Q + A with a Worker at the Immigration Center of York College

In the aftermath of the White House’s announcement to get rid of DACA, schools and universities throughout the U.S have stood by their decision to help undocumented students maintain their status as well as strive in their academic pursuits. York College is one of many CUNY schools that have offered those affected legal advice and counseling. In the Immigration Center, there are people eager enough to rise to the challenge in helping undocumented students. Eleinis Solis, a college assistant at the Center is determined to aid those students in their time of need.

 

PB: Tell me about yourself. What is your position and how long have you been working here?

ES: My name is Eleinis Solis and I am a 22-year-old college assistant. I just started working here in August. Also, I am currently a senior in John Jay University.

 

PB: How do you work with students?

ES: Well, we provide legal services, which are free to immigrants. We help them with citizenship and family-based petition cases. If you have a family member in the country and you want to petition for them, we help them with that. However, we only specialize in paperwork. We don’t represent them in legal matters.

 

PB: What is the Immigration Center trying to accomplish?

ES: We want to help the immigrant community as much as we can, you know. That’s why we provide legal services for free. There are a lot of immigrants that come to this country and they don’t have anyone that can help them. They don’t have any representation either.

 

PB: What common problems have you dealt with when it comes to immigration?

ES: With me, personally, I have only dealt with people who are undocumented, and they don’t any have legal representation or any papers. So, they come here, desperate, and tell us “Hey, I don’t have any papers or anything like that. How can I receive help?” and “I don’t want to go back to my country, all of my family is here.” We do as much as we can to help these people.

 

PB: How do you advise students who are juggling school while trying to maintain their citizenship status in America?

ES: To be honest, I don’t get that many students. But I will advise them and say: “Be strong and keep fighting”. Because I have friends who have DACA. One of them, she works hard and goes to school and I tell her that this is not the end. There are many things that we keep struggling and fighting for and it’s worth it. We cannot just stay sitting down.

 

PB: There are times when there are long lines at the Immigration Center.  Why is that?

ES: Oh, that’s because we made appointments on some days in person. But now, we’ve changed that, people can make appointments through the phone. Now, you don’t see as many lines anymore. We want to make it easier for people so they don’t have to come all the way here.

 

PB: What kinds of programs do you advertise to students to help them out?

ES: Well, we provide them with legal advice. A lawyer will sit down with them and tell them what their options are. CUNY Citizenship Now offers events on Saturdays to help immigrants do their citizenship for free. That’s all I know on the matter.

PB: Regarding current events, how do you think the issue of immigration is being handled as compared to a few years ago?

ES: I think, in general, people are more open now. We fought for our rights. I don’t know what things were like before because I just moved here five years ago. But, now, I see more people on the streets, fighting for immigrants’ rights and protesting unfair treatment.

 

PB: What inspired you to work with undocumented students?

ES: Well, when I came here in 2015 and started working with CUNY Citizenship Now, I had only lived here for three years. I came from Puerto Rico and I live with my aunt but she’s been living here for years. I’m telling you, it was frustrating. I was lost! I didn’t know the language and there was nobody around to help me. I felt discouraged in my first year of college that I wanted to leave. I remember I didn’t do so well in my first semester. A teacher came up to me and said I should go back to my country because he thought I would never succeed in college if I didn’t know the language. That’s why I wanted to do this. We, as immigrants, don’t know all the resources that are for us. There are many immigration stations that are free, but since some people are new here, they wouldn’t know that.

 

PB: When it comes to supplying undocumented students with resources, is the support strong at York College? Why or why not?

ES: At the center, we cannot provide legal advice. We can provide a lawyer who will inform them on what they can or cannot do, but that is all I know. In John Jay, they always email students, including those who are undocumented. The college informs them and says “Look, we have these programs now. You can go to this or that.” That’s what I like about John Jay. I feel they are doing that well.

 

PB: So, you think that York should be doing something like that to help undocumented students?

ES: Well, I believe so. I don’t know how they work with that. I don’t know if they send emails. But I think more could be done with better helping these students.

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