Empowering New Immigrants with Knowledge and Contacts

From my experience as a reporter covering the court system, the police beat and the Hispanic community, I realized that many U.S. immigrants can easily get on the wrong side of the criminal justice system. Or they end up as easy targets for fraud or abuse. They also can find it difficult to navigate pathways to achieve success.

My findings were reinforced when I surveyed the community for a class last spring and during the summer and listened to newcomers talk about the difficulties they experienced since arriving in the U.S.

I knew from the beginning of my Social Journalism program at CUNY’s Graduate School of Journalism that I wanted to work with new immigrant communities in New York City. To start I particularly focused to find information about the most affected communities and I found out that they were the Hispanic and Chinese communities.

I wanted to empower them with information to help them succeed in the new city why choose to be their new home.

Language barriers prevent many immigrants from learning about U.S. laws or figuring out where to go for help.

When I was working for a Spanish newspaper, beyond doing my job as a reporter, I often found myself calling government offices or city agencies to help people who were accident victims or targets of fraud or crimes because they didn’t know what to do or whom to call for help. I connected them to an agency or local elected official to help them. On other occasions, I served as a translator. Often they would call again for more help or advice on what to do next.

In recent months I have talked to immigrants for possible stories and about my project. One woman, who lives in Woodside, Queens, told me she has lived in New York for more than 15 years. Many years ago, her husband was a victim of a crime when their firstborn was still young. They got some help at that time, but he didn’t request to have the U visa, because he didn’t know it existed. The family missed the opportunity to become legal residents.

The U visa is a nonimmigrant visa which is granted to victims of a crime and their immediate family members. To obtained, the affected immigrants have to suffered substantial mental or physical abuse and are willing to help law enforcement with the investigation or prosecution of the criminal activity.


Another woman who has lived in Corona, Queens, for almost 11 years recently told me that she doesn’t speak English and doesn’t know the name of New York’s mayor. “I just work to survive,” she added while doing a manicure.

The last example that I want to use here is the man who was arrested three months after he came to live in Queens from Veracruz, Mexico. He was caught urinating in an empty lot and couldn’t explain himself to the police officer who didn’t speak Spanish. He has a criminal record; 15 years later he can’t legalize his immigration status.


This is an example of how new immigrants run afoul of the law involves public urination. In some South and Central American countries, it is common to see men urinate in the street. In the U.S., however, that is against the law. Now, a police officer who sees the offense will issue a ticket, and the person may be fined and sentenced to up to 10 days in jail and that becomes the start of a criminal record.

These stories and many others show that the language barrier, lack of knowledge of the United States laws, and lack of knowing where to go for help, negatively affect the immigration status of a person and it flinch them from the possibility of start a process of legalization in this country.

An Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) report on removals titled “Ice Enforcement and Removal Operations Report” for the Fiscal Year 2015 that was published on December 22, 2015, indicated that during that year 235,413 immigrants were removed from the United States, including 96,045 non-criminal immigrants.


These statistics show that many immigrants fall into the criminal justice system for non-criminal violations.

I strongly believe that if we empower immigrants with knowledge of U.S. laws and practices as soon as they arrive in the country, they will have a better chance of achieving success and staying out of the criminal justice system.

For this reason, the main goal of my project is to educate newcomers about how to avoid disobeying laws and how to get help if they need it. If it works, immigrants are not the only ones who will benefit; so will the criminal justice system. There will be fewer immigrants in court, in jail or deportation centers; less poverty, and newcomers will have a better shot at an improved quality of life.

Some may wonder if there isn’t already a lot of information for new immigrants, much of it in their native languages. But I’ve learned from talking to members of this community that some immigrants come to the U.S. only wanting to work and make enough money to go back to their countries. , Their priority is to find a job, maybe two, and send money home to their families.

In focusing on work, immigrants don’t give themselves time to go to government offices or organizations to get the information that might help them and some who are in the U.S. illegally fear they will be discovered and deported.

Two big problems that I identified in the community are fear of authority figures because of what they’ve heard about police abuse and a resulting lack of trust in the police and the media covering immigrants and police misconduct.

I have also learned that new immigrants engage in only limited use of social media. Most prefer to use mainly Facebook and WhatsApp. Facebook helps them feel connected to their families back home and share pictures, videos and activities. WhatsApp users like its free international calling to keep in touch with their loved ones.

My plan is to be the bridge between new immigrants and government offices, law enforcement authorities and other sources of information.

I will take existing information and collect more as a journalist and condense it on a website, AEIUS.org, which stands for Association for the Empowerment of Immigrants, U.S. I am creating a Facebook page, and I’m already organizing informational workshops.

The seminars are some in Spanish and others in Chinese to inform immigrants in general, because even though many immigrants live in the U.S. for many years, they don’t know or understand many things related with issues like: the criminal justice system (Police and Courts), the school system, the health system, etc.

I already have the domain name for the website, and I’m in the process of building the site. I will use it to publish all the information I gather from the government offices, elected officials and organizations. Also, I will be publishing my work as a journalist.

I am launching a Facebook page to promote the website, to announce the workshops and to build a closer relationship with my community.

Finally, I am organizing workshops to help immigrants learn about labor issues, business opportunities, immigration rules, educational opportunities and more. I am inviting to these workshops experts who can answer questions in their own languages, primarily Spanish and Chinese.

To start I will focus on Chinese and Hispanic immigrants in two neighborhoods in Queens: Flushing and Corona. Statistics shows that most of these residents are from China and Latin America. And the most common languages spoken in Queens, besides English, are Spanish and Chinese..

And the most common languages spoken in Queens, besides English, are Spanish and Chinese.

Through the three sources: website, Facebook, and the workshops, I will ask them to register to a WhatsApp list that will have ready to send them the personalized information in their own language.

Initially, the project will start functioning in Queens with the idea of expanding to the five boroughs and eventually, I hope to focus on helping immigrants throughout the United States.