April 30, 2014 | Events, In the Media
Guttman Community College is proudly hosting Citizenship NOW! for the third year. The 12th annual Citizenship NOW! hotline is co-sponsored by the New York Daily News and the City University of New York (CUNY) to provide free and confidential citizenship and immigration information to thousands of callers. It is the largest program of its kind in the nation. This year’s weeklong hotline will operate from Monday, April 28, through Friday, May 2, between 9:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m., with more than 400 trained volunteers available by telephone over the course of the week. Calls will be 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.
Citizenship NOW! 2014 kicked off on April 28 with many of New York’s most influential public officials in attendance. Jay Hershenson, CUNY Senior Vice Chancellor and Secretary of the Board of Trustees, provided warm introductions for each of the visitors. Charles E. Schumer, the U.S. Senator from New York who has attended every Citizenship Now! event, was the first speaker. Senator Schumer stressed the importance of immigration to America during its history and was hopeful that the Immigration Reform bill will be passed by the end of the year. “I want to let you in on a little secret. We are going to pass that bill and sign it into law this year,” said the New York Democrat, one of the authors of the Senate immigration bill, to wide applause.
From its founding City University has always been dedicated to educating immigrants noted CUNY Interim Chancellor William P. Kelly, who thanked Jay Hershenson and Allan Wernick, Director of Citizenship Now!, for the program’s “potent force of good.” Citizenship Now!’s co-partner, the New York Daily News, supported this sentiment. Editor-in-Chief Colin Myer exclaimed, “It is a great privilege to be a partner in a program like this, the most comprehensive immigration partnership program in America.”
The three following speakers extolled the economic benefits of immigration. New York State Secretary of State Cesar A. Perales explained how New York’s Office for New Americans is supporting immigrants with 26 offices throughout the state that offer free English language instruction, preparation for the immigration exam, and entrepreneurship classes. New York City’s Office of Immigrant Affairs Commissioner Nisha Agarwal addressed the financial implications of immigration, observing that “Citizenship is a tool for expanding economic opportunity. It is a strategy to advance all of New York together.” Arturo Vargas, Executive Director, National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), summarized immigration’s broad benefits to the country: “Immigration is about one thing-making America strong.”
New York City Council President Melissa Mark-Vervito then took the podium to praise the beneficial work of Citizenship Now!, commenting that it is “…important for immigrants to have a trustworthy partner.” She noted that July will mark the City Council’s second year of partnership with Citizenship Now! and that the City Council will begin hearings about providing photo IDs to city residents to help overcome institutional barriers to citizenship. The Council President then sat down to handle an immigration call.
The morning kick-off event was also honored to have Sandra Fuentes-Berain Villenave, Consul General from the Mexican Consulate in New York, make a brief address. The Consul General pointed out that volunteers from the Mexican consulate will be assisting the call-in event. She then explained how the Consulate is working to ensure Mexicans in New York become more engaged citizens and more of a presence in the state through a variety of initiatives, such as the Mexican Consulate on Wheels program that is delivering IDs to Mexicans in the city.
Brief comments were then made by two of New York’s leading businessmen, who also are immigrants themselves. John A. Catsimatidis, CEO of Gristedes Foods, is one of the founding supporters of Citizenship Now!. He remains a strong proponent of immigration reform and only asks that “…immigrants love our country.” Mortimer Zuckerman, Owner and Publisher of the New York Daily News, then commented that he is “…always happy to be part of the process that nurtures immigration.”
In introducing Mayor de Blasio, Jay Hershenson hailed him as a national voice on immigration reform. Mayor de Blasio praised CUNY for “…always doing something wonderful for your fellow New Yorkers. CUNY has always been extraordinary in its commitment to uplifting people.” Noting that over 500,000 New Yorkers are undocumented residents, the Mayor exclaimed to great enthusiasm that the city will establish a municipal photo ID card that all New Yorkers could use, even those without legal immigration status, to make it easier to navigate life in the city, such as opening bank accounts.
This year’s Citizenship Now! hotline is particularly timely, as immigrants eagerly await immigration reform. To date, nearly 124,000 callers have sought information from the hotline as they navigate the complex road to citizenship.
About the Citizenship Now! Call In:
The Call-in was a vision shared by Jay Hershenson, Senior Vice Chancellor for University Relations for the City University of New York (CUNY) and the former Editor-In-Chief of the New York Daily News. Together, they approached immigration attorney and Daily News columnist Allan Wernick to organize the event. Professor Wernick has directed CUNY’s Citizenship Now! since its founding in 1997.
Since 2004, the annual CUNY/ Daily News Citizenship Now! Call-In has provided over 123,000 callers with free, confidential information on immigration issues ranging from U.S. citizenship to residency to family petitions. Hundreds of volunteers participate in this event each year, many of them trained by CUNY Citizenship Now! Call-in volunteers include immigration attorneys, paralegals, advocates, and others who share a passion for immigration issues. Prior to each year’s Call-In, full-day training sessions are run for all participants. The training covers the basics of immigration law and familiarizes volunteers with the publications and resources available to them during the week. In 2013 over 380 volunteers assisted 13,311 callers in 48 different languages.
In addition to widespread recognition, the Call-In has generated support from the New York business community. This year’s sponsors include Cisco, Presidio, Gristedes, Stella and Charles Guttman Community College, John Jay College, the New York City Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (MOIA), the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), the Legal Aid Society, the International Rescue Committee, the CUNY Law School, the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), the New Americans Campaign and the New York State Office for New Americans (ONA). Univision and WABC-TV are the event’s media partners.
View photos of Citizenship NOW! Call-In 2014.