State to Unveil New Immigrant Office, in Time for Reform

For César Perales, the Office of New Americans makes New York State a pioneer in developing initiatives for immigrants. (Photo by Humberto Arellano/El Diario-La Prensa)

While Washington decides the fate of immigration reform, New York State is moving ahead with an initiative to help the millions of people who stand to benefit if new legislation is approved.

The Office for New Americans (ONA), one of the projects with which Gov. Andrew Cuomo intends to strengthen New York’s progressive spirit, will officially open its doors very soon.

According to Secretary of State César Perales, ever since the project was approved in 2012, the state has worked with grassroots organizations to create a network of services for immigrants. Services will include “free English classes, preparation for citizenship, and assistance in starting small businesses.”

About 27 ONA centers will support more than a million New Yorkers who are eligible for naturalization, the project promises. Perales didn’t say when the project will take off officially, but since October 2012, organizations like Make the Road New York (MRNY) and New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC) have been testing the program. The YMCA created six pilot programs in areas like Chinatown, Prospect Park, North Shore and Flushing.

“This office is a good framework for building the capacity we need to offer critical services to immigrants, especially if immigration reform is approved,” said Karen Kaminsky, deputy executive director at NYIC, an alliance of more than 200 groups that support immigration reform.

The network will pay legal consultants who will provide advice and training on immigration matters at ONA sites. Overall, the ONA will have a budget of $3,440,000.

State funds were approved so the ONA can help MRNY support around another 500 families at each site in Long Island and Queens.

“This will allow us to expand the services we were already providing and focus on issues related to deferred action,” said Theo Oshiro, deputy director of health and workforce development at MRNY. “In addition, the project will connect us to other organizations so we can plan on delivering the help in a more innovative way. ”

Perales, who asserted that New York will be a pioneer by putting an initiative of this kind into action, thinks that ONA will be key in these times of immigration reform.

“Now that the federal government is paving the path for citizenship, these services will benefit everyone.”

During the 2013-2014 fiscal year, besides raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.75, Cuomo has put forth ideas to stimulate economic development. Perales said that in Cuomo’s job creation strategy, he will guarantee funding for work training programs in community colleges, which will benefit the thousands of undocumented students who attend these institutions.

Nevertheless, Perales justified Cuomo’s silence on the NY DREAM Act, a state bill that would provide financial aid to undocumented college students. Perales said that Cuomo prefers to wait for the federal government to take action on the issue.

“No one believes that he won’t sign the DREAM Act if the legislature approves it,” Perales said. But it will be difficult given the Republican opposition in the Senate, he added.



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