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CMS Recovers over $500,000 in unpaid wages for low-wage workers 

Photo of CMS attorney with clientsLast 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.”

Tenant Advocacy Program wins over $300,000 for Queens Tenants

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.

Asylum Granted: Persecuted Haitian political candidate and family on path to citizenship 

Haitian flag wavingJean*, 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.

Fordham Law Student, Anthony Damelio Awarded Skadden Fellowship to work with Catholic Migration Services to Represent Low-Wage Immigrant Workers in New York City

Anthony Damelio, Skadden Fellow

Anthony Damelio, ’22

Catholic Migration Services is pleased to announce that Anthony Damelio, a student at Fordham University School of Law, has been selected as a 2022 Skadden Fellow to work with the Workplace Justice team beginning in the fall of 2022. A competitive program that selects 28 fellows each year to provide civil legal services to low-income clients, the Skadden Fellowship provides two years of funding to legal services organizations throughout the country to help launch the careers of public interest lawyers.

Anthony served as a 2020 summer legal intern with the Workplace Justice team. Prior to law school, he was Deputy Director of New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE), an immigrant worker center and close community partner of Catholic Migration Services. During law school, Anthony has served as a Stein Scholar for the Public Interest and interned at Kakalec Law PLLC, a small worker-side employment firm, and the Housing and Worker Protection Bureau of the Queens District Attorney. As a Skadden fellow, Anthony will work with NICE and the Coalition for Immigrant Families to implement the New York Health and Essential Rights Act (NY HERO Act) signed into law on May 5, 2021. The law mandates extensive new workplace health and safety protections in response to COVID-19. Aside from mandating clear COVID-related protections, the NY HERO Act also provides workers the right to form workplace safety committees, with strong protections and a private right of action if their employers retaliate.

“This is an outstanding achievement for Anthony and a well-deserved recognition of the work of Catholic Migration Service’s Workplace Justice Team. We are thrilled to have Anthony, a dedicated and experienced worker advocate, join our team. Through Anthony’s project, Catholic Migration Services will strengthen its relationship with local worker centers and harness the new protections under the NY HERO Act to protect and empower vulnerable workers,” said Magdalena Barbosa, Managing Attorney with the Workers’ Rights Program.

The 2022 Class of Skadden Fellows hail from 19 different law schools and will be partnering with legal service nonprofits across the country. The program provides two-year fellowships to talented young lawyers to pursue the practice of public interest law on a full-time basis and is currently working in public interest in 42 U.S. states

“I am deeply grateful to the leadership of Catholic Migration Services, New Immigrant Community Empowerment, and the Coalition for Immigrant Families for supporting this project that seeks to empower i“mmigrant workers to reclaim their new workplace rights,” said Anthony Damelio, Prospective Skadden Fellow Class of ’22 for Catholic Migration Services. “In deciding to fund this work, the leaders of the Skadden Foundation saw the impact of Catholic Migration’s powerful model of collaborative legal representation that works closely with community partners to advocate for low-wage workers who are exploited by their employers. I look forward to getting started with the incredible team at Catholic Migration Services!”

How New York City Must Support Low-Wage Essential Workers as They Support Everyone Else

(photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)

Photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office

Thomas Power, senior staff attorney with the Workers Rights Program at Catholic Migration Services recently authored an op-ed with colleagues Sarah Leberstein from Make the Road New York and Katisha Andrew from TakeRoot Justice, on the need for more funding for employment legal services.

“For low-wage essential workers, obtaining private counsel is prohibitively expensive. Often, the worker’s damages from a case are less than the actual cost for a private attorney to bring the case forward.” Created in 2019, New York City’s Low-Wage Worker Initiative (LWWI) is the only dedicated city-funded program that provides free, individually-tailored, employment civil legal services and case management support to workers in New York City’s low-wage industries.

Update on the New York State Excluded Workers Fund

Presione aquí para la versión en Español.

On April 19, 2021, New York State passed the Excluded Workers Fund (EWF), which will provide financial relief to undocumented individuals who suffered income loss during the pandemic and were unable to get unemployment insurance benefits or other federal pandemic relief benefits. Under the EWF, eligible New Yorkers can receive a one-time cash payment in the amounts of either $15,600 or $3,200 depending on the type of work documentation and earning applicants can provide. Applications will be available in August 2021.

How do I prove my identity?
All eligible applicants must show proof of identity and proof of New York State residency. The following non-expired items can be used for both:

  • New York State driver license or New York State ID
  • IDNYC

If applicants do not have these items, they can show proof of identity by providing the following documents:

Proof of Identity (total of 4 points needed):

  • Non-U.S. passport (3 points)
  • New York State inpatient ID issued by State Office of Mental Health (2 points)
  • Marriage certificate (1 point)
  • Divorce decree (1 point)
  • New York State inpatient photo identification card (2 points)
  • NYC Department of Parks and Recreation card (1 point)
  • Non-U.S. birth certificate (1 point)
  • Non-U.S. photo ID card (1 point)
  • Diploma or transcript from a high school, college or university in the U.S (1 point)
  • Any other document the Department of Labor announces it will accept (3 or fewer points only)

How do I prove my residency in New York State before March 27, 2020 and currently?

  • Copy of a utility bill
  • Bank or credit card statement
  • A current lease, mortgage payment, or property tax statement
  • Letter addressed to you from the New York City Housing Authority
  • Letter addressed to you from a homeless shelter that states you are living at the shelter now
  • Letter to you from a non-profit that provides services to the homeless
  • Any other document the Department of Labor announces it will accept

You do not need all of the documents listed above, but it may be best in preparation for the application process to gather as many as possible.

How do I prove my work history?
There are two tiers of benefits. The amount of benefits you receive depends on which documents related to employment and earnings you may have.

Tier 1 – $15,600 total benefit 

  • Tax return for 2018, 2019 or 2020 using a valid Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN); OR
  • Six weeks of pay stubs or wage statements from the last 6-month period before the date you lost income due to the
    COVID-19 pandemic; OR
  • Letter from an employer showing dates of employment and why you are no longer working; OR
  • W-2 or 1099 form from 2019 or 2020; OR
  • Wage notice that shows employment from some time before the date you lost income due to the COVID-19 pandemic.; OR
  • Any other documents the Department of labor announces it will accept.

Tier 2 – $3,200 total benefit

  • For applicants who cannot provide the documents required for tier 1, but who are otherwise eligible for the Excluded Workers’ Fund, you can receive a smaller sum of benefits if you can show alternative proof of work-related eligibility, as determined by the Department of Labor.

How do I protect myself from fraud?
You cannot currently apply for the EWF. The process will be administered by the New York State Department of Labor and applications are scheduled to be available in August. You should not have to pay a lawyer or anyone else for assistance in completing this application. Be careful to not hand over your personal information to notarios.

Do you have additional questions?
If you have questions, call the Catholic Migration Services Workers’ Rights Hotline at (877) 525-2267.

Download the Update on the New York State Excluded Workers Fund as a PDF.