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Dozens attend Key to the City immigrant event in Jackson Heights

Community groups talk to immigrants at the Key to the City event in Jackson Heights. Photo by Queens Post

June 13, 2024 By Queens Post News Team

Dozens of immigrants attended a Key to the City event providing information about the community services and immigration law at Queens Public Library (QPL) Langston Hughes in Jackson Heights on Friday, June 7.

The event, organized by the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC), connected members of New York’s immigrant community with organizations providing essential services and information at the QPL building at 100-01 Northern Blvd.

Among the organizations to take part in the event were the Emerald Isle Immigration Center, the South Asian Council for Social Services (SACSS), the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore, Queens Community Justice Center and NYC Care.

Participants were also provided with free meals and essential products, including soaps and diapers, while a number of immigration attorneys held free consultations.

Liza Schwartzwald, Director of Economic Justice and Family Empowerment at the NYIC, said Key to the City events are “fantastic resourcing events” for immigrants of all backgrounds.

“We have lots of folks who don’t speak English as a first language but still really need to be connected to all the incredible services and resources that their community provides,” Schwartzwald said. “A Key to the City event has everything, from education resources, such as connecting folks to adult literacy and English-language classes, to legal clinics, where they can come and put in their temporary protective status application.”

Schwartzwald added that NYIC Key to City events provide information in over 15 different languages and said it is imperative that immigrants receive information in their native language.

“It is absolutely critical that communities, families and immigrants are provided with information in their preferred language, not just in a language that they might speak. We want them to receive information in the language where they are most comfortable and where they best understand exactly what is being shared. Sometimes something like a legal situation can be really, really complicated, even in your own language. So, it’s very important that when somebody comes in, somebody is actually speaking to them and translating into the language they best understand.”

She also said that events such as Key to the City can help immigrants overcome fears of approaching organizations offering essential services and said NYIC provides different free essential items depending on the time of the year. For example, the organization regularly offers free school supplies and backpack giveaways close to the start of the school year to aid immigrant families with children of school age.

Community groups talk to immigrants at the Key to the City event in Jackson Heights. Photo by Queens Post

Jodi Ziesmer, an immigration attorney who is co-director of the Immigrant Protection Unit at the New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG) has been participating in Key to the City events for about a decade and said they are crucial for providing guidance and advice to members of immigrant communities.

“It’s very challenging for people to have access to a free, non-profit immigration attorney these days,” Ziesmer said. “There are many different services in New York, but they’re very overwhelming, and oftentimes, people have to call just to get on a waitlist. It’s very hard to make appointments.” We pride ourselves on being available in the community. We accept walk-ins, as well as pre-registered appointments, and we give out free immigration consultations, which often leads to us accepting cases and helping people with whatever their needs are. We also provide resources in the languages of the communities that we’re serving.”

Ziesmer said U.S. immigration documents are published almost exclusively in English, making it difficult for immigrants who are not native English speakers. She added that events such as Key to the City provide easily digestible information in an immigrant’s native language, including information about immigration court hearings.

“Everything that the federal government publishes and gives to people is not only in English, but it’s also in legalese,” Ziesmer said. “There’s this really dense information, and so we try to pick out the really important things that people need to know. For example, how a person finds out if they have an immigration court hearing, because the paper that your hearing notice comes on is a dense paper.”

She said NYIC provides QR codes and website links providing access to legal resources in several languages, including lists of different legal service providers.

Key to the City events additionally help immigrants overcome fears of approaching community organizations, according to Sushmita Diyala, a senior manager of Health Services with the South Asian Council for Social Services.

Diyala said health concerns are among the most common issues that immigrants raise during Key to the City events across the city, adding that SACSS provides health access programs and health education in addition to assistance navigating health insurance for undocumented immigrants.

“We see a lot of issues, but the foremost thing we deal with is health concerns,” Diyala said. “For people who do not have immigration status, we help them find health insurance with NYC Care,” she added.

She said the organization collaborates with several other groups to ensure that immigrants get access to doctors and healthcare, stating that SACSS also provides assistance to immigrants seeking legal guidance and advice.

Darien Rodriguez of the Queens Community Justice Center said her organization uses Key to the City events to provide immigrants with information about the justice system in New York City.

“The Queens Justice Center, which advocates for alternatives for incarceration, such as anger management courses and jobs development programs, aim to inform immigrants about their rights in case they come across the justice system for the first time,” Rodriguez said. “It’s extremely important that we reach out to all people, including those who are not familiar with all the services that are available to them in Queens. We want to be able to reach as many of those people as possible.”

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