City Tech’s Free Immigration Clinic Has Track Record of Preparing Clients to Become U.S. Citizens

November 22, 2005 | New York City College of Technology

Brooklyn, NY — November 22, 2005 — Within the next few weeks, thousands of immigrants from around the world will be celebrating in Brooklyn. Why? They will be coming to New York City College of Technology (City Tech) — selected by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to be the site for swearing-in ceremonies — to complete the naturalization process and become citizens.

On each of the three dates chosen for the ceremonies — November 28, December 12 and 27 — several swearing-in sessions will be held at the College’s Klitgord Auditorium in Downtown Brooklyn. City Tech is an appropriate site for the happy occasions as it participates in The City University of New York’s (CUNY) Citizen and Immigration Project. According to Project Chair Allan Wernick, “The project was established to help our permanent resident students become U.S. citizens. It is part of The City University’s continuing commitment to offer educational opportunity to all.”

Concetta I. Mennella, Esq., who has served as City Tech’s citizenship coordinator since 1994 and chairs the College’s Department of Law and Paralegal Studies, states that approximately 500 people are expected to attend each swearing-in session. “We’re so pleased to have been asked to host the ceremonies,” she says. “The events provide a unique opportunity for the students who volunteer in our Immigration Clinic and assist clients in every way imaginable to see the fruits of their labor.”

The City Tech student volunteers provide a wide array of services to those who visit the clinic — they inform clients of the many requirements for naturalization (for example, age, residency, moral character, knowledge of English and U.S. history), they review with them sample USCIS history and civics questions, provide lists of free legal service providers and CUNY resources, give assistance in completing forms and explain fee requirements. They also help applicants deal with Lawful Permanent Resident status and such related matters as visas, sponsorships and green card eligibility.

“They even take the photographs required by USCIS,” Mennella adds. “At the swearing-in ceremonies, the students will have the satisfaction of helping people make the final transition to actual citizenship. What a happy ending to a year of hard work!”

Most of the student volunteers who work in the City Tech Immigration Clinic come from the College’s paralegal studies and human services programs. Open five days a week from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the clinic provides all of its services free of charge.

Janet Velez, who earned her bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies at City Tech and works at the clinic, speaks enthusiastically about the work done there. “We seek ways to make people eligible for citizenship,” she explains. “If a person doesn’t come from a qualifying country, we check out their parents’, spouses’ and siblings’ countries of origin for possible sponsorship.

“Immigration attorneys charge three-to-five thousand dollars for the very same services we provide at no charge,” she continues. “Here at City Tech, we started out helping mostly students from our College but now the vast majority of our clients come from the larger community.”

According to Mennella, of the five colleges participating in the CUNY Immigration Project, only City Tech offers an American Bar Association-approved bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies. “This means that our volunteers are more experienced in legal research and can therefore offer greater assistance to clients,” she says. “It’s a win-win situation. By benefiting the community, students are learning valuable skills and are also benefiting themselves.”

Indicative of the program’s success, from January through October 2005, 1,059 clients were served. There was a surge in applicants during the fall, when the USCIS selected applicants by lottery to participate in the interview process. One recent client, Shatamba (who only wanted her first name used), a City Tech student from Antigua, explained why she didn’t come to the clinic until mid-November: “Now that I’m nearing graduation, I realize that I’ll soon be looking for a job and I know that employers will consider U.S. citizenship an important criterion for employment,” she says. “I couldn’t put it off any longer.”

Because Professor Mennella has recently become chair of the law and paralegal studies department, she has turned over management of the clinic to professor Mary Sue Donsky. “We serve a huge contingent from the Caribbean countries,” says Donsky, “and quite a few immigrants from China and India, as well. Over the next months, we’ll be increasing our efforts to get the word out to those groups to come here to take advantage of our excellent service. Our telephone number is 718.260.5597, and we look forward to hearing from anyone in need of assistance with immigration matters.”

New York City College of Technology (City Tech) of The City University of New York is a recognized national model for urban technological education and a pioneer in integrating technology into the teaching/learning experience. The largest public college of technology in New York State, City Tech enrolls more than 12,000 students in 56 baccalaureate, associate and specialized certificate programs in the technologies of art and design, business, computer systems, engineering, entertainment, health care, hospitality, human services, the law-related professions, occupational and technology teacher education, and the liberal arts and sciences. Another 14,300 students enroll annually in adult education and workforce development programs, many of which lead to licensure and certification. Located at 300 Jay Street in Downtown Brooklyn, City Tech is at the MetroTech Center academic and commercial complex and is convenient to all public transportation.

Contact: Michele Forsten or Dale Tarnowieski at 718.260.5109 / mforsten@citytech.cuny.edu or dtarnowieski@citytech.cuny.edu