The rhetoric against the immigrant community that for the last few weeks has been gaining a foothold impels me to share with you a positive message that reflects the values of the residents of New York. New York is home to the Statue of Liberty. It’s here that we show – more than in any other place – that we are all immigrants. In New York there is not just one race, one religion, one ideology. Here we are aware that our diversity strengthens us and makes us stand apart in the world.
It is gratifying to know that we have the unconditional support of the Governor of New York, Andrew M. Cuomo, who has worked hard to offer assistance and guidance to the new American community in New York. He knows that here we work together, live together and accept that we are all part of the same community. As Governor, he knows that we are an integral part of the 19.7 million residents that make our state one of the most thriving and progressive in the entire nation. In New York we know that diversity is progress, not our enemy.
In Queens, the most diverse borough of New York City, we can find that almost half of the population is foreign born. Out 2.2 million of residents, 1.1 million people were born outside of the United States. People from China, Ecuador, Mexico, Guyana and Dominican Republic make the majority. However, we can find many other nationalities in its neighborhoods, making Queens the socio-cultural quilt that everybody admires.
In New York State we welcome all. That is why New York has the Office for New Americans, with its network of 27 Opportunity Centers whose mission is to facilitate the integration and participation of new Americans into the family of New York. These centers offer English classes, legal assistance on immigration, civics classes, and workshops to start or grow your own business – in sum, a whole gamut of services that facilitate integration into a society with millions of examples of progress. The Office for New Americans Hotline number is 1-800 566-7636.
In New York we go beyond just offering advice. We do all that is necessary to help immigrants. Last year the Governor announced a program to offer citizenship free of charge to 2,000 immigrants. NaturalizeNY is a program that has had much success. Many people have indicated interest and we are working tirelessly to help them and guide them in the process to obtain citizenship. The application for American citizenship now costs $725. This cost, for many, represents one week’s salary and cannot be paid easily. Now, through a lottery, the state and private organizations offer a fund to cover the processing costs to those who wish to become a permanent part of the social fabric of the United States.
In addition to creating the Office for New Americans, Governor Cuomo has directly supported new arrivals. Recently this has indicated through the creation of an operating group for the defense of the targets of hate crimes against immigrants. You can call and report hate crimes or human rights violations at 1-888-392-3644.
Just a few weeks ago when detaining and deporting refugees was on the table, the Governor immediately offered legal assistance to those affected. Now they all can contact the state directly through a hotline, and thus avoid falling prey to unscrupulous people who ignore the law or who may want to take advantage of immigrants even though they may have all necessary legal documentation. The number for this hotline is: 1-888-769-7243. The hotline is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and also offers interpretation services.
In New York we do not build walls. We build dialogue, help and guidance. New York is our home and the home of all. In New York we do not have fear, we do not believe in discrimination. We do not accept it. Here we believe in the ideology of those who founded this nation: This is the nation made for immigrants by immigrants.
(Rossana Rosado is New York State Secretary of State)