By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Sunset Park’s vitality is due in part to its strong immigrant communities, according to the lawmaker who represents the neighborhood in the City Council. Councilwoman Sara Gonzalez (D-Sunset Park) said the neighborhood is home to large numbers of immigrants from Asia, Central and South America, the Middle East and Eastern Europe and that people from various cultures give the community a wonderful international flavor.
“America has always been a land of immigrants and New York City has traditionally been the most welcoming host for new Americans. My district, in particular, proudly encompasses the largest concentration of Mexican immigrants and according to the latest census, has the number one Chinatown in New York City,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez’s district includes Eighth Avenue, home to tens of thousands of Asian immigrants. In recent years, Brooklyn’s Chinatown has grown large than the famous Chinatown of Manhattan, according to a 2011 report from the Asian-American Foundation.
In an effort to assist those immigrants seeking to become U.S. citizens, Gonzalez has started a new program in which she will team up with lawyers from the City University of New York’s (CUNY) Citizenship Now! project. Under the program, a lawyer from Citizenship Now! who is experienced in immigrant issues from will be available in the councilwoman’s district office at 5601 Fifth Ave. to answer questions and help local residents fill out citizenship applications.
The attorneys will help lawful permanent residents file their applications for citizenship after completing a consultation to determine their eligibility for citizenship. They will also offer help with immigration questions related to naturalization and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the program started by President Barack Obama. The president issued an executive order on June 15 allowing young people who are undocumented immigrants to apply for permission to work or attend school without having to fear deportation. The program is administered through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Obama, who supports the pro-immigrant legislation known as the Dream Act, issued his executive order after congress failed to pass the legislation. The word Dream in the Dream Act stands for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors.
A lawyer will be available at Gonzalez’s office every Tuesday between now and June 30. The information service is free, Gonzalez said. An appointment is necessary in order to consult with the lawyer. The lawyers taking part in the program are bi-lingual, the councilwoman said.
“I am delighted to count so many immigrants as constituents and I felt it only appropriate to offer all the services I can to ensure their transition is as speedy and efficient as possible,” Gonzalez said.
Earlier this year, following the president’s announcement of his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, González co-hosted a forum with the Juan Neumann Center based at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica. The councilwoman also enlisted the support of Mixteca, the Brooklyn Chinese American Association and the Chinese Planning Council to get th word out to the immigrant communities to ensure that residents fully understood the benefits and potential disadvantages of participation in th new program.
The topics covered at the forum included the requirements as laid out by the Obama Administration and discussion of the application process.
In addition, experts at the forum issued strong warnings about scam artists attempting to rip-off immigrants whether they are eligible for the program or not.
For more information, call Gonzalez’s office at 718-439-9012.