Last year, Catholic Migration Services’ employment program collected over $500,000.00 in unpaid wages for low-wage workers in the domestic, construction, restaurant and many other industries. This money was a lifeline to families coping with the economic fallout of the pandemic. This was especially true for immigrant workers who were not eligible for any state or federal pandemic aid.
CMS efforts included recovering unpaid wages for essential workers such as delivery workers, home health aides, and supermarket employees who continued to work throughout the pandemic. While these employees were publicly lauded for risking their health to deliver much-needed food, supplies and care to New Yorkers, they suffered exploitation and abuse from their employers. Delivery workers risked their lives traversing through NYC neighborhoods to deliver food to homebound New Yorkers. These workers were met on pay day with empty pockets and vague excuses from their employers. Domestic workers worked around the clock, often sheltering in place in the homes of their employers, and were paid meager, exploitative wages or fired for taking sick leave. One CMS client, a single mom with three young children, was unlawfully fired for taking sick leave to recover from COVID-19. With our advocates assistance, this mom was able to recover her lost wages and “the money went straight to pay back rent and buy groceries for my babies.”
One of our greatest victories was on behalf of Roberto Moran, Mauricia Aviles, and Yazmin Aviles, three low-wage workers at the Flushing restaurant, King of Empanada. These workers were paid less than the minimum wage and compelled to work over sixty hours per week without proper overtime pay. Managing Attorney Alice Davis and co-counsel Wilmer Hale, LLLC. filed a federal lawsuit on their behalf which resulted in a settlement of $40,000.00. Mauricia Aviles commented, “We are so thankful to have received these hard-earned wages now after a really hard year and a half. Our goal is to save this money in case of another emergency.”
Catholic Migration Services was retained by several tenants living in the same building to defend them against unwarranted eviction cases brought by their landlord. After a few years of fierce litigation, our tenant advocacy team settled the case on behalf of the tenants. The sizable settlement resulted in over $300,000.00 in benefits to the tenants including rent waivers and lump sum payouts. Although the tenants agreed to move out of the building in exchange for the financial benefits, each found alternative affordable housing before moving out. Two tenants were able to remain in their apartments for several months after the settled on move-out date to allow them to find affordable and safe homes.
Jean*, a candidate for local office in Haiti, fled his homeland after enduring persecution for his political views. After fleeing Haiti, he lived in Brazil for several years, where he met and married Marie*. The couple soon had a child. In Brazil, the family faced racism and xenophobia which forced them to flee again, this time to the United States.
When Jean and his family arrived at the U.S. border, they were separated. Jean was held in an immigration detention center for several months. He was later released on bond and reunited with his wife and child in New York City where they continued the next steps to safely seek asylum with the assistance of Catholic Migration Services.
CMS advocates helped the family gather and submit a thorough packet of evidence supporting their asylum applications. We then worked with Congressman Hakeem Jeffries’ office to fix a United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) administrative error. The correction allowed us to secure an appointment for the family to take their biometrics, a crucial step before asylum could be granted. Since this family’s case was repeatedly postponed by the immigration court, CMS persistently negotiated with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for their non-opposition to a grant of asylum and filed a motion asking the immigration judge to grant the case based on the paper evidence. The immigration judge granted asylum, and now the family is on a path to citizenship.
*We have changed the names of the clients to protect their privacy.
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On March 9, 2021 the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) designated Venezuela for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for 18 months, until September 9, 2022.
Catholic Migration Services urges anyone who may be eligible to receive TPS for Venezuela to call our office and schedule an appointment for a free legal consultation.
What is Temporary Protected Status (TPS)?
The Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) may designate a foreign country for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) due to conditions in the country that temporarily prevent the country’s nationals from returning safely, or in certain circumstances, where the country is unable to handle the return of its nationals adequately. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) may grant TPS to eligible nationals of certain countries (or parts of countries), who are already in the United States. Eligible individuals without nationality who last resided in the designated country may also be granted TPS.
What does this announcement mean?
This new designation of TPS for Venezuela allows Venezuelan nationals (and individuals without nationality who last resided in Venezuela) currently in the United States to file an initial application for TPS, as long as they meet eligibility requirements. Individuals who are TPS beneficiaries or eligible for TPS are not removable from the United States, can obtain an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) or work permit, Social Security Number, and may be granted travel authorizations. TPS may be renewed as long as Venezuela is designated a Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) country.
When can I apply for TPS?
Eligible individuals can apply now. The TPS registration period for Venezuelan nationals (and individuals without nationality who last resided in Venezuela) began March 9, 2021 and will remain in effect through September 5, 2021. Individuals should file applications in time to have it received by USCIS before that date.
How do I apply?
We recommend consulting a lawyer to determine if you are eligible to apply for TPS and to learn more about what documents you may need to include in your application.
If you have any questions or concerns, please call Catholic Migration Services in Brooklyn at (718) 236-3000 or in Queens at (347) 472-3500 between 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. from Monday through Friday.
For additional information, you can also contact Action NYC at (800) 354-0365 – Monday through Friday, between 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. – to connect with City-funded, free and safe immigration legal help.
Download this update as a PDF: Immigration Update Pertaining to Venezuela and the Designation for Temporary Protected Status (TPS)
Catholic Migration Services Files An Unfair Labor Practice Charge With the National Labor Relations Board Against Brooklyn-Based Company, Art to Frames
Whistle Blower Employees Fired in Retaliation for Requesting Masks
Brooklyn, NY (September 21, 2020) – Catholic Migration Services filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board (Region 29) against the Brooklyn-based employer, Art to Frames on Thursday, September 17th. The charge alleges that Art to Frames fired an estimated thirty-five workers after they collectively requested that their Employer provide masks to employees for protection from COVID-19.
“These workers only earned minimum wage at Art to Frames and after their termination, they have struggled to make ends meet and find other employment,” said Magdalena Barbosa, Managing Attorney – Workers’ Rights Program, Catholic Migration Services. “Many of these workers also contracted COVID-19 and suspect that they were exposed to the virus at work.”
The COVID-19 public health crisis is creating many challenges for immigrant workers and their families. An estimated six million immigrants are in essential jobs at the front lines of the response to this pandemic. Immigrants, women, and people of color disproportionately fill many of these low-wage jobs and find themselves at heightened risk of exposure to COVID-19 while at work.
Although New York has some of the strongest laws on the books to protect workers, these workers are NOT protected by New York’s current whistleblower statute, New York Labor Law Section 740,” said Miriam Clark, former president of the National Employment Lawyers Association/New York. “The current law fails to protect employees who blow the whistle on anything that is not both an actual violation of a law, rule or regulation and also creates and presents a substantial and specific danger to the public health or safety. These cramped provisions make New York an outlier among the states: employers can even fire whistleblowers who complain about coronavirus-related violations, unless the employee can prove that there is an actual violation of law, rule or regulation, which is rare.” Catholic Migration Services and the National Employment Lawyers Association/New York call on state lawmakers to amend New York Labor Law Section 740 to ensure that whistleblowers are protected
“I worked at Art to Frames for about two years,” said Luis Jacome, Former Employee, Art to Frames who was fired after joining his colleagues in requesting protective personal equipment while on the job. “When we began learning about COVID in early March, my co-workers and I became scared. People were coughing at work and we were afraid of getting sick. All we wanted was for our employer to protect us, but they took zero precautions. No masks, no safe distances – there wasn’t even soap in the bathroom. Instead, we were fired. A few days after my termination, I went to the hospital because I was very sick with COVID symptoms.”
“I’m a single mom and while I was devoted to my job, my kids have always been my number one priority,” recalled Digna Rivera, Fired Employee, Art to Frames. “I reported to work at Art to Frames every day for five years to provide for my family, not to bring home dangerous germs. All we asked for was for our employer to provide a safe environment to work, and simply for that we were fired! We seek justice and to send a message to Art to Frames that our safety and our lives are not expendable.
The Workers’ Rights Program at Catholic Migration Services works towards strengthening the enforcement of workers’ rights through affirmative litigation, policy reform, individual representation, and community education. In collaboration with workers’ centers and community-based organizations citywide, the Workers’ Rights Program provides advice and representation to hundreds of low-income and immigrant workers each year facing a range of problems.
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About Catholic Migration Services
Since 1971 Catholic Migration Services, an affiliate agency of Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens, has been providing quality legal services in Brooklyn and Queens, and currently provides free legal assistance and Know Your Rights education to low-income individuals in need of immigration, housing, and workers’ rights legal services. As the first office of its kind in the country, Catholic Migration Services has served tens of thousands of immigrants regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, or immigration status.
Catholic Migration Services Files Charges Against Art to Frames, for Firing Workers Denied PPE, Currents News, Monday, September 28, 2020
During a time when going to work has the possibility of threatening our lives, organizations fighting on behalf of low-wage workers are facing cuts in funding. Our Workers’ Rights Managing Attorney Magdalena Barbosa comments in a recent article by the New York Daily News, “I’m kind of dumbfounded. There is no rationale to completely eliminate funding for a service that is just so essential right now in the midst of a pandemic.”
Read the full story in the New York Daily News: Faced with NYC funding cut, over 100 low-wage workers poised to lose legal help