Author Archives: ccttispblog

Ithacan Immigrant(s): Jamileh and Maral

This week’s Ithacan Immigrant features Jamileh and Maral who emigrated to the U.S. from Iran in 2012.  This mother-daughter duo came to Catholic Charities to start the process to become U.S. citizens.  They concurred on most of the answers shown below but like most, they had differing answers when it came to shopping and favorite American foods.

ISP: Why did you come to US?

We like the US because it is a free country.  We are free and people respect living together.

ISP: Why did you decide to live in Ithaca?

Our aunt was living here so that’s the reason we came to Ithaca.

ISP: What was your first impression of Ithaca?

It felt like home, it was very friendly.  We felt like we were coming to a country city.

ISP: What is your favorite American food?

Jamileh: Macaroni & cheese.  Maral: Pepperoni pizza.

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

Jamileh: Wal Mart because everything is there and it’s cheaper than other stores.

Maral: TJ Maxx because I like the fashion and you can find a lot of decorations for your home.

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

When you come here it is so quiet.  Our country had a lot of traffic, it was busy and very crowded.  People were always running around.  People here are relaxed and it’s quiet.


Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office Offers Public Support for Driver’s Licenses for All

In December we shared a blog post discussing the Green Light initiative, which supports a bill that would allow all New York State residents, regardless of immigration status, to obtain a standard New York State driver’s license. Governor Cuomo’s counselor, Alphonso David, appeared optimistic about the future of the legislation at the time, suggesting that the proposed Driver’s License Access and Privacy Act would likely pass in the 2019 legislative session. Now, local leaders are contributing to the conversation by voicing their support and urging the governor to act.

The push for this legislation in Tompkin’s County and Ithaca in particular is not new. At the same time Ithaca reaffirmed its status as a sanctuary city in 2017, Common Council unanimously passed a resolution in support of issuing driver’s licenses to all New York State residents. Two years later, Tompkins County Sheriff Derek Osborne and Undersheriff Jennifer Olin have also publicly advocated for action. In their public statement addressed to the Governor and the New York State Assembly, they pledged their support of the mission of Green Light NY and called for the Governor to “take immediate action.”

The letter also outlined the reasons for which they believe all immigrants should be granted access to this state-issued ID.  According to these leading law enforcement officials, equal access to driver’s licenses has many practical implications for police and first-responders. Possessing a valid driver’s license facilitates their work by increasing the ease of identification, for example. States who have implemented similar laws have also seen a reduction in both unlicensed and uninsured driving.  Importantly, the Sheriff’s letter (below) highlights the role of the legislation in supporting their key principles of equality, trust, and public safety.

February 1, 2019

Esteemed Governor Cuomo and Members of the New York State Senate and Assembly:

As the duly elected sheriff of Tompkins County, I fully support the mission of the Green Light NY: Driving Together Coalition and urge New York State to take immediate action to provide equal access to driver’s licenses for all New Yorkers, regardless of immigration status.  

With the ability to access proper and legal state-issued identification, witnesses and victims of crimes will more readily report and cooperate with police. Law enforcement will be able to use licenses to verify the identity of motorists during stops and review traffic records.  Other first responders and healthcare providers will be able to identify the individuals they assist.

New Mexico, Washington and Utah – states with the longest implementation of similar access to driver’s licenses laws – have seen a reduction in accidents that involved unlicensed drivers. New Mexico saw its rate of uninsured drivers drop from 33 percent to 9 percent after they granted access to licenses for all New Mexicans.  

Without access to licenses, many immigrants are unable to purchase, register, and insure their own vehicles. As a result, they face major barriers to meeting the most basic needs of day-to-day life: traveling to work, school, grocery shopping, medical appointments, and places of worship. Out of sheer necessity, many immigrants drive without licenses, putting them at odds with law enforcement, undermining trust between police and immigrant communities, and increasing the risk of a traffic violation.  

As a law enforcement official, my number one concern is public safety and restoring access to driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants is key in us achieving that goal.   

Once again, I urge you to give a green light to driver’s license legislation for undocumented immigrants in our state!


Derek R. Osborne, Sheriff

Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office, February 1

Paige Cross, ISP Case Manager/Job Developer

Family Reunification and Family Reunions

Carlos visiting his mother in Ecuador

I often meet with clients we have assisted to become U.S. citizens who want to bring family members to the U.S. through family reunification. The new citizens often return to access the immigration legal services we offer at Catholic Charities to petition for family members with the majority seeking to bring one or both of their parents to the U.S. as green card holders. In these past few months we have assisted clients reunify with parent(s) from several countries including Peru, the Dominican Republic, Ukraine, Russia, and Liberia.

In 2015, I met with Carlos (pictured above) who scheduled a meeting seeking advice on how to bring his mother to the U.S.  At the time, he was a legal permanent resident, so we discussed how he had to first become a U.S. citizen in order to petition for her. Carlos then put a plan in motion that included him getting naturalized, his mother getting her green card and even involved plans for him to host a big family reunion in the U.S. that would include his mother and two sisters. For someone who was in their late 20’s at the time, this was quite an ambitious goal.

Petitioning for a parent to come to the U.S. can often be a huge undertaking.  It’s a costly process and requires gathering a lot of evidence about who you are and who they are, as well as showing you can financially support them once they arrive.  It also requires working closely with the emigrating parent(s) to make sure they are prepared for their consular interview. 

Fast forward to the present. Carlos is now naturalized, has an approved alien relative petition, and is in the final stages of fulfilling the requirements needed for the National Visa Center to contact the Ecuadorian Embassy in Guayaquil so they can schedule his mother’s consular interview. The more I meet with Carlos, the more evident it becomes how deeply he cares for his mother. I’ve heard in the past how much Ecuadorian men love their mothers, and Carlos is no different. So much so, that I asked him to tell me more about their personal story and why it means so much to bring her here. 

I decided to bring my mother here because I want to take care of her.  I don’t want her to have to work or to pay any rent because she spent so many years taking care of me and my sisters.  My mom is such a hard worker.  When I was younger, she used to work selling food in a little kiosko.  She would work from 4:00 in the afternoon and not finish until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning.  At that time, I had to stay home with my two younger sisters taking care of them. 

My mom has had such a hard life.  She was married to my sisters’ father and he was an alcoholic.  I saw a lot of things I shouldn’t have seen.  She even lost a house at one point.  There was a crazy rain and the house cracked and she had to demolish the house.  My mom put all her savings into paying the house off because she had taken out a loan so then we moved into one of her uncle’s homes where we would live almost 3 years because she was so broke.  We got on our feet and eventually when I was old enough to work and I tried to help her out.  She got divorced and she met another man and they dated for 5 years but things didn’t work out and after that, my mom decided to stay single. 

I eventually moved to the US because my father was living here and he sent for me.  But awhile back, my mom started having problems with her arm.  For years, she would carry two 50-pound bags, one in each hand, and had to walk about a mile carrying that weight.  This injured her arm so the doctor told her she had to stop working.  When I found that out, I told her I wanted to take care of her.  That’s when I came to Catholic Charities to ask about how to bring her here.    

One of the main things I want when my mom comes here is I don’t want her to have to work outside of the home.  I want her to stay home, take care of the house and cook.  I’m 30 and want to have a family.  Here having a family is expensive because of the babysitting.  When my mom is here, she will take care of her grand kids and this could make her happy.  So, my job is to take care of my Mom and she can take care of her grand kids.

I was in Ecuador when I got the message from you that my mother’s case was approved.  We were both really happy.  She’s excited to come here – she has other family in the U.S. and she is excited to see them.  Plus, she wants to be with me.  My mom suffered a lot and I’ve always appreciated what she did for us.  Even though she didn’t have money she was always there for all of us.

My dream for the future is to have a family reunion with my mom and my sisters in the U.S.  She always taught us family comes first so now I am ready to do for her what she has always done for me. 

Sue Chaffee

DOJ Accredited Rep

Ithacan Immigrant: Julian

For this week’s Ithacan Immigrant, we interviewed Julian, who emigrated to the US from the DR when he was a teenager. Julian spent time in New York City before moving upstate and resettled in nearby Horseheads, NY. We first met him and his family when they came to ISP to access our immigration legal services.

ISP: Why did you come to US?

I was 16 years old and my mom brought me to the U.S. to study.

ISP: Why did you decide to live in upstate New York?

I’m a tailor and I work for a large company.  I was hired by Men’s Warehouse in Horseheads and have lived in this area for 5 years.

ISP: What was your first impression of upstate New York?

I moved to this area and my first impression was “this looks like camp.” It was so peaceful so right away I forgot about the city.  There’s a silence here and it’s small.

ISP: What is your favorite American food?

It’s something I love to cook myself – it’s a casserole with shrimp, cheese, broccoli, and celery.  My wife and daughter love it.

ISP: Where is your favorite place to shop?

I like the Horseheads Mall. I love how you can go inside and have so many stores to shop in.

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

They are so different.  Like the food – in the DR you can get meat, rice and beans, avocado and tostones everywhere you go.  It’s not like that here.  Another difference is here you feel freedom and there it is dangerous. I really appreciate living here because I’ve made some friends like I’ve never experienced. Like my tax guy, he is so good to me. And the people at work. I have a lot of friends who are customers or other workers.   I’m going to stay here forever.

Driving While Undocumented: About the Proposed Driver’s License Access and Privacy Act

Not an Ordinary Traffic Stop

Carlos Cardona Fuentes

Carlos Cardona Fuentes, an undocumented farmworker and activist pictured here with his daughter, is facing deportation for driving without a license (Photo Credit: NY Daily News)

Just two weeks ago, Carlos Cardona Fuentes appeared in immigration court in Buffalo, New York, facing deportation.  Fuentes, a father, dairy farmer, and undocumented immigrant from Guatemala, has lived and worked in the United States for nearly a decade.  In September, as he was driving home to celebrate his daughter’s 3rd birthday, he was pulled over in a routine traffic stop. However, when he could not provide a valid NYS driver’s license, the police turned him over to immigration authorities.  Fuentes was held at the Buffalo Federal Detention Center in Batavia, NY for five days and was released on a $10,000 bond. Not only did he miss an important day for his family, but he now risks being separated from his wife, young daughter, and the life he has made here in New York.

New Licensing Legislation

While Fuentes’ case is one of the many that pass through the “pipeline of deportation” created by traffic stops in New York state, his is particularly interesting. In a twist of irony, Fuentes is the vice president, co-founder, and prominent organizer of “Alianza Agricola,” an organization that aims to prevent cases just like his by advocating for

Alianza Agricola

Members of Alianza Agricola help lead the Green Light NY campaign for drivers licenses for all New Yorkers (Photo Credit: @AlianzaAgricola Twitter)

legislation to provide access to driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants in New York. Alianza Agricola is a grassroots organization led by farmworkers and is one of several organizations and immigrant advocate groups that have called on the New York State Assembly to pass what is known as the “Driver’s License Access and Privacy Act”, also known as the “Green Light Legislation” (A. 10273).  With the passage of this act, New York would join the twelve other states (California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Vermont, and Washington) and the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico that have recognized and addressed the need of undocumented immigrants to secure driving privileges.

Expanding Access  

It would not be the first time that New York would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain a NYS driver’s license. In fact, it wasn’t until 2002 when Governor Pataki made it a requirement to have a valid Social Security number in order to apply for one that undocumented immigrants were barred from possessing a state-issued driver’s license. Now, if the Driver’s License Access and Privacy Act passes in the 2019 legislative session as many speculate, it would give the green light to an estimated 250,000 eligible undocumented immigrants residing in New York to apply through the Department of Motor Vehicles for a standard driver’s’ license. While this license will differ from the REAL ID issued for federal purposes, the DMV will not indicate or record whether a Social Security number was among the documents used to satisfy the requirement for valid identification. This is an important part of the legislation aimed at preventing discrimination against and identification of individuals who possess this limited purpose “standard driver’s license,” including their citizenship or immigration status.

Standard License v Real Id

Undocumented immigrants would be able to get standard licenses. Unlike REAL ID licenses, they won’t be valid for federal purposes. (Photo Credit: Green Light NY)

What to Expect

Fortunately for Fuentes, his case has been deferred until March 12th, which means he does not have to worry about being deported quite yet; in the meantime, thousands of other undocumented drivers are running the same risk on the road every day as they wait for the laws to change. If the Driver’s License Access and Privacy Act passes, undocumented immigrants like Fuentes will no longer have to live in fear of detention, deportation, and family separation while carrying out their daily activities. Especially in rural and suburban areas or areas with limited public transportation, the ability to drive seems to be a necessity, rather than a privilege, as it is essential to work, attend school, and provide basic necessities such as food and medical care. So what else can we expect from this legislation? Here are some of the many projected benefits of extending licenses to undocumented immigrants:


  • Security in the form of a valid, statewide form of identification and license to drive
  • Fewer family separations
  • Increased job opportunities and improved working conditions
  • Reduced fear during daily activities
  • Increased independence from not having to rely on others for transportation needs


  • Increased safety through the requirement of road and vision tests; the ability to register one’s car and purchase insurance; and freeing up more police and court time for more urgent matters of public safety   
  • Increased visibility, activity, and community integration of undocumented immigrants
  • Interestingly, California has even seen an increase in organ donations!


  • Estimated $57 million increase in annual revenue from registration fees, sales taxes, gas taxes; additional $26 million in revenue from one-time licensing fees, car purchases
  • Estimated $8.6 million increase in annual revenue for public transportation in NYC
  • An increased supply of workers to all sectors
  • Greater economic participation through employment and the ability to register for credit cards and bank accounts

Paige Cross

ISP Case Manager

Learn More

Read the details of the bill here

Fact Sheets:


Ithacan Immigrant: Stephen

This week’s Ithacan Immigrant features Stephen, a Ghanian national, who came to the US in 2014.  Stephen recently accessed our immigration legal services and we assisted him in becoming a legal permanent resident.  One thing he revealed during this interview is he can speak 9 languages!


ISP: Why did you come to US?

I came here basically because of my ex-wife.  She asked me to come to the U.S. on a fiancé visa so we could live our life together here.

ISP: Why did you decide to live in Ithaca?

This is where my ex-wife was living at the time.

ISP: What was your first impression of Ithaca?

It’s a nice place. It’s very small but that’s okay. When I first came here I remember thinking it was a friendly city and everyone was very welcoming here.  The hospitality they give to everybody who’s not from here made me fall in love with Ithaca.

ISP: What is your favorite American food?

Mac and cheese. I never had it before coming to the U.S. but now I make it at home.

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

I like Ithaca Mall.  There’s a lot of stores there so you can literally get anything you want there.  My favorite store would be Best Buy because you can just go in there and play music, play games, whatever you want.

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

I can say the biggest difference is here, most people speak one language.  In my hometown, Takorado, Ghana, people speak at least 3 main tribal languages.  I speak about 9 languages because there are about 50 tribal languages in my country. We have 1 major tribe language (Fanti) but people from other tribes live there so there are 3 languages.  I learned the other languages from relatives, friends, and school.  I learned English in school.  English is the official language for the whole country.


Ithacan Immigrant: Delta

This week’s Ithacan Immigrant features Delta, a Laotian national, who came to the U.S. through family reunification. Delta is currently attending TC3 and is taking the steps to become a U.S. citizen.

ISP: Why did you come to US?

I came because I wanted to get a better education and there’s more opportunity.

ISP: Why did you decide to live in Ithaca?

I moved to Ithaca because my mother lived here.

ISP: What was your first impression of Ithaca?

My first impression was it looks almost like Paris, France. It’s a small, cute town.

ISP: What is your favorite American food?

Chicken wings – I usually go to Casablanca.

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

I have lots of places I like – sometimes I like TJ Maxx, I also like thrifting. I go to Trader K’s and and other thrift shops like the Salvation Army.

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

The people. People in my home time have personal relationships – I feel like people in the U.S. are more distant. People here are more focused on their own business. People in my country are focused on everyone’s business – you jump in and help a family member.

This is What Democracy Looks Like


I will like to say thank you all of you guys for coming to our citizenship ceremony today!! 😊😊 may god bless you all of you. 🙏🏼🙏🏼🙏🏼🙏🏼❤️❤️

I was happy to see the message above posted by Eh K’Pru, one of our citizenship clients, expressing her gratitude to everyone who attended yesterday’s citizenship ceremony.  Thirty new citizens were sworn-in as U.S. citizens at Tompkins County Court House, including Eh K’Pru and her mother, Ah Ku.  Earlier, I had left the courtroom where democracy was certainly in the air especially after a song was performed where the musicians and audience had a back and forth chanting:

 Tell me what democracy looks like!  This is what democracy looks like!

A lot of memories will stay with me because of yesterday’s event.  I’ll remember seeing Eh K’Pru and Ah Ku walk to the front of the courtroom wearing Karen traditional clothing and shake the judge’s hand as they were handed their citizenship certificates.  I’ll think of how grateful I felt for the group of instructors, staff, and tutors from BOCES Adult ESL Program and Tompkins Learning Partners who surrounded the two for a photo op to remember this momentous occasion.  This group of women (pictured above) can be credited for engaging the two in years of classroom instruction and one-on-one citizenship tutoring in order for them to become new citizens.  This is quite an impressive feat!  And I’ll recall how nice it was to see a long line of ESL students file into the courtroom one-by-one to show support for their classmates who were about to be naturalized as U.S. citizens.

Also, added to my memory  bank will be how yesterday’s ceremony was just one day after the 2018 mid-term elections (where the House went back to the democrats). Democracy was still in the air and was illustrated by elected officials giving speeches that encouraged the new citizens to assert their right to vote in future elections.  Members from the Kiwanis Club of Ithaca were also in the lobby just outside the courtroom door where voter registration forms were being offered to the new potential voters.  The theme of democracy played throughout the entire ceremony and will be as memorable as this year’s mid-term elections were where record-breaking numbers of people turned out to vote.

Congratulations to Eh K’Pru and Ah Ku and hopefully in 2020, we’ll see both of them wearing “I Voted” stickers on election day as they assert one of the best perks that comes along with being a U.S. citizen, the right to vote.

Sue Chaffee

Accredited Rep





Call to Action: Oppose the Proposed Public Charge Rule


It’s time to submit a public comment on the public charge rule.

On September 22, 2018, the Trump Administration posted a proposed rule changing the definition of who may be considered a “public charge” in the U.S. The full document can be read here.  Individual immigrants who are looking to maintain or obtain legal immigration status will be severely impacted by this change in policy if it is implemented without changes. Not only is the government proposing to expand the list of public benefits that could prevent immigrants from acquiring legal immigration status but it is also looking to deny applications based on various factors such as age, health, family status, financial status, education, skills and employment history.

Immigration advocacy groups are warning that entire households will be harmed, as there is no way to target individual immigrants without hurting their children and families. Fears are being stoked and reports of immigrants avoiding healthcare are being reported both locally and nationwide.  For example, Tompkins County’s  Mom’s program (Medical Obstetrical and Maternal Services) has reported a steep decline in the number of foreign national pregnant women seeking their services which can potentially result in critical services, such as prenatal care, not being accessed.

But the public has been given an opportunity to fight back by commenting on the government’s website. While the public comment period has been open since October 10, 2018, it doesn’t end until December 10, 2018 so there is still time to take action.

This tweet posted by @cliniclegal (Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc.) has a great tutorial on how to navigate the website in order to submit a public comment. At this moment in time, close to 5,000 comments have been made regarding the  proposed changes to the current public charge ground of inadmissibility and hopefully that number will exponentially grow.  CLINIC has also created a list of sample comments that can be personalized.  Keep in mind that identical comments will be automatically filtered out. 

I oppose the proposed rule “Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds” because:

  • I object to this proposed rule, which is essentially a wealth test for hardworking immigrants striving to achieve the American Dream.  It has not been proven that the new public charge tests immigrants would have to pass, such as a credit history check, English proficiency, or education, have any actual bearing on their potential.  They seem more like barriers to prevent less affluent applicants from entering.  No changes should be made, and the current definition of public charge should remain in place.
  • No family should have to make the choice between immigration status, stability and protection or receiving public benefits that keep their families fed, healthy and sheltered.  This proposed rule would hurt families and the communities they live in, forcing localities to try to meet these vital humanitarian needs through social services, if any are available.
  • Public benefits exist to help all hardworking families in America who need a little assistance to make ends meet.  Placing this insurmountable barrier between immigrant families and the safety net could have disastrous effects on these families.  Affected immigrants with manageable chronic conditions may be forced to abandon their health coverage, such as Medicaid or Medicare, in order to protect their families, leading to reliance on emergency rooms and other public health consequences.
  • In addition to the societal consequences related to families affected by the rule, the rule’s chilling effect will make the resulting crises even greater.  Immigrants afraid that the rule may apply to them or affect their status in the future may withdraw from benefits, impacting the health and well-being of their family members and communities.
  • The proposed rule is inhumane, affecting families’ ability to access SNAP in order to get the adequate food and nutrition they need in order to maintain immigration status.  Hunger and malnutrition affects a person’s ability to focus, function, and fight off disease.  Hunger is already a serious problem in the United States.  A proposal to add to this epidemic is against the public interest and the progression of our society.

Comments must be submitted in English and if you do not want to include any personal information, a friend or representative can submit a comment for you. As the header on the website says….

Make a difference. Submit your comments and let your voice be heard.

Sue Chaffee

Accredited Rep


Finding Work – An Answer to a Prayer


Jose completing new hire forms

I first met Jose at the end of June when he came to Catholic Charities for immigration legal services.  At the end of his appointment, we were introduced so I could provide him with assistance in finding a new job.  Jose was working 11 hour days/7 days a week and was hoping to find a job that had better hours and better pay. He was also referred to me because he had limited English proficiency and needed help finding new employment despite having a language barrier. Little did we know that less than one week later his workplace would announce that they were closing their doors; in August they began their first round of layoffs.

When asked about how he felt when he found out that his employer for over 7 years was closing, Jose said: “I was a little surprised, but I was hopeful because I had just come here to look for a new job. I had faith that I was going to get another job because of my faith in God and because of the help I’ve received [at Catholic Charities] before.”

 Over the course of two months, I helped Jose apply for nearly a dozen janitorial or manufacturing positions at companies in Ithaca. While we waited to hear back, we practiced understanding and answering common interview questions, first in Spanish, then in English. He was invited to interview for three positions: one at Cayuga Medical Center, one at Ithaca College, and another at Ithaca City School District, where he has been gainfully employed since mid-September as a custodial worker.

For Jose, finding work was, as he says, “an answer to his prayers.” He says that he is content and has learned fast, even though this is the first time he has done work exclusively in cleaning. Jose describes himself as neat and organized, which is evident even down to his elegant penmanship! When I asked him about his new job, he described the sense of satisfaction it brings him:

When I finish cleaning a room, I stand in the doorway and look at the entire space from one side to the other.  I like to survey the work I’ve done. When I see that the room is clean, I can say to myself that I’ve done a good job. That makes me feel good.

Of course, starting a new job always comes with its share of challenges.  Jose told me that one of the reasons he comes to Catholic Charities is because we have always helped him overcome challenges in the past.  According to Jose, “the first time I came here I received help with my citizenship. I’ve had help with learning English and with getting my health insurance. Catholic Charities has helped me get my mom to the United States and  I am getting help to bring my wife. And now I’ve gotten a new job, thanks to you. I am happy. I’m eternally grateful to you.”

Jose also said that since his English is minimal, our help with completing all the employment and immigration paperwork is important. We have navigated through human resource paperwork from background checks and fingerprinting to insurance enrollment and investment planning. Together, we have even received financial counseling on how to rollover his 401k to a 403b and how to choose sound options so that he can continue investing in his future.

In the past few months, Jose has overcome many obstacles aside from the sudden closing of his workplace. His English tutor passed away, his mother’s health has deteriorated, and his car was damaged in an accident. Despite this, he remains as characteristically optimistic and hard working as ever. He likes that he doesn’t have to work on holidays now, but still volunteers to cover shifts for his coworkers and work extra hours on the weekends.  He is also eager to learn more English and plans to start taking ESL classes in the morning at TST BOCES before work.

Paige Cross

Job Development/Case Manager