By: Jess Wisloski
Solving immigs’ confusion
Coming to a new land doesn't mean escaping old problems, and for some immigrants in Brooklyn, legal issues only add to the complexity when trying to obtain citizenship.
Immigrant consultant Kareem Swaby, 30, sees mostly Caribbean immigrants, with increasing population from Jamaica, Haiti, Guyana and Trinidad at the nonprofit where he works in Flatbush.
He often sees clients who have had family members with problems with the law, either here or back in their home country, at his office at Erasmus Neighborhood Federation, at 814 Rogers Ave.
"One lady came to us late last year; she wasn't legal, but her child was a citizen.
"The father of the child had abused her", said Swaby and she was afraid that the police report would affect her citizenship application.
Fearful of deportation, she paid a layer thousands of dollars to file paper work he said would prevent the case from being recorded in her application.
"The lawyer had her file paper work that had nothing to do with her case", he recalled. "It did nothing to help her"
That's where people like Swaby step in. Swaby is one of 200 counselor, lawyer and paralegals volunteering to answer phones for Citizenship Now! hotline, a project run by City University of New York and the Daily News through this week.
Many of the clients come to him only after they've wasted their life savings trying to sort our a legal problem in hopes that it would not affect their green card or citizenship status.
"They've met with a lawyer who charged them so much that they run out of money. They end up losing any sense of hope," he said. They're suspicious when they come to us"
Aside from dealing with a host of other immigration concerns, Swaby often talks to people facing misdemeanor charges like hopping the turn stile in the subway, or instigating a domestic dispute that lead to charges.
"Mostly I've seen clients who have served time or even get in trouble for minor stuff. The one I've seen most is domestic dispute, men who get into a fight with their baby's mother. "
In the end, he often refers clients who are worried about deportation to trusted lawyers at nonprofits.
"If it's a misdemeanor, it won't affect them," he says. "If it's a felony, then we have a problem."