Easing the citizenship pathway
Jersey City’s proposed immigration commission clears first hurdle
by E. Assata Wright
Reporter staff writer
Apr 14, 2013 | 3694 views | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
“In Jersey City, alone, nearly 100,000 of our residents are of immigrant background,” said Councilman Rolando Lavarro Jr. Pictured; Dancers who performed at the 2012 Raices de America, one of the many ethnic festivals held each year in Jersey City.
“In Jersey City, alone, nearly 100,000 of our residents are of immigrant background,” said Councilman Rolando Lavarro Jr. Pictured; Dancers who performed at the 2012 Raices de America, one of the many ethnic festivals held each year in Jersey City.
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During the spate of summer-like days that recently graced the area, Susheela Baruch was busy buying decorations and party favors for her daughter’s upcoming second birthday celebration, which will be held May 4, even though the toddler’s official birthday has passed. The upcoming party, she said, has been postponed a few times because the family is still waiting for her husband, who is in India, to get a resident visa from the U.S. Department of Immigration and Naturalization.

“He missed her birthday last year. I was hoping he would be here for the second,” Baruch said last week. “But we still don’t have [the] visa. She is asking for her party. But she is asking for her father, too. I want her to have both, but I don’t know.”

She knows she may eventually have to have the birthday party without her husband, again.

Baruch, who was brought to the United States as a teenager by her father, understands that it may take years for her husband, Amit, to be granted permission to live in the U.S. But she admits that the wait gets harder with time, and is especially tough on the couple’s young daughter. Aside from the help she has received from her family and friends, she said she has had little or no assistance from anyone else as she goes through this difficult stage in her life.

Later this month, the Jersey City City Council is expected to pass a law that will lead to the creation of a nine-member Immigrant Affairs Commission that will advise the mayor and council on the unique legal, education, health, and social concerns of the city’s immigrant community.

The commission members – who will be appointed by the mayor with the advice and consent of the City Council – will also promote educational, economic, and legal resources that are available to the immigrant community and help immigrants maximize these resources and laws meant to assist them.
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Susheela Baruch knows may have to have her daughter’s birthday party without her husband, again.
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The ordinance establishing the Immigrant Affairs Commission was introduced unanimously by the council on April 10, and will come up for adoption next week. A public hearing on the creation of the proposed commission is currently scheduled for Wednesday, April 24 at 6 p.m., at the next regularly scheduled meeting of the City Council. The City Council meets at City Hall, 280 Grove St.

Lavarro: The time for reform is now

“These are very interesting and exciting times, I think, with regards to the issue of immigration and immigrant affairs,” said Councilman At-large Rolando Lavarro Jr., who sponsored the ordinance to create the commission.

Thousands of New Jersey residents recently gathered in Liberty State Park in Jersey City to call for comprehensive immigration reform in Washington. A bipartisan group of eight U.S. Senators is currently working to draft immigration legislation that will create a clear path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants without compromising national security.

The Immigrant Affairs Commission, Lavarro said, could become the first of its kind in the state of New Jersey. “In the United States of America, there are [approximately] 11 million undocumented immigrants. And in Jersey City, alone, nearly 100,000 of our residents are of immigrant background. We need to plan for what will ultimately be this comprehensive immigration reform…We need to plan, as a city, to work with private interests so that we can fulfill the needs that will be there for individuals to get the training, education, English language proficiency, and civics tests that [will likely be required under immigration reform].”

Lavarro, a Filipino-American who in 2011 became the City Council’s first elected Asian American, insisted that “it is time for our Congress to introduce comprehensive immigration reform so we can have a humane, just, and fair immigration policy and a pathway to citizenship. We need this immigration reform to reduce the backlogs that are years, and possibly decades, in the making for lots of individuals who are waiting for the opportunity to apply for and to be granted citizenship.”

He added that immigration policies need to be streamlined so that families aren’t separated for years on end without a resolution.

Sharing a story that mirrors the current experience of Susheela Baruch and her family, Lavarro said it took his mother in law nearly 10 years to get all of her children to Jersey City, a time gap that had significant repercussions on familiar relationships.

“This commission is so critical for Jersey City, because there is an opportunity for Jersey City to lead the state of New Jersey on immigration matters,” Lavarro said.

This is the second immigrant-oriented measure Lavarro has introduced. In February he co-sponsored a resolution with Ward C Councilwoman Nidia Lopez calling on legislators in Trenton to pass two bills that would enable undocumented youth who were raised in the U.S. the opportunity to receive financial aid and in-state tuition rates at New Jersey colleges and universities.

Two members of the public spoke in favor of the creation of the Immigrant Affairs Commission last week.

“A commission that will focus specifically on the needs and concerns of immigrants is, I think, something that the city needs,” said Bill Armbruster, a former board member of the International Institute of New Jersey. The institute, which filed for bankruptcy and folded, offered English as a Second Language training, citizenship classes, legal support, counseling, and job training for immigrants.

Catherine Tansey, former executive director of the International Institute of New Jersey, agreed.

“I hope this commission will, indeed, help to encourage the integration of immigrants into the community,” said Tansey.

When told of the city’s plans to an immigration commission, Baruch said that such an entity is needed.

“Yes, I think that sounds like it would be a good thing,” she stated. “I think I would find that helpful, for me and my family. I hope it happens – and soon.”

E-mail E. Assata Wright at awright@hudsonreporter.com.

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