More Venezuelan Asylum Seekers in NYC

Sari Renjifo with her 4-year-old son Richard Cardona in their home in Woodhaven, Queens. (Photo by Leila Miller via City Limits)

As the Venezuelan economy continued to crumble last year and the government of President Nicolás Maduro pursued its crackdown on the opposition, the number of Venezuelan fleeing the country and seeking asylum in the U.S. grew. In August of last year, the Pew Center reported that asylum seekers from the South American nation had doubled from the previous year.

Leila Miller writes in City Limits about the experiences of some of these recent migrants to the U.S., who have settled in the New York City area. Sari Renjifo told her about the numerous threats her husband received in Venezuela, which culminated in his being kidnapped and beaten on his way home.

“We were always frightened,” says [Sari] Renjifo, recalling that she had been too scared to even go grocery shopping.

Renjifo didn’t realize that her family could be eligible for asylum until they met Guillermo Nolivos, an attorney in Manhattan who currently has about 40 Venezuelan asylum cases. Nolivos says that he sees viable cases in about half of Venezuelans who approach him for asylum.

“Some clients are coming because they are being discriminated against, they lost their jobs because they’re working in government-owned corporations and once the government knows that they do not support the government they are fired, or these people are forced to leave their jobs,” he says.

An estimated 10,000 or so Venezuelans live in New York City, according to the 2010 Census.

Recent Venezuelan immigrants in New York City have found a small community to lean on. A handful of organizations like Diálogo Por Amor a Venezuela try to create a support network, offering resources through social media, word of mouth, and a WhatsApp group.

Rosa Bramble Weed, a Venezuelan clinical social worker who attended the meeting in the church, explained in a phone interview that unlike other Latino immigrants, Venezuelans are dispersed throughout the city.

“They’re starting from scratch,” said Weed. “These [Venezuelan] groups are attempting to create a space of mutual support and information, networking – most importantly for people that come here and feel very desperate.”

Go to City Limits to read more stories from recent migrants, and why some community leaders worry that some asylum applications may be denied.

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