Reaffirming the University’s longstanding commitment to providing public service and assisting immigrant communities, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo joined CUNY administrators, students, faculty, community leaders, state and local officials and 350 volunteers at the 13th annual New York Daily News/CUNY Citizenship NOW! Call-In, where thousands of New Yorkers received help with immigration issues.
“This is a beautiful testament to what CUNY is all about,” said Cuomo at the Citizenship Now! Call-In launch held at Guttman Community College. “It’s about higher education, it’s about teaching, learning, but it’s also about making a difference and a spirit of activism and involvement and that is exactly what CUNY is doing today.”
Cuomo also remarked on public education’s important role in educating immigrants and transforming them into great leaders. He noted how his grandfather, Andrea Cuomo, immigrated from Italy and raised a son named Mario who was educated in public schools and would become New York’s 52nd governor.
“Immigration is a good thing, immigration brings in new people with new talents, new cultures, and they add to society, they bring a new asset to society, they don’t detract, look at New York,” Governor Cuomo said. “We made New York the greatest state on the planet by welcoming people and using their strengths and we are still doing it aggressively, that’s the message that you send nationwide today. That is how we have made New York the greatest state on the planet.”
The weeklong call-in campaign, which was first held in 2004, provides free and confidential citizenship and immigration information to thousands of New York City residents. To date, nearly 136,000 callers have received information from the hot line as they navigate the often complicated path to citizenship.
“Great public universities such as CUNY are deeply committed to providing public service that improves the quality of life of our people,” said Chancellor James B. Milliken. “Our enduring partnership with the New York Daily News and all of the co- sponsors of the annual call-in is an important example. The call-in will help thousands of newcomers navigate the immigration maze on the path to U.S. citizenship, consistent with CUNY’s longstanding tradition of welcoming students who hail from countries throughout the world. We are proud to contribute through this vital program to the betterment of our city, state and nation.”
Citizenship NOW! organizers and immigration advocates predicted that this year’s hot line would be one of the busiest because of recent actions threatening to stop the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA program, which seeks to shield up to 5 million people from deportation.
In February, a federal court judge temporarily halted President Barack Obama’s executive order to expand the DACA program. In response, the administration appealed the injunction, leading to an April 17 hearing by a three-judge panel at the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. It is unclear when the panel will issue a ruling.
“Our goal for the Citizenship NOW! call-in is to empower immigrant New Yorkers,” said CUNY Citizenship NOW! Director and Baruch College law professor Allan Wernick. “Immigrants can’t wait for Congress and the courts to find them a path to citizenship. They need help now.”
Wernick said callers who may qualify for deferred action will be directed to a citywide event scheduled for May 16 to prepare potential applicants and screen them for other immigration benefits. Organizers estimate that more than 500 people will be assisted on that day alone.
Chairperson of the CUNY Board of Trustees Benno Schmidt said: “Our weeklong telephone outreach campaign is consistent with our mission of serving immigrants, migrants and the sons and daughters of newcomers to our country. CUNY’s effort also includes campus and neighborhood-based Citizenship NOW! outreach to immigrants. Last year, our outreach operations served more than 12,000 future American citizens in addition to the almost 13,000 who joined the call-in.
“We make this inclusive commitment to citizenship because it is the morally right thing for a public university to do. In addition, it acknowledges the reality of The City University of New York’s student body – an impressive group of more than 274,000 degree students and 218,000 adult, continuing- and professional-education students who hail from more than 205 countries.”
Citizenship NOW!, the largest program of its kind in the nation, was established in 1997 to address the growing need for free citizenship and immigration services among CUNY’s foreign-born students, faculty and staff.
Responding to high demand for these services in other communities, Citizenship NOW! soon expanded to serve all New Yorkers. Under the leadership of Wernick, who is also a New York Daily News columnist, the organization has grown into the country’s largest university-based citizenship and immigration law service provider with nine centers throughout the five boroughs of New York City.
The call- in campaign began in 2004 with a vision shared by CUNY Senior Vice Chancellor for University Relations Jay Hershenson and former New York Daily News editor Martin Dunn. Together, they approached Wernick to organize the effort.
This year’s weeklong hot line operated from April 27 through May 1, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., with more than 350 volunteer lawyers, community leaders, CUNY students, faculty and staff answering phones and providing confidential information to thousands of callers.
At Guttman Community College, two classrooms were converted into call-in centers. Calls were answered in English and Spanish, as well as numerous other languages, including; Mandarin, Cantonese, Russian, Korean, Italian, Haitian Creole, Bengali, Polish, French, Yiddish and Arabic.
Although the event started modestly, the call-in has evolved into a high-profile New York event that draws notable figures. This year, some of the leaders who visited included U.S. Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.