Yearly Archives: 2017


One of the many services that we offer at Catholic Charities is assistance with the application for an Obamaphone. But what exactly is an “Obamaphone”?

Obamaphones are the informal name for what is actually the Lifeline program. This program was created in 1985 with the purpose of ensuring that every American had access to the benefits that come with having a phone (i.e. additional job opportunities, access to emergency services, and increased family connectedness).

Each household is limited to one free phone and you must match one of the points below to receive one:

  • receive SNAP (Food Stamps, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program)
  • receive SSI (Supplemental Security Income)
  • receive Medicaid
  • receive Section 8 (Federal Public Housing Assistance)
  • receive Tribal specific programs
  • receive Veterans pension and Survivors benefits
  • receive Income at or below 135% of the federal poverty guidelines (link)

One benefit of living in NY State is that residents here have additional ways to qualify. I have listed them below:

  • receive HEAP
  • receive Family Assistance
  • receive Safety Net Assistance
  • receive Free School Lunch Program

Here is a link to the NY State eligibility page: link.

Enrollment is relatively easy but there are occasional hang-ups. I personally assisted two clients recently. One had been attempting to enroll for 2 months but had yet to receive their phone. I was able to make a phone call and fix the issue with one well-placed call. Another client of mine was facing difficulties enrolling due to the spelling of her name. I was able to get a custom letter that confirmed her eligibility when normal routes did not and she has now received and activated her phone.

Are you interested in this program? Feel free to stop by Catholic Charities and either I or our service navigator, Ms. Michaela Cortright, can assist you with the application! We can also attempt to help smooth the enrollment process if you have already applied on your own but for one reason or another cannot complete the process.

I have also created a table below that provides information of the different benefits offered by each of the three major Lifeline providers in NY State.


Assurance Access

350 minutes

350 minutes 750 minutes

Unlimited texts

Unlimited texts

Unlimited texts

1 GB data 500 MD data

500 MB data

Coverage map


Coverage map

(Virgin Mobile)

Coverage map


Enroll here (online)

Enroll here (online)

Enroll here (mail)

Soren Klaverkamp



Ithacan Immigrant: Paula


This week’s Ithacan Immigrant features Paula, a Costa Rican national who is taking the steps to become a US citizen.  We first met Paula when she accessed our legal immigration services in 2013 in order to file an application to become a legal permanent resident.  She then returned this fall to access our citizenship services.    Paula also interned with ISP and is interested in pursuing practicing immigration law as a career.


ISP: Why did you come to the US?

I came here to visit my aunt and uncle and then eventually began to attend school.

ISP: Why did you decide to live in Ithaca?

Because this is where my relatives lived.

ISP: What was your first impression of Ithaca?

It reminded me a lot like my hometown, San Carlos.  I thought is was very green and everyone was friendly. 

ISP: What is your favorite American food?

My husband’s grandma’s foods – collard greens, fried chicken, mac and cheese, and banana pudding. 

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

Wegman’s – it’s the only place you can find the closest food to Costa Rican foods.  I buy yucca, plantains, Maggie, and good Costa Rican coffee.

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

The weather and the food. The weather here is a lot more extreme.  It’s extremely hot in the winter and extremely cold in the summer.  In San Carlos, it’s hot but we always have a breeze.  As far as the food, I grew up waking up at 5:00 am every day and my Mom always had breakfast ready.  She had rice and beans and platanos and a slice of cheese.  Over there we always had a big breakfast, a big lunch and then coffee in the afternoon with bread or tortillas.  Here, we are busier and have less time to prepare meals like my mom does in Costa Rica. 

Proof of Citizenship


When Zar (pictured above) attended a naturalization ceremony in Syracuse this past fall and took the Oath of Allegiance before a judge, she officially became a naturalized US citizen.  Because of immigration law, the moment Zar finished the swearing-in ceremony, her daughter also became a US citizen.  Under current US immigration regulations, her daughter satisfied all the conditions to derive citizenship: she was a permanent resident; at least one of her parents naturalized; she was unmarried and under the age of 18; and, she resided in the US in the legal and physical custody of her US citizen parent.  So instead of going through the lengthy qualification and application process that Zar went through to naturalize, her daughter got to ride on her mother’s coattails through the citizenship process.

Zar was able to leave the Syracuse ceremony with a citizenship certificate in her possession but she had no tangible proof that her daughter was now a citizen.  Like many other clients who we assist to become US citizens, Zar returned to get assistance in filing form N-600, Application for Certificate of Citizenship, for her daughter which is about a 9-month process.  I often meet with clients following their naturalization ceremonies when they have children who have derived citizenship.  Typically, they want to discuss how to get proof of their child’s citizenship – should they file form N-600 (like Zar did), apply for a US passport, or both?  While ideally the answer would be “both” it’s not always the most affordable choice.

Obtaining a US passport is the quickest and most affordable way to obtain proof of US citizenship; current fees range from $80 – $277, depending on the age of the child.  On the other hand, the application fee for a citizenship certificate is $1,170.  One saving grace for many of the clients we assist is a fee waiver can accompany the application and is usually granted if the family can prove they meet certain income guidelines.  For parents who do not qualify for a fee waiver and find that the $1,170 is not something they can budget for, it makes sense to only apply for a US passport.  The down side to passports though is they have expiration dates – citizenship certificates don’t.

The USCIS website makes it clear that parents do not have to file a Form N-600 for a Citizenship Certificate and doing so is optional.  However, parents need to factor in other information USCIS provides, specifically the following:

.…you may be required to submit your Certificate of Citizenship when attempting to apply for certain other benefits, including, but not limited to: Social Security benefits; State issued ID including a Driver’s License or Learning Permit; Financial Aid; Employment; and Passport Renewal.

I currently have clients who never obtained a citizenship certificate after they derived or acquired citizenship and have been told to obtain one when they tried to get Social Security benefits. Since it can be a 9-month process, it delays getting a benefit that is often immediately needed.  Additionally, since many of the clients I assist came to the US as refugees, they often lack the paper trail that is required to prove their identity since they most likely fled their countries without documents such as marriage and birth certificates.  Homeland Security has already vetted documents submitted by refugees in order to admit them to the US through the Refugee Admissions Program and USCIS did an additional vetting when they adjusted their status from refugee to legal permanent residents.  Therefore, taking the additional step in getting citizenship certificates for their children is something refugee parents who naturalize can do that will benefit their children in the long term.

Overall, my advice for US citizen parents who qualify for a fee waiver is to file an N-600 before their income level changes.  Although Catholic Charities charges fees in order to prepare and file the N-600, these fees are nominal.  I would also advise parents to obtain a US passport for their citizen children as soon as possible if they don’t plan on filing an N-600.  Having proof of citizenship is important and getting that proof shouldn’t be delayed.  And finally, for those clients I come across who need to gather the documents necessary to prove their parents naturalized prior to them turning 18, it can be a cumbersome process and they often question why their parent didn’t take care of this for them.  Fortunately for Zar’s daughter, her mother decided to get her her own citizenship certificate; a document that is coveted by many and has no expiration date.

Sue Chaffee

Accredited Rep


Ithacan Immigrant


This week’s Ithacan Immigrant features Zaye, who emigrated from Liberia to the US in 2001 through family reunification.  We first met Zaye in 2012 when she and her daughter came to ISP to get assistance to apply to become US citizens.  Like many other of our clients, they were eager to naturalize so they could vote in the 2012 presidential election.  Zaye recently returned to ISP to access our legal immigration services.


ISP: Why did you come to the US?

I came to the US through the refugee resettlement program because there was war in my country.  My parents were brought here by my sister during the war and then they sent for us.

ISP: Why did you decide to live in Ithaca?

I decided to live here because my sister and her husband lived here.  At that time, her husband was a professor at Ithaca College.  They helped my kids go to school to learn, read, and write English.

 ISP: What was your first impression of Ithaca?

Ithaca is a good place, especially if you have kids.  It had the best education for my children and for that I’m very grateful.

ISP: What is your favorite American food?

Thanksgiving turkey.  My brother-in-law makes that so good.  He stuffs it with a whole lot of things and we have a fine time.

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

Aldi on 3rd Street.  I still go there.  I like Wegmans but it’s expensive.

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

There’s a great difference between Tappita and Ithaca.  If I were to stay in my hometown after the war, it would have been difficult for my kids to go to school.  We wouldn’t have had the money to educate them.  Here, some of them have completed college, and some of them are still in college.  They had great opportunities by coming here.  All my kids are citizens now and they continue to work hard.  I taught them how to be independent and responsible.

TPS makes ethical sense for immigrants amid Caribbean recovery


A bipartisan group of lawmakers wants to protect immigrants in the U.S. from being deported to hurricane-battered islands in the Caribbean.  They petitioned the Trump Administration to grant “Temporary Protected Status” to immigrants from islands where, a month after two monster storms, basic life necessities remain in short supply.

With attention rightly focused on Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, thousands of people have also been displaced on islands outside the U.S.  Dominica lost most of its agricultural stock, and Barbuda is uninhabitable.  Rebuilding will take years, if not decades.

Nearly 4 million Caribbean immigrants, including many in New York, now face an uncertain future.  The Trump administration is deporting immigrants with no criminal record, including parents whose children are American citizens.  President Trump also threatened to end DACA, and deport youngsters who were brought here as children and grew up alongside American peers.

TPS provides a humanitarian alternative when it is too dangerous for immigrants to return. Conferred by the Department of Homeland Security, TPS offers temporary but life-saving protection from deportation. The program has been administered successfully since 1990.

TPS is rare and extraordinary.  Only 10 countries presently qualify, including Haiti, an island overwhelmed by record-breaking hurricanes, a catastrophic earthquake, and outbreaks of disease. Seven years after the 2010 earthquake, 38,000 people still live in squalid displacement camps.  Recovery, you see, takes time.

TPS does not encourage immigration or provide a back-door to citizenship. Typically granted for 6-18 months, only immigrants with a “continuing presence” in the U.S. qualify, subject to background checks and other requirements. New immigrants are not eligible.

TPS can be renewed, but only after input from the State Department and other interested parties.  Moreover, undocumented immigrants retain that status after TPS expires.

Importantly, TPS promotes development and stability,  thereby reversing the need for protection. Immigrants send much of what they earn working in the U.S. back to their country of origin. Liberia received $340 million annually, a full 25% of GDP, before TPS expired earlier this year. Remittances to Sierra Leone and Guinea also helped move those countries towards stability, and off the TPS list.

In the Caribbean, remittances already range from $9 million to $3.8 billion annually. Every one of those dollars and more will be needed to rebuild.

In Tompkins County, citizens and immigrants are one. We’ve adopted “Sanctuary” protection, established a “Rapid Response” network, and recognize Catholic Charities for the service it provides to all people in need, including immigrants.  Let’s build on this progress.

Call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121, and urge your elected officials to support TPS. Also encourage local lawmakers to take a stand so that our national legislators will prioritize local needs.

Our friends and neighbors from the Caribbean need us now.  Let’s be there for them.


Kathleen Bergin is a human rights lawyer who worked with disaster survivors on the Gulf Coast and in Haiti. She blogs at The Disaster Law Page.

Ithacan Immigrant: Pedro

~8958845This week’s Ithacan Immigrant features Pedro, a naturalized US citizen who was born and raised in Venezuela.  He originally moved to the US to pursue an internship at TC3 where he met his future wife who was from Ithaca area.  Pedro accessed our citizenship services in 2011 and came back this year to use our family-based immigration services so he could bring his son from Venezuela to the US.


ISP: Why did you come to US?

I was looking for a better life.  This is a nice country to live in – I feel very comfortable living here.  I like that it’s safe.  The only issue I have is the winter.

ISP: Why did you decide to live in Ithaca?

I applied for an internship and got accepted.  When they asked if I wanted to go to Ithaca I said, “why not?”  So, I came here in 2000 to go to TC3 and I met my wife who was studying there.

ISP: What was your first impression of Ithaca?

I actually forgot about the first time I came to Ithaca.  One day I was in the Johnson Museum at Cornell and I could see the lake.  I realized I knew that lake, I had some memory about it so I asked my mother about it.  I had forgotten I had come to New York in 1981 for a summer camp (in Roscoe, NY).  We came to Cornell for a field trip.  My memory was erased.

ISP: What is your favorite American food?

I love Subway – I like their roast beef sub.  Cold.  I’d like to put ketchup on it but they don’t serve ketchup there. 

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

I like the Commons.  I really like going to Simeon’s.

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

The weather is so different.  Here everything is green – there it’s so hot.  In Venezuela we always have weather that’s over 85 or 90 and for 5-6 months there’s no rain.  It’s also dirty there.  In Ithaca when it is spring I always say everything is a happy green and then as soon as Labor Day passes, it turns to a sad green.


Burmese in Ithaca

Nat Geo Burmese Refugees

Source: National Geographic Proof story on refugees in Boise, Idaho

One major factor that plays in to where refugees are sent in the US is whether there is a pre-existing population in an area. Longtime residents of Ithaca are probably aware of the sizable Burmese population that has been resettled in Ithaca since the 1990’s. Now that refugee admissions have resumed and the Rohingya crisis is gaining attention I thought it would be helpful to provide a little more information on two critical aspects of the resettlement process and how they affect Ithaca’s chances of welcoming Rohingya to its diverse community.

Pre-existing populations:

Preexisting populations, or local capacity, is crucial to successful resettlement. Arriving in a new city in a new country is made substantially easier if you can quickly link in with individuals you identify with. The large number of ethnic groups within Burma means that the ethnicity of a Burmese refugee could play a more important factor in resettlement than it would for, say, a Cuban refugee. The Burmese population in Ithaca is made up of primarily Burman and Karen ethnic groups, 2 of the roughly 168 ethnic groups living in Burma. These two group are substantially different from the Rohingya. Karen live primarily along the eastern edge of the country, speak Karen and Burmese, and practice Theravada Buddhism and Christianity. Their so-far-unsuccessful push for self-rule began in 1949 after Burma gained its independence and has resulted in large numbers of civilians fleeing to Thailand for refuge. The Burman population began fleeing the country after protests against the military regime in the late 80’s resulted in a widespread government crackdown on dissidents and their families.

The Rohingya have always been viewed as outsiders. They generally occupy the lowest rung of Burmese society and have faced continuous persecution from the government and other Burmese since the 1962 coup d’état. They have faced difficulties obtaining citizenship since Burma’s independence and have categorically been denied citizenship since 1982. The Rohingya practice Islam, primarily use an alphabet written with Arabic lettering, and generally do not speak Burmese. They live in the western state of Rahkine and flee to Bangladesh for refuge. Many recent reports from Burma show that there is a deeply rooted distrust of Rohingya throughout Burmese society.

This historical animosity between the Rohingya and other Burmese means that Rohingya would most likely not benefit from the pre-existing Burmese population as much as one might hope.

Executive factors:

The refugee admissions process was resumed October 25th but the presidential determination set the admissions cap at 45,000. This is the lowest number since the program began and less than half of last year’s determination. This cap is segmented by region and East Asia, the region that includes Burma, has a cap of 5,000. Since 2007 Burmese resettlement has been at least 13,000 individuals per year (excluding 2017). Those numbers speak for themselves.

New refugee admission requirements will also make it more difficult for Rohingya to come to the United States. Previously, an applicant had to submit phone numbers, addresses, and other information on themselves going back five years. This has now been extended to every member of a refugee’s family tree (including those living abroad) and will go back 10 years. This would be a challenge for many US citizens to do and could be impossible for those who have lived under duress for decades. The follow to join program has also been temporarily suspended. While only 2000 such family members came through this program last year, Ithaca has already been the recipient of one such case. The suspension of that part of the admissions program makes it even less likely that Ithaca will continue to see Burmese arrivals in 2018.

Soren Klaverkamp

Case Manager, Immigrant Services Program


Ithacan Immigrant: Angie


This week’s Ithacan Immigrant features Angie, who was born and raised in the Dominican Republic.  After emigrating to the US, Angie lived in Long Island and then eventually moved to upstate New York.  She originally came to ISP for our family based immigration services and more recently for our citizenship services.


ISP: Why did you come to US?

I came here for vacation but I found someone here so I stayed.

ISP: Why did you decide to live in Ithaca?

We came to Ithaca to visit my family and we liked it so we decided to live here. 

ISP: What was your first impression of Ithaca?

It was quiet, relaxing, and I was pregnant so I was thinking about it being safe.

ISP: What is your favorite American food?

Philly cheese steak – I like the ones at Casa Blanca cause they’re not too greasy.

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

Walmart.  It’s not too expensive and you can find everything you need.  Every time I go to buy 3 things I come out with 20.

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

A lot of things are different but mainly 3 things – stability, safety, and good economics.  Ithaca and this country gives me what my own country didn’t.  

Let’s Not Forget TPS

Image Border Editor:

Earlier this year, the Trump administration began hinting at doing away with Temporary Protective Status (TPS) for immigrants from several countries around the world.  Foreign nationals from countries that are pretty much inhabitable or unsafe due to natural disasters (such as Haiti) or civil strife (such as Sudan) have been told they should no longer consider the US a safe haven and that it is time to make plans to go back home.  According to the USCIS website,

The Secretary of Homeland Security may designate a foreign country for TPS due to conditions in the country that temporarily prevent the country’s nationals from returning safely, or in certain circumstances, where the country is unable to handle the return of its nationals adequately.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be up for debate what “returning safely” means.  The current administration’s hardline approach to ending programs such as DACA and the Central American Minor’s (CAM) Program where a compassionate, humanitarian mindset is necessary, makes it come to no surprise that TPS is next in line.  The 13 countries listed here currently have TPS destination.  Two of them have been on the list for over a decade.  El Salvador (16 years) and Honduras (17 years) have been deemed unsafe by previous administrations resulting in foreign nationals from both countries becoming long-time residents of the US.

Because of TPS, approximately 325,000 foreign nationals are able to reside in the US and are afforded limited but valuable perks such as work authorization and freedom from deportation.  But this past summer Homeland Security began signaling it was going to focus its efforts on prompting TPS beneficiaries to begin to self-deport when over 50,000 Haitian TPS recipients were only given the opportunity to extend their status for an additional 6 months, instead of the 18 months they had hoped for.  This  created a wave of concern about the overall fate of TPS and whether it was going to follow a path similar to the CAM and DACA programs.

The overwhelming majority of TPS recipients are nationals of El Salvador (204,000) and Honduras (61,000).  From my experience, the majority of local TPS recipients are from those two countries, as well.  Foreign nationals from both countries have had to prove they have resided continuously in the US for over 15 years to renew their status and therefore often have deep roots in the communities they have resettled in.

For example, the other day I met with a Salvadoran woman who has had TPS since 2001. For almost two decades she has worked and lived in Ithaca and she is determined to stay.  She has close ties within our community which include her place of employment, her children’s school, her church, and neighborhood.  She, like many other TPS recipients, came seeking legal counsel because she keeps hearing on Spanish-language radio stations the program is doomed.

I also have Honduran clients who have been TPS recipients since the late 1990’s.  In the past, they have been hopeful to one day get a green card but now they are are living in fear of not knowing what’s next.  For over a decade, TPS has allowed them to get work permits and find jobs where they have benefits such as health insurance and sick pay.  They are nervous and feel desperate about what the future holds for them.  They fear they might lose their jobs and eventually have two choices: repatriate or risk remaining as undocumented immigrants where they are vulnerable to deportation and will have to work without authorization.

It’s time to transition some of the long-term TPS beneficiaries and provide them with a legal immigration status.  Ideally, it’s time to pass a bill like the DREAM Act of 2017  which advocates for a legislative solution for both DACA and all TPS recipients.  Immigrants and immigration advocates need to be vocal about including TPS in their advocacy.  Add your voice by contacting Congress today; Interfaith Immigration Coalition (IIC) has already prepared this script that you can follow on their website.  While I fully support Congress finding a solution for the Dreamers, we shouldn’t forget about the immigrants in our community with TPS.

Sue Chaffee

Accredited Rep

Willing to Work

Group of Diverse Multiethnic People with Various Jobs

Towards the end of President Trump’s statement on the repeal of DACA he says that the current dysfunction of our immigration system is to blame for a victimized American workforce. He then goes on to promote the RAISE Act, which aims to curtail immigration by 50% through the revision of four admission processes: refugee admissions, the Diversity Lottery, family unification, and the permanent employment visa system.

One major factor behind this renewed push is the often repeated sentiment that many immigrants and refugees who come to the United States arrive unskilled and/or lack English abilities which in turn makes them a drain on the economy. The RAISE Act would codify this sentiment in to law by creating a points-based admissions system that places an inordinate value on current English ability and demonstrated skill. Many, including Senator Jeff Flake (AZ-R) who recently published an Op-Ed in the New York Times, hope that Congress will figure out a way to take in to account the difficult-to-quantify factor of an individual’s work ethic. I would like to add my voice and personal experience to this chorus.

Through my work, I have met Ithacan immigrants and refugees with a variety of work histories: midwives, laborers, school teachers, and doctors. Rarely have these clients been able resume their former profession upon their arrival in the US. They have had to enter in to low skill positions and careers that require little training and are often repetitive (dishwashing, uniform folding, and cleaning are common occupations). These jobs can wear an individual down, causing them to lose faith in their mission and vision. But the clients I interact with regularly defy this possibility. They have built their resumes, not through formal training or re-certification (which can be costly in a number of ways), but by showing up, working hard, and staying positive. This dedication has proven results. Catholic Family Center, a sister organization in Rochester, boasts  75% retention rate after 90 days in their Refugee Employment Services, a figure that is reflected nationally (pg. 5).

One of my clients was an electrician in his home country. Due to lack of English and the myriad of difficulties associated with re-certifying here, he is postponing his reentry in to his former field to focus on the basics of building a life for him and his family in the US. This is centered around building a US work history and learning English. He has taken all of this in stride while simultaneously ensuring that his family’s needs are met. Employment and ESL commitments mean he will soon be spending 12-hour days away from home. He is also considering weekend work.

Another client of mine was a respected teacher in his country of origin. He taught math, coached soccer, and mentored students. When he came to the US he started out washing dishes and is now a dish room manager. He misses teaching and hopes to return to the profession one day, even if it means a temporary pay cut.

A third client of mine studied tourism administration outside of the US and hopes to bring her expertise to bear in Ithaca’s robust tourism industry but has so far been unable to do so. To remedy this, she travels from Dryden to Ithaca every weekday to practice English and will soon work a third-shift cashier job to support herself.

These stories are a small insight in to the determination and value that immigrants and refugees bring to our country. I agree that our immigration system needs fixing but it is important that when doing so we make sure not to discount someone for their perceived lack of abilities. The American dream is built around an individual’s reliability, versatility, and work ethic – not their ability to speak English or obtain an employment contract with a US company. Let’s keep that dream alive.

Soren Klaverkamp