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Immigration in 2020

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As we have reached the end of our fiscal year, IRC in New York and New Jersey will reflect on an unprecedented year of adaptation, growth, and emergency services for the new arrivals in our communities. IRC's immigration services is often the last step in a client's or household's journey with IRC, as eligibility for citizenshipnaturalization, family reunification, and other legal services often begins a few years after arrival in the US.

The immigration landscape has been volatile in recent years, absorbing the pressures of the asylum crisis and frequent policy shifts. Whatever the challenge, IRC's immigration teams in New York and New Jersey, both led by attorneys, reacted quickly and sensibly on behalf of IRC Clients.

In New York, 230 clients were served in FY20, largely in citizenship, greencard, travel document, work permit, and family petition services. These clients arrive from across the world, including Ukraine, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, El Salvador and Burkina Faso, among others. These high numbers are exciting, considering New York's transition to virtual services in March of this year. IRC was the first in the city to provide virtual naturalization workshops. This service was critical in advancing clients' immigration progress despite COVID-19 conditions. Virtual consultations used different formats to meet the needs and technology access of clients, including text, email, phone calls, paper mail and online platforms to ensure no interruptions in immigration services. A standout fact of IRC in New York clients is that 72% of all applicants are eligible for USCIS fee waivers, which means they are underemployed or unemployed, and most if not all are essential workers.

Sheila Moreira, the lead for NJ's immigration team, held Know Your Rights workshops and other public sessions before the transition to virtual services due to COVID-19.

Photo: Rocio Avila/IRC.

In New Jersey, 237 clients received immigration services in FY20. In addition to citizenship, naturalization, work permits, travel documents, and family based petitions, IRC in New Jersey launched legal orientations, referral assistance and pro se support to asylum seeking families. Pro se is a legal term meaning to argue on one's own behalf in a legal proceeding. IRC in New Jersey planned to launch in person pro se clinics for asylum seekers to learn how to represent themselves in court proceedings this spring, but these services adapted to virtual delivery following COVID-19 safety guidance. As a result, these clinics have become individual consultations with IRC's dedicated immigration team. IRC in New Jersey also assisted Central American Minor Program arrivals with legal orientations, work permit requests, and social security card petitions on their behalf. Prior to the pandemic, IRC in New Jersey began to expand naturalization support by offering civics classes and mock interviews for clients. The transition to remote work has necessitated a focus on reassessing and upgrading technologies and processes to better serve clients. IRC in New Jersey's partnership with International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP)-Rutgers Law School to provide an internship for law students interested in immigration law. 

Both New York and New Jersey has worked hard to keep up with changes in immigration policy, having to break bad news to clients about court delays, cruel new rules, and government created confusion and complications, all while transitioning to remote work and serving a population that has been disproportionately impacted. IRC immigration teams are tireless in the face of these challenges, and look forward to serving clients through whatever the future may bring.

Interested in supporting IRC's immigration work in New York and New Jersey? Donate or sophie.huang [at] rescue.org (subject: Immigration%20Volunteer%20Inquiry) (volunteer) with us!