Yearly Archives: 2014

Ithacan Immigrant – Michelle

~8958845This week’s Ithacan Immigrant features Michelle, a Canadian national who is applying to become a US citizen.  Michelle has been accessing services this past year at Catholic Charities and was our featured speaker at a recent fundraiser.  Along with taking the steps to become a US citizen, she is also taking courses at TC3 and is a new mom.


ISP: Why did you come to the US?

Michelle: That’s such a complicated story – my Mom came here to get married so that’s what brought me here.

ISP: Why did you decide to live in Ithaca?

Michelle:  I really like Ithaca – there are a lot of resources.  There’s housing, access to food, lots of programs for babies and children.  There’s programs that provide advocacy and help you get jobs.  And it’s beautiful.

ISP: What was your first impression of Ithaca?

Michelle: There was a lot of diversity.  It was during the summer so there was a lot of activities and festivals with people from all kinds of backgrounds. 

ISP: What is your favorite American food?

Michelle: I like the food at Casa Blanca – I like their chicken bacon ranch pizza.

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

Michelle: Trader K’s – there’s a lot of cool places to shop here.  I just started going to Wegmans.

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

Michelle: In Ithaca everything is within walking distance.  I used to live in the suburbs outside of Toronto so things weren’t within walking distance.  Also, I find Ithaca to be pretty safe. 


Pursuing the American Dream: Francis’ Journey


Francis working at a local laser tech company

Francis, a Beninese national who moved to the Ithaca area last spring, recently visited Catholic Charities to let us know how he was adjusting to a new job we helped him find.  As Francis described his new job where he visually inspects lasers for quality assurance it became clear how he is a good example of how an immigrant comes to the US and actively pursues the “American Dream.” In less than a year, he has learned a significant amount of English, is successfully transitioning into America’s workforce, and is taking steps toward furthering his education. He is the quintessential “where there is a will, there is a way.”

Back in Benin, Francis played the Diversity Visa (DV) Lottery while he was teaching biology at a local school and attending his 3rd year of University. He said he had dreamed of coming to the US and winning the lottery would be the first step towards making that dream come true. In 2012 he was notified he was a DV winner and 2 years later he arrived in the US as a green card holder. Shortly thereafter, Francis took on the extraordinary task of learning English. Although he wasn’t from an English-speaking country he said he had learned how to speak/read a little. He admitted though English was something he “never really paid close attention to.” But now in the US his dream included one day working in the medical field so he knew he had to take it seriously and enrolled in adult ESL classes at TST BOCES.

While learning English was a priority, Francis also had an urgency to become employed. Although he arrived in the US with some savings, there was housing, food, clothes, phone, and transportation to pay for – necessary things that a tight budget would only cover for so long. Therefore, he was relieved when he landed his first job as a housekeeper at Cornell, even though it was temporary. Once his temporary position was about to end, he regularly met with ISP staff (Allegra, Anthony & Sarah) to help him apply for jobs online. His determination paid off; he was scheduled for  an interview at a manufacturing company and they offered him a position.

Francis is currently on a probationary period and works 12 hour shifts, 3 or 4 days per week. He is tasked with looking at lasers through a microscope – a job that requires a lot of concentration. He plans on taking advantage of his work schedule because on his days off, he will be able to continue to attend ESL classes, and then plans to attend college. He’s currently taking the steps towards getting his international degree translated and evaluated and then plans on furthering his studies so he can pursue a nursing career or become a radiologist.

The best advice Francis would give to new immigrants is to “go slowly, go to learn English – that’s the first thing everybody needs to do. If they don’t come from an English-speaking country they need to do that. At the same time, they need to apply for a job. I would tell them to apply for any kind of job and still look for new opportunities. If you keep looking, you will find the right thing.”

For Francis, his current job seems to be the right thing at this stage in his journey. “My prayer now is that my probation period goes well and they hire me full time. I also pray to have 3-4 days off so I can continue my studies.” He also knows how fortunate he is to have people in his life who are supportive of his journey. For example, he said his night supervisor is someone he greatly appreciates working with. “She’s so friendly and good to me and I can say it seems like she knew me before I came to work there. It’s like God put me there to work with her.” Another person he is grateful for is Julie, the coordinator of BOCES ESL classes. “Julie is someone I thank a lot; she has done everything for me. When I need to find an apartment, she helped me. She is very kind.”

Francis’ journey currently includes going to work and working 12 hour shifts dressed from head to toe in sterile, disposable clothing and looking through a microscope as pictured above. It’s just one step of many he will take to pursue his version of the American Dream. Once this dream is fulfilled though – a dream that started in Benin and will include his time Ithaca – it will most likely be the result of having had supportive people in his life, an abundance of hard work, determination and gratitude, not to mention his unwavering faith.


Ithacan Immigrant: Ah Kying

~8958845This week we interviewed Ah Kying for the Ithacan Immigrant who was naturalized as a US citizen this past November in Tompkins County’s Supreme Court.  Prior to naturalizing, he came to ISP to get help with the citizenship application.  Ah Kying is a former Burmese national of Chinese descent and originally came to the Ithaca area for employment. 


ISP: Why did you come to the US?

Ah Kying: Because I cannot live anymore in Burma.  The soldiers were giving us problems.

ISP: Why did you decide to live in Ithaca?

Ah Kying:  First I came to work and then I met my girlfriend so I stayed here.

ISP: What was your first impression of Ithaca?

Ah Kying: I liked Ithaca because there were a lot of students here and the people living here seemed like they were good people.  Ithaca is a good city.

ISP: What is your favorite American food?

Ah Kying: McDonald’s hamburger and French fries.

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

Ah Kying: TJ Maxx – I can get my clothes cheaper and the brands are good.

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

Ah Kying: Almost everything.  At home we didn’t have cars – we had to ride on an animal.  Right here we have cars.  Here the building can be high – sometimes they are incredibly high – at home they are all small.  Here there are nice roads – in my home country we had mud roads.

Preparing for Executive Action: It’s Time to Get Busy


On November 20, 2014, many people watched President Obama make a formal announcement regarding the administrative relief he was willing to provide to help 4.5 million undocumented immigrants come out of the shadows and apply for work authorization and protection from deportation.  He offered up deferred action to those who qualify through an expanded DACA program and also a new program, Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA).  The new action – DAPA – will basically shield immigrant parents from deportation.

While this announcement is a far cry from Comprehensive Immigration Reform, it is a step in the right direction. It is also a cue for millions of people in the country to get busy.  From the staff at DHS who will figure out all of the nuts and bolts in order to implement the executive order to USCIS who will have to hire staff to adjudicate and process the applications.  And not to mention the legal practitioners who will have to ramp up services to prepare and process those 4.5 million applications to the actual beneficiaries (the immigrants) who will have to collect the evidence to prove they qualify for relief.  It’s time for anyone who is directly affected by this announcement to get busy.

As I listened to the commentary, analysis, and debate that followed Obama’s executive action, I immediately started thinking about what needs to be done at our agency in order to prepare for an unknown number of people who might come to us for legal assistance.  I also started thinking of a “to do list” in my head; a list that started with getting trained on both programs.  My to do list also included the need to network with others legal providers upstate and to also team up with Gary Liao, ONA Legal Counsel, so he can assist our efforts with outreach and free legal consultations.  Overall, we need to be ready to pre-screen potential clients as soon as possible and then give them their own to do list –  a list they hopefully already have a head start on.

While Catholic Charities will be offering direct services and representation for both DAPA and the expanded DACA program, the following information is for potential DAPA applicants.

DAPA – what are the qualifications?

  • Parents of a US citizen or legal permanent resident child as of November 20, 2014 – “child” can be a minor or adult and single or married;
  • Continuously resided in the US from January 1, 2010, to the present;
  • Physically present in the US on November 20, 2014; and,
  • Have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, or 3 or more misdemeanor offenses.

to do list (1)

The DAPA “ To Do List”

  • Save money for preparing and filing your application.
  • Get proof of who you are – obtain birth certificate, passport or other photo ID, or a matricula consular or other type of government-issued ID.  Get foreign documents translated into English.
  • Gather proof you are the parent of a child who is a US citizen or LPR – this can include your son’s or daughter’s birth certificate or US passport, naturalization certificate or green card.  Get foreign documents translated into English.
  • Gather proof to show you have been in the US continuously since January 1, 2010 (this can include financial records, school records, medical records, letters, bills, rent payment receipts, passport with admission stamp, copies of money order receipts, bank statements,  filed income taxes).
  • Gather any criminal records you have. We suggest you obtain a certificate of disposition for any arrests you have.
  • Get pre-screened – Catholic Charities is offering free legal consultations to pre-screen potential DAPA applicants. Call (607) 272-5062 to schedule an appointment.

Sue Chaffee

Accredited Representative

Ithacan Immigrant: Chaimaa

~8958845This week’s Ithacan Immigrant features Chaimaa, a Moroccan foreign national who moved to the US in 2013.  She is currently studying architecture at TC3.  Chaimaa came to ISP seeking legal immigration services – we are currently helping her petition for her husband to come to the US.


ISP: Why did you come to the US?

Chaimaa: I came to study – schools in Morocco aren’t that good.  Even when you get your diploma, you stay at home.

ISP: Why did you decide to live in Ithaca?

Chaimaa:  My dad was here for five years and he told me it was a quiet time. I went to NY and it was really loud with lots of people and cars – I like it here cause it’s quiet.

ISP: What was your first impression of Ithaca?

Chaimaa:  I loved the waterfalls in Ithaca.  I loved the Mall – I love to shop and go there for everything.  I like my school, too (TC3).

ISP: What is your favorite American food?

Chaimaa:  I love the tuna melts at Mate Factor.

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

Chaimaa I like Kohls, TJ Maxx and Old Navy.

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

 Chaimaa:  My home town isn’t really safe.  When you call the cops it takes 2 hours for them to help you.  It’s really beautiful there but not safe.   If you call the cops here they come right away.  In Morocco when you need the ambulance they don’t come either.  Sometimes people die because of that.

Preparing for the TOEFL Exam: A First-hand Account


Wen, studying for the reading comprehension portion of the TOEFL practice test

Many immigrants come to ISP seeking education resources. Within our local network there are several resources for those interested in furthering their education such as English as a Second Language classes, TASC (Formerly GED – High School Education equivalency) and Adult Basic Education. Some immigrants also want to attend College or University. For those students, Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) preparation is necessary to be successful at this level. The two versions of the test that we were interested in are the CBT and the iBT.

The CBT is an older version of the TOEFL which offers mainly reading, writing and listening challenges for students. As many international students have strong reading and writing skills, this test offers opportunities to study abroad without strong speaking and listening skills. The iBT is a newer test designed to assess all four language skills; reading, writing, listening and speaking to better prepare students for life as an English speaking student.

In order to learn more about preparing to take the TOEFL exam, we interviewed Wen, a Chinese foreign national who originally came to Ithaca with her former husband who was studying at a local University. Wen previously took the Computer Based TOEFL (CBT) in anticipation of also attending University in Ithaca. In a short amount of time though she became a mother of two and her plans changed since she had to care for her children. As a stay-at-home mother she decided to put her educational goals on hold. But in 2013 she began to once again take the steps she would need in order to further her education by studying for the TOEFL exam.  Wen is also currently volunteering at the BOCES Adult ESL Program in order to gain work experience.  Here is what she had to say about the TOEFL preparation:

ISP: Why did you decide to study for the TOEFL exam?TOEFL-Exam

Wen: I want to go back to University to get a better job. I have to take the TOEFL to get into University. I am trying to get into Cornell but it’s very difficult. I would like to stay in Ithaca because it is familiar and comfortable here. I have a lot of friends here and my children are happy. I don’t want to start over again in another place.

ISP: How long have you been studying for the TOEFL exam?

Wen: I have been studying since July of last year. My teacher, Julie, started a TOEFL class at that time.

ISP: Can you tell us a little about the difference between the Computer Based Test  (CBT) and the Internet Based Test (iBT)?

Wen: Yes, the CBT was more about reading, writing, listening and grammar. Most of the information was written. It did not give me enough listening and speaking practice. When I decided I wanted to go to graduate school, I knew I needed to take the iBT which really requires that you can speak and understand English. The iBT is very different and more difficult. It has speaking, listening, reading and writing. On the writing portion, you have to write a passage based on a reading. For listening and speaking you have to listen to a lecture and a conversation. For the lecture, you listen to the lecture about any topic and then you have to summarize it. You can take notes during the lecture but it is difficult because you have to understand the subject. It can be any subject, like history, biology or geography. Some subjects I am not familiar with, so it is very challenging. The reading really requires that you understand English and write a summary.

ISP: What part of the exam do you think will be the most difficult?

Wen: For me, the most difficult part of the exam will be listening and speaking. I think my pronunciation will be challenging for me to summarize topics that I am not familiar with. I don’t want to take a risk and take the exam too soon.

ISP: What advice would you give to someone who is interested in taking the TOEFL exam?

Wen: I would advise them to train in listening and speaking. International students may be better at reading and writing. Train yourself to talk to people because everyone makes mistakes and you can learn from them. Expose yourself to different cultures so you can prepare for the listening and speaking parts of the exam. Hearing different accents and different ways of doing things can help you answer the hard questions.

If you are interested in attending University or College in the United States, the TOEFL may be right for you. Ithaca has many resources if you are interested. You can take a TOEFL preparation class through our partners at BOCES ESL and TLP or hire a private tutor through one of the universities. For more information, you can always call our ISP offices and speak with me.

– Allegra Lambert

Ithacan Immigrant: Alex


This week’s Ithacan Immigrant features Alex, who came to the US many years ago from Laos.  Alex is a cook at one of the local Asian restaurants Ithaca is so well known for.  We are helping him take the steps to become a US citizen.





ISP: Why did you come to the US?

Alex: My mother and father had already moved here and they had me join them.  There were more opportunities here.

ISP: Why did you decide to live in Ithaca?

Alex:  Because my family was here.

ISP: What was your first impression of Ithaca?

Alex: There was a lot of different ethnic groups, races and international students at the high school.

ISP: What is your favorite American food?

Alex: I would say chicken nuggets.  There’s a lot of stuff I like – cheeseburgers and a lot of steaks. 

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

Alex: GameStop – because I enjoy playing video games like Call of Duty.

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

Alex: When I was in Laos, things weren’t modernized; although they probably are now.    There were a lot of rice farms there, too, and rich soil. We also had a lot of fruit trees – mostly mango trees.  Over there I could just walk to my neighbors’ house and pick mangoes. I can’t find any mangoes here that taste like the ones in Laos.

When Temporary Protected Status Becomes a Legal Limbo


TPS imagesCALVPZ70editThe other day I met with Elsa (not her real name) who has had a lawful status in the US since the late 90’s thanks to Temporary Protective Status (TPS). The US enacted the TPS program through the Immigration Act of 1990 as a way to aid countries that were being faced by difficult but temporary conditions such as war, epidemics, or natural disasters.  This program created a process for foreign nationals to stay in the US if there were conditions in their homelands that prevented their safe return.  It also provided a way for foreign nationals, such as Elsa, to have the opportunity to live and work in the US without the fear of deportation, but only temporarily.

For 15 years now, Elsa has been doing what it takes to stay in good status as a TPS beneficiary. She undergoes criminal background checks, files tax returns, has to demonstrate she has good moral character, and she saves the fees (approximately $500) every times she needs to have her application prepared and filed. For the past few years Elsa has been coming to Catholic Charities for assistance with re-registering her TPS since it is valid for only 18 months.  Ithacan immigrants registered for TPS tend to be from Central American countries that have TPS designation: El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua.  The current list also includes Haiti, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, and Syria. As of yesterday, Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone were also added due to the Ebola virus outbreak.

While this temporary status safeguards Elsa from deportation or detention and allows her to legally work in the US, it also places her life in a legal limbo since she never knows when her status could be terminated. For 15 years she has had to live with the ambiguity that if her country is deemed safe to return to, her lawful presence in the US could come to an end. Every time I see Elsa, she asks me the same question – “Why can’t I get a green card?” After spending 15 years in good status, albeit temporary, I think this is a valid question.

TPS image

As depicted in the chart above, there are well over 300,000 TPS beneficiaries in the US.  The majority are living in urban areas but there are others who have chosen rural areas, such as Ithaca, to make their temporary home.  Similar to Elsa, they often have strong ties to their community and feel like they are in their permanent home.  The ones I have met locally are for the most part living humble lives as they work in relatively low wage jobs often as cleaners or housekeepers, as farmhands in rural parts of the county, or as cooks or dishwashers in Collegetown or downtown Ithaca.

Compared to the several million of undocumented immigrants who are waiting for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) or an executive action by President Obama to see if they can get relief from the fear of deportation and the opportunity to work with authorization, Elsa’s status is almost enviable.  For 15 years she has been shielded from deportation or detention and has been able to participate in the formal economy.  She was also able to get a driver’s license.  But the caveat is this is only temporary.  Therefore, as fortunate as her position may seem to some, the fact is unless there is some legislative change through Congress, Elsa won’t be eligible to get a green card anytime soon and will have to live in a legal limbo.

Even though their status says “temporary,” the roots TPS beneficiaries are putting down in the US run deep but unfortunately may not be safeguarded or permanent.   For many of them, repatriation to their former country isn’t a viable option, so they would be forced to go back to being undocumented and living in the shadows if their country’s designation is terminated.  They would have to leave the formal economy and move to the underground economy.  This is unsettling and that is why when someone like Elsa, who has paid her dues and is a contributing, law abiding member of our community, repeatedly asks “Why can’t I get a green card?” I, too, have to wonder, why not?

Sue Chaffee

Accredited Representative

Ithacan Immigrant: Thet


This week we interviewed Thet for the Ithacan Immigrant who is a former refugee from Burma.  She and her siblings accompanied their father to the US after he was granted refugee status by the UNHCR and the family was resettled in the US.  ISP helped all of them become US citizens.




ISP: Why did you come to the US?

Thet: Because my Dad had me come to the US with him.  I wasn’t staying in a refugee camp, but my father was.  When he got approved to come to the US as a refugee, he brought his children with him. 

ISP: Why did you decide to live in Ithaca?

Thet:  First I came to Houston to live and then moved to Ithaca.  I moved here because I married someone who was living in Ithaca.

ISP: What was your first impression of Ithaca?

Thet:  It was almost night time and I saw Cayuga Heights and the downtown and all the lights so it was very pretty.  I was on the hill and saw the downtown below us so my first impression was to feel surprised.  I never saw the beautiful lights like that before. 

ISP: What is your favorite American food?

Thet: Hamburger – I never ate a hamburger before, but in Ithaca, I eat them a lot. 

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

Thet: Wegmans.  They care about the customer service and put out nice food.  They always throw away the expired food.  The fruit always looks fresh.

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

Thet:  In Burma, we don’t have lights – we had to use candles and not electric lights.  We don’t have cooking gas – we had to use fire and sticks.  We had to go shopping about 3 miles from our house – we walked there every day and went to a market.  We didn’t have a refrigerator so we cooked two times a day the foods we bought.  We took showers outside because we didn’t have shower inside.  We had to carry the water from a small pond to our house.   


Winning the Lottery: Immanuel’s Story


Immanuel – getting resettled in Ithaca

Many Ithacan immigrants have received their green cards through the diversity lottery and have come to the US hoping to improve their lives.  A fair-share of the clients we serve at Catholic Charities entered the country on a diversity immigrant visa and had emigrated from countries from all corners of the world ranging from Cuba and Venezuela to Morocco and Nepal.   Earlier this month, Immanuel, a Liberian national who also won the diversity lottery, visited us to see if we could help him find employment.  It was at that time I learned more about his experience with the diversity lottery process.

The Diversity Immigrant Visa (DV) Program was established to diversify the immigrant population in the US and was part of the Immigration Act of 1990.  Thanks to IMMACT90, 50,000 visas are currently made available to immigrants residing in those countries considered to be under-represented in terms of how many of its citizens have been awarded immigrant visas to the US.  In countries where the diversity lottery is available, a great deal of excitement is generated every fall when the registration period opens.  According to Immanuel, this was certainly true in Monrovia, Liberia.

Immanuel had heard about the lottery for years through word on the street…. “I heard people talking about ‘DV, DV’ all the time they were talking about the ‘DV’ so I got a packet of information from the Embassy.”  To initiate the process, Immanuel went to an internet café and paid someone to help him go online and fill out the application.  “Everything was in English but you can pay those guys at the internet café to fill out about anything.  That’s their job.  I had to send everything to Kentucky – I never heard of Kentucky – but I had to send my application and my photo, and about $100 dollars USD in Liberia.  I mailed it in 2012; that’s when I applied for the DV.”

A year later, Immanuel got the news that he his application for a DV had been “selected” – the first step of many before someone actually becomes a lottery winner.  He then had to complete additional paperwork, meet certain eligibility requirements (e.g., have a high school diploma), and have an affidavit of support filed on his behalf by someone in the US.  It wasn’t until those steps (and more) were taken that he actually “won” the lottery.  At that time Immanuel said he was excited when he was accepted because his goal was to get higher education.  “In Monrovia I couldn’t afford to get educated – there is no work and no scholarships from the government.”


Immanuel volunteering in Liberia

Prior to winning the lottery, Immanuel described the lack of opportunity he was faced with in his home country.  He told about a life that included living in a small home where 15 other of his relatives resided.   While he went to work on a daily basis – he was often considered a volunteer and was rarely paid in cash.  “I was volunteering for the government.  I was sweeping streets for them and they would give us money to buy soap so we could wash our clothes.  Later on, I went to a Coca-Cola factory and explained my situation to them and they gave me a job.  At first I had to work for free, but after that they saw I had improved and they sent me to training to be a syrup technician.  After the training I would earn $2.00 USD a day.  But, I was not related to the boss so he finally let me go.  I then started to work as a volunteer at a school taking care of children during their recreation time.  For my work, they would give me soap and food to carry home.”

Two years after he applied, Immanuel’s diversity visa was issued and his green card began to be processed. Immanuel is thankful he is now in a place where he can start taking the steps to further his education.  Not only did he have luck on his side to make this happen, but he also had the collective effort of many people including the people who passed IMMACT90 into law in the first place, the internet café employee whose English was good enough to complete his DV application, and probably most importantly, the aunt who opened her US home to him, who also filed the paperwork necessary showing he wouldn’t become a public charge.

As I write this, Immanuel is busy resettling his life in the US and recently started a new job that we helped him land.  Even though the DV process can be complex and tedious, for immigrants like Immanuel who dream about improving their lives, the pay-off of winning the lottery can be tremendous.    For Immanuel, a long-held dream of studying engineering is now within reach.