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Article in the Staten Island Advace

Our Executive Director, Favio Ramirez-Caminatti, wrote an excellent article in the Staten Island Advance:


By Favio Ramirez-Caminatti

It is estimated that more 15,000 immigrants without documentation live and work in our borough.

They are our neighbors. They live on our block. Shop in our stores. They sit next to us in the pews. They mow our lawns. Cook our burgers. Launder our clothes. Care for our elderly parents and for our children. They clean our homes and our offices.  They build our houses. They are chefs and artisans. They are doctors who serve as waiters and physicists who serve as home health aides. They are responsible for a boom in small business on Staten Island.

You need to only look at the pictures of an abandoned Port Richmond Avenue in 1991 and the Port Richmond Avenue of today with more than 75 immigrant businesses breathing economic life into an historically rich and culturally diverse community of Port Richmond.

New immigrants spur new business development which stimulates our economy and makes more jobs. New immigrants raise the level of our economy and our economy cannot thrive without them.  And yet these Staten Islanders live in the shadows where their light cannot shine.


The battle over immigration reform is often about economic fear — fear that undocumented immigrants will take away our jobs and hurt our economy.

But in fact, new immigrants entering the economy makes the economy grow.  And as the economy grows, jobs grow.

New Immigrants, hungry to work, grow our economy, making more jobs for everyone!  The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that immigration reform will increase national economic growth by more than 3% in this decade from now and 5% over the next 20 years!

Giving immigrants the right to work in the U.S. will result in their pay in to social security and Medicare, even though they will not eligible for these benefits because they will not be U.S. citizens.

Imagine 12 million more  workers contributing into Social Security and Medicare!  What an influx of cash for our nation! We need it.

Such a massive influx of funds will actually reduce the budget deficit by hundreds of billions of dollars, according to former US Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich.


The children of new immigrants, including immigrants without documentation, are earning more college degrees on average than the children of native born Americans. Ambition and hard work will help the economy grow even faster according to Dr. Reich.  We know from the immigrant parents and grandparents in our own family, how hard they worked when they came off that boat and searched for a way to support themselves and feed their families in a new land.

The left the support of their families and risked so much to make that difficult passage to a new life in America.

Today’s immigrants, like our own families, have also brought with them their passion, their hunger for the American dream and their family and religious values, another great gift that our country needs.

Tonight, Israeli immigrants in our borough, some living without immigration status, will be celebrating the feast of Purim.

This week Italian and Sicilian immigrants some without documentation celebrated the feast of St. Joseph. And tomorrow thousands of Latino immigrants without documentation will bear the cross of Jesus through the streets of our borough, reenacting Jesus’ final journey to His crucifixion.


For all these reasons, many local leaders support the creation of national immigration reform including deeply respected religious leaders such as Cardinal Timothy Dolan.  All the major religious traditions in the U.S. have supported national immigration reform.

Many national entities support immigration reform as well including the U.S.  Chamber of Commerce, the US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. These great organizations understand the important economic impact of immigrants without documentation. Our national economic and religious leaders understand the moral and religious impact of their lives here as well.

How will our economy manage if 12 million immigrant workers were deported tomorrow? Immigrant workers without documentation are the backbone of our economy and the future of our faith communities!

It is a travesty that national immigration reform has languished in Washington, even though President Ronald Reagan set the welcoming table for millions of immigrants with the granting of amnesty in 1986 for 2.7 million immigrants who were living without documentation in the U.S. President  H.W. Bush followed issuing an executive order called the “Family Fairness Program” which granted relief for 1.5 million immigrants without documentation.


Most recently, a bipartisan proposal for immigration reform, crafted by Senator Marco Rubio, Senator Lindsey Graham, and our own Senator Chuck Schumer, among others, would have granted legal status to many of the immigrant workers already working in the U.S. and their children — but Congress failed to act.

With no Congressional decisions made on immigration for more than two decades, President Obama has issued a limited executive order, called Deferred Action or DACA, to allow immigrant children without documentation, brought here by their parents, to be granted the opportunity to work legally in the U.S.  The constitutionality of the President’s order, including a provision to allow the immigrant parents of American citizen children will come under consideration by the U.S. Supreme Court next month.

These young Staten Islanders, more than 2,500 of them, came to our borough as infants and toddlers. This is the only country they have known as their homeland.  They are as American as their classmates and many are leaders in our community, like Irma Cruz featured on the front page of the Sunday Advance.

They speak English without an accent. They go to school and serve in the military. They are leaders in our faith communities: religious education teachers, youth leaders, and community volunteers. They have never committed a crime, and have proven their good standing through exhaustive documentation, and a long and tedious process.


Hundreds of  previously undocumented, members of the Port Richmond-based group EyeOpenersYouth Against Violence, the Staten Island DREAM Coalition, led by Cesar Vargas, the first Deferred Action immigrant granted the right to practice law in the State of New York and The Staten Island Immigrant Youth Leadership led by immigrant advocate, Denis P. Kelleher, CEO of Wall Street Access, have received Deferred Action status and have gone on to college and honors -– including scholarships to CUNY, SUNY, Wagner College, Dartmouth College, Stanford University, as well as the the prestigious National US Dream Scholarship — yet these young people’s lives now hang in the balance.

If Deferred Action is rescinded by the U.S. Supreme Court, these young Staten Islanders will be forced to leave their jobs and education behind, and to bow to unscrupulous employers offering them under-the-table jobs at minimum wage or below. Most would be lost if forced to a return to a country they do not know, where they have no family.

More importantly, if these young people lose the opportunity to advance academically and do not become the scientists, doctors, researchers, teachers and jurists our country desperately needs, we will lose out on their skills and expert contribution to our borough and our nation.

The Deferred Action order being considered by the U.S. Supreme Court would also shield eligible, law-abiding parents from the tragedy of deportation which would rip families apart, and spare their American-born children from heart-wrenching grief. Without Deferred Action, and ultimately national immigration reform, the American born children of undocumented immigrants can end up in an already overburdened the foster care system.  Preservation of the family is a life-affirming family value we would all agree is worth upholding.

So let us protect the immigrant children and families of our borough. Let us welcome them as our own.

Let us pray for our national leaders and our Supreme Court justices, that beyond constitutionality, they will recognize the moral imperative to preserve immigrant families and allow for the positive economic contribution and scholarly achievements that will benefit all our lives and the lives of generations to follow.

(Favio Ramirez-Caminatti is the Executive Director at El Centro del Inmigrante, Port Richmond) 

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