April 9, 2015 | Participant Stories

Citizenship NOW! call-in will again help immigrants to become citizens

This article was written by New York Daily News reporter Erica Pearson and appeared on the New York Daily News on April 22, 2014. Photo by: CUNY Citizenship Now!.

Carolina Solano at Citizenship Now!'s office

Brooklyn mom of three Carolina Solano became a U.S. citizen this spring — swearing an oath of allegiance in federal court — thanks largely to a call placed to the Daily News a year ago.

The Honduran-born life insurance agent’s journey to American citizenship received a big boost when she dialed the Daily News/CUNY Citizenship NOW! immigration call-in center for help with paperwork.

“They helped me a lot. We went step-by-step,” said Solano, 43, of Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Solano joined Daily News and City University of New York leaders Wednesday to thank hundreds of volunteers as they prepared to answer calls for this year’s Citizenship NOW! hotline, running from April 28 to May 2. The hotline will be open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

“This would not happen without you. Every single one of you is on time, you’re dedicated, you’re really helping people,” Daily News Editor-in-Chief Colin Myler told the volunteers.

“We are honored to be a vehicle to help you.”

This year, the News and CUNY will host the 12th annual call-in, giving free and confidential citizenship and immigration information. The hotline is headquartered at Manhattan’s Guttman Community College.

For the first time, a Los Angeles call center run by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials will also take overflow calls.

Attorney and Baruch College professor Allan Wernick, who runs CUNY’s immigration legal services program and writes a twice-weekly immigration help column in the News, says this year’s call-in is especially vital.

“With immigration reform stalled, people need this kind of help that we’re providing at the call-in more than ever,” he said.

Undocumented immigrants can’t yet look to reform for a straightforward path to citizenship, but they may have other legal options, Wernick said before the John Jay College of Criminal Justice training session.

“Not everyone’s going to qualify, but for those who do, we’re here to help,” he said.

Baruch School of Public Affairs student Angelica Martinez, 28, a Colombian immigrant who lives in Douglaston, Queens, thanked CUNY lawyers for helping her secure a work permit after years of uncertainty.

Since the Citizenship NOW! call-in began, volunteers have helped more than 123,000 callers from New York City and around the country, organizers said. It’s the largest program of its kind in the nation.

“The fact that Citizenship NOW! is perceived clearly and widely in a tremendously prominent way is a testament to the work of everyone here,” said CUNY Senior Vice Chancellor Jay Hershenson. Liana Antonenko, 43, a case manager at Catholic Charities Community Services, decided to return for a sixth year as a call-in volunteer, she said Wednesday.

“I’m an immigrant helping immigrants,” said Antonenko, who emigrated from the Ukraine eight years ago and lives in Hells Kitchen.

During Wednesday’s training, volunteers — including lawyers, paralegals and law students — brushed up on topics like citizenship eligibility and family-based immigration rules, as well as tips on call-in procedures.

More than 400 volunteers are expected to participate in this year’s call-in, answering phones in English and Spanish, as well as scores of other languages, from Arabic to Yiddish.

Daily News President and Chief Executive Officer Bill Holiber thanked the program’s sponsors and volunteers, and told them: “It feels great when you’re out there helping people really make it here in the United States. It’s a very exciting opportunity for so many people.”

Getting assistance last year has made a big impact in Solano’s life, she said.

Immediately after becoming a citizen, she rushed over to the nearest U.S. Post Office and registered to vote.

“I want to vote to select a public official who is willing to help my community,” Solano said.