U.S. have been stymied by the Trump Administration.  Six months ago, President Trump drastically cut the number of refugees being allowed into the U.S.  when he announced only 45,000 were going to be admitted during Fiscal Year (FY) 2018.  March 31st is officially the half-way mark of FY 2018 and by then it is expected only 10,000 refugees will have been resettled into the U.S.; this is less than 25% of what was originally promised.

This Call to Action is to let our New York Senators and local Representative know that this number is unacceptable.  Please take time on Wednesday, March 28, 2018 to voice your support for increasing the numbers of refugees being resettled into the U.S.  Let them know this low number is unacceptable and that the Trump Administration should keep its word and admit the 45,000 it committed to.  In addition, also urge them to call on the President to set the FY 2019 admissions goal to at least 75,000 persons.

Residents of Tompkins County can call:

  1. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand at (202) 224-4451
  2. Senator Charles Schumer at (202) 224-6524
  3. Rep. Thomas Reed at (202) 226-6599

Sample Script:

I’m your constituent from [CITY/TOWN], and I urge you to support the U.S. refugee resettlement program. I strongly oppose President Trump’s all-time low cap on refugee admissions, as well as his continued Muslim and refugee bans. I urge you to do everything in your power to see that the administration resettle at least the 45,000 refugees they have promised to resettle in 2018 and urge the administration to commit to resettling at least 75,000 in 2019. Resettlement is a core American legacy that allows refugees to rebuild their lives in safety and dignity. My community welcomes refugees, and I urge you to reflect the best of our nation by supporting the refugee resettlement program.

Ithacan Immigrant: Moe


This week’s Ithacan Immigrant features Moe Ler who naturalized as a U.S. citizen on February 2, 2018.  Moe, his mother, uncle, and grandmother received tutoring from Tompkins Learning Partners before accessing the citizenship services offered at Catholic Charities so they could become U.S. citizens.   Moe’s path to citizenship began almost 12 years ago when he entered the U.S. as a refugee and ended at Tompkins County’s Supreme Court during one of the biggest snowstorms Ithaca has had in recent history. Congratulations to Moe and the rest of the Ler family.


 ISP: Why did you come to US?

I came to the US because my mom was having a hard time because we were living in a refugee camp and we decided to come to the US for a better life.

ISP: Why did you decide to live in Ithaca?

My mother’s boyfriend recently died in New Jersey so we decided to come here because we had family here.

ISP: What was your first impression of Ithaca?

My first impression was it’s very small.  But there’s great people here.  It’s very peaceful – I feel like I’m back in my country in Thailand because you can see the mountains.

ISP: What is your favorite American food?

It would be pepperoni pizza.  I don’t really eat American food.

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

I don’t go shopping but I would say the Mall. 

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

The freedom.  In Ithaca you have a lot of freedom about where you want to go.  In Thailand, I was a kid in a refugee camp so I didn’t know a lot of stuff.  I was young and growing up and trying my best to learn about the world.   In the refugee camp you couldn’t go out – here I drive everywhere and I go to work and go to BOCES to learn more English. It feels a lot freer here. 

Family Reunification via Refugee Resettlement


TooDe, Karen refugee

One of the many adverse results of forced migration is the fragmentation of family groups. In the rush to leave unsafe homelands extended families disperse and nuclear families can fracture. The United States Refugee Admissions Program understands this and provides three ways for separated refugee families to become whole again. I recently met an Ithacan who was able to reunite with his sister through one of these paths.

TooDe was born in Burma amid the ongoing civil war between the Karen people and Burmese government. The war, started in the middle of the 20th century, had already displaced hundreds of thousands of Karen. His parents had met, married, and started a family in its midst. When TooDe was born, they thought they could hold out a little longer.

When he was three years old, his family decided to leave. They followed the paths of many before them and made their way east to one of the multiple refugee camps that had sprung up on the opposite side of the Thai-Burmese border. These camps allowed for relative safety and sense of community, but not much of a future. TooDe attended school in camp and his family received food from international aid groups, but the path to self-sufficiency was unclear. Out of Burma, but without the proper paperwork, Karen are not allowed to travel further in to Thailand to pursue jobs. Education is severely limited. His adult sister saw no future and applied for refugee status with UNHCR. Eventually, she was admitted to the United States. Her younger brother and parents remained in Thailand.

Life in the United States was better for his sister. She met a husband and moved to Ithaca. She found employment and her life improved, but she missed her family. She convinced her mother to apply for refugee status back in the camp. During the application process, TooDe’s mother listed her relatives and where they lived (United States and Australia). The family could also try life on their own in a county like the Netherlands. But TooDe’s sister had told them about life in the United States and they wanted to follow her there. It took a year to process and verify the application but eventually TooDe, his mother, and grandmother were granted permission to join his sister.

In anticipation of moving to the United States, TooDe watched American TV shows and movies. He was excited to travel and finally have reliable access to food. Leaving Thailand, he experienced his first plane ride. It took three more to arrive in New York City. He had not been able to anticipate the size of New York’s buildings or the diversity of its streets. Having arrived in June, the trees surprised him in the Fall when their leaves changed colors. He was excited to experience snow.

Having lived in Ithaca for some time now, TooDe has grown tired of snow. It’s too cold. He has been able to take full advantage of his freedom to travel and opportunities for employment. By bus, he’s visited North Carolina, Kansas, Nebraska, and Ohio. He wants to eventually visit Mount Rushmore. Thinking further afield, he hopes to tour Israel and see places the Bible talks about.  To fund these travels, he works in a locally owned food production facility. He is also studying English in the hopes of obtaining his GED. Once that step is completed, he hopes to attend TC3 and perhaps become a chef in a restaurant.

In the midst of the heated discussion over the value admitting refugees, it is important to remember stories like Toode’s. As he pointed out to me, we as Americans are lucky enough to have been born in a country where the government and military support its people. Some are not so lucky. Their families and lives suffer due to forces beyond their control.

As an international leader, and long-time beacon of hope to those suffering oppression at the hands of their governments, I personally hope that the United States can continue to value the sanctity of family unity and support the reunification of families fragmented by disaster through a robust refugee resettlement program.

Soren Klaverkamp

Refugee Resettlement Case Manager

Ithacan Immigrant: Paw


We interviewed Paw, a Burmese national, for this week’s Ithacan Immigrant. Paw came to the U.S. in 2006 through refugee resettlement but didn’t move into the Ithaca area until 2014.  We featured him in this blog post just a few months after he moved to New York.  This past fall, Paw accessed our citizenship services and since then has successfully passed his citizenship interview.  He is on deck to naturalize this next month in Syracuse.


ISP: Why did you come to US?

I wanted to live in a free country.

ISP: Why did you decide to live in Ithaca?

My mother and sister were living here so I moved to Ithaca.

ISP: What was your first impression of Ithaca?

I liked it because it’s a nice town, nobody bothers you, there’s not so many people.

ISP: What is your favorite American food?

Spaghetti.  Before when I lived in New Jersey, my brother-in-law used to cook that and I liked it.  I think it’s my favorite.

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

Walmart – it’s a little bit cheaper than the mall.

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

It’s very different.  Burma is so hard to buy what you want – we don’t have money, we don’t have many clothes or food.  In Ithaca we have a job and work and when we want something we buy it.  It’s very different.


Tax Day 2018


This year’s Tax Day, the day when individual tax returns must be submitted, or an extension must be requested, is Tuesday, April 17th . Filing taxes in a timely manner can be overwhelming, especially to someone with a language barrier, but we highly recommend all immigrant workers file their taxes on time and stay in compliance with the law. There are many resources available locally for tax preparation, including free tax prep programs for immigrants living in low-income households, or local tax prep businesses that can assist undocumented workers apply for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) to make the process easier.

Obtaining an ITIN can be a somewhat complicated process so we advise our clients to seek help from a tax firm that has a Certified Acceptance Agent. For years we have referred clients to H&R Block since they have someone who has already been vetted and authorized by the IRS to help applicants file and mail their ITIN application (W-7) and verify the identity documents needed to complete the application. In addition, we would add once they obtain their ITINs, undocumented workers should then pay back taxes.  This not only satisfies the law but it is certainly going to be a prerequisite for being eligible to apply for any future legalization program.

AFCU FREE Tax Prep Program

  • Call 2-1-1 to get pre-screened for eligibility and scheduled for an appointment.
  • Available for immigrants filing Form 1040 and who meet income guidelines.
  • Client must have social security or ITIN number to qualify for services.
  • No charge for services.

Lifelong FREE Tax Prep

  • Call 607-793-6144 to get pre-screened for eligibility and scheduled for an appointment.
  • Available to Seniors age 60+, all individuals with disabilities, all individuals with incomes below $32,000 and all families with incomes below $54,000.
  • No charge for services.

H&R Block

  • Local office that has Certified Acceptance Agent. ITIN prep is free if individual uses their services and pays for preparation of Form 1040.
  • Typical cost to prepare 1040 for couple with 2 dependent children is approximately $300.

If anyone needs our assistance in accessing these programs or has questions about the options listed above, please contact me at Catholic Charities by calling (607) 272-5062, x11.

Sue Chaffee

Accredited Rep

Staying Focused


Last week we made arrangements to interview Alex, a Nigerian national, for one of our Ithacan Immigrant blog posts.  When we met, we also decided to discuss Alex’s reactions to President Trump’s recent disparaging comments about Haiti, El Salvador, Nigeria and other African countries.   While we weren’t asking Alex to speak on behalf of the Nigerian diaspora, we were interested in getting his opinion since he was relatively new to the U.S. We thought it would be interesting to hear how he was reacting to what was being so heatedly discussed in the news.  Our conversation quickly revealed how determined Alex is to stay focused on doing the best with his life and not dwell on the negativity coming out of the White House.

ISP: As someone who recently emigrated to the U.S. from Nigeria, what were your initial thoughts when you heard President Trump had referred to your country as a sh**hole? 

I thought it was wrong to stereotype them but I also thought how Trump needs to be educated.  He needs to be prepped to present matters to wide audiences and told how to choose his words.  He was in a formal event – he wasn’t sitting at home in front of his wife and kids.  But he’s strong and pompous.  And that’s what he does so it wasn’t a surprise what he said.  We should try to shape him up because he’s not going to change.  We have to put some tools in place to stop the embarrassing things from happening.  I think it’s going to be a long time before the world will get over what he said.

As far as Nigeria, Haiti, and other countries he was talking about, they are all going through different stages of development.  There are stages of growth that economies must go through to finally become self-sustaining.    With all countries, there are bad times and there are good times.  Growth is about experience and improvement.  We should remember that, America was not different 300 or so years ago, it had to go through the same process.

ISP: Did you have a personal reaction to what was said?

I was embarrassed and offended.  It saddens me that the #1 person doesn’t know how to communicate with the outside world. Being politically correct should be a priority.  But I’m not letting what was said deter my focus. I was raised that when you are part of a community, and I am part of this community now, part of this country – you feel proud because this is home.  When the #1 person is saying that about me and others from my country, then I have to wonder how that makes others feel when they are looking at us.

When people try to talk about this with me, I don’t want to be in that conversation because there is nothing I can do about it.  I do what I have to do and stay focused.  I try to pay attention to my job and do the best I can.  Love conquers all, that might sound silly, but Trump needs help on how to speak.  If we hate him, nothing good is going to come out of it.  The best thing we can do is support him.  You should support someone through the good times and the bad times.

ISP: Do you know any Nigerians who came through the Diversity Visa Lottery program?

I don’t know too many but I can think of two examples.  One is a pediatrician who practices in Michigan.  Besides being a doctor, he does a lot of work that helps children.  He makes all kinds of donations so they have things like toys and free daycare.  I have another friend who works in manufacturing.  He has a Master’s degree in management.  One thing about Nigeria is parents make sure their kids get educated.  School isn’t free like it is here although some of the states might give a stipend but our parents pay for school from beginning to the end.

ISP: Is there anything else you want to add?

I’m not someone who dwells in problems.  I personally, move on and look for a solution.  The solution would be to prove everyone wrong.  Every country has its own issues; America has its own issues.  I don’t think any president can say what he said.  He’s so pompous and proud that he can say what he wants but he needs to do better.  Soon he will get pushed to the curb because the world is moving on.  But I’m not really qualified to comment on it.  I’m a resident here but I haven’t been here a long time.  The people who have been here longer are the ones whose opinions matter.  They have seen many presidents elected and they know when times were different.  They know what it feels to be home and how to preserve and respect that.  I would rather listen to what they say then to come up with my own opinion. Trump didn’t say the right thing, he shouldn’t have used those words.