BY JAMES FARRELL
Beneath the brim of his Yankees cap, Catalino Dejesus, 54, smiled and said, “I love New York.”
He’s lived in Elmhurst for 16 years after moving from Puebla, Mexico, in search of more opportunity after his mother died.
On Sunday, he and his niece Marina, a doctor who arrived in the United States a month ago, were two of hundreds of immigrants who attended the 2016 Immigration Resource Fair at the Queens Public Library in Flushing. Many were anxious, Dejesus said, after President-elect Donald Trump’s victory on Election Day, following a campaign of heated rhetoric around immigration. But all the resources at the fair encouraged Dejesus, a proud taxpayer.
“A lot of people, they don’t know what to do,” he said. “But really I am not afraid because I get more information, I see the communities moving. Everybody’s available to help, so that’s very good.”
The immigration fair is an annual event sponsored by Borough President Melinda Katz and other community leaders. It took on a unique tone this year in the wake of a controversial election season where President-elect Trump’s immigration proposals ranged from deporting undocumented immigrants to restricting immigration from certain countries. It also comes amidst a post-election uptick in racially charged incidents around the city. To commemorate the fair, Katz hosted a speak-out event in the library’s lobby, where advocates took the floor to offer their resources and staunch support for Queens’ diverse immigrant community.
“We are 130 languages. We are 120 countries,” said Katz. “Chances are very good that you are not sitting next to someone who is from the same continent that you are from. People are sacrificing and they are saving their entire lives, just to bring their kids right where you are sitting right now … Queens is the place where we got your back.”
The fair housed a slew of resources for immigrants, including healthcare information; after-school and summer camp programs for kids; and free on-site legal clinics for housing, immigration and employment issues. Over 30 organizations and offices set up tables around the library to offer these resources. The advocacy group Immigrant Advancement Matters, for instance, provides educational, legal and personal-advancement programs to immigrant communities. New York State’s Office For New Americans offers legal advice, business aid and language services. At the speak-out, Carmencita Gutierrez from Queens District Attorney Richard Brown’s office emphasized that Brown was a resource to all immigrants who were victims of crimes, regardless of citizenship.
“His commitment to the immigrant community is unwavering,” she said. “Whether you are documented or undocumented, don’t be afraid.”
Many representatives from immigrant organizations spoke at the speak-out session about the post-election climate, describing immigrants’ emotional states as uncertain, anxious or scared.
Naheed Bahram is the program director of Women for Afghan Women, an organization that provides support and resources, such as citizenship classes, to women from Afghanistan. Bahram said that some of the program’s women, many of whom are Muslims who wear hijabs, are afraid to go out in public. One mother, Bahram said, arranged to have a neighbor pick up her child from classes.
“We are deeply disheartened after the results because of the past year of the campaign’s hate speeches to our community,” she said, referring to Trump’s talk of banning immigration from predominantly Muslim countries like Afghanistan. “We have lost some of our students, who stopped coming for the classes just because of their appearance.”
Katz urged the crowd to utilize the resources at the fair, on Sunday and beyond, as a defense.
“Go get legal advice,” she said. “Go find out about healthcare accessibility. Go find out your rights as a tenant in an apartment building. Go find out what kind of summer camps are available for your children. Go find out the information necessary so that no one needs to live in fear.”
Reach James Farrell at (718) 357-7400 x 127, firstname.lastname@example.org or @farrellj329.