By JR Holguin
If any immigrant ever doubted that the American Dream is lost, they need only look at Commissioner Manuel Castro for reassurance that it continues to prevail. Securing the role of Commissioner of the NYC Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (MOIA) at the start of this year, Castro was appointed by Mayor Eric Adams. Castro will be looking after and providing vital support to the 3.2 million immigrant New Yorkers.
Castro’s résumé is sufficient for the role. He has experience as the Executive Director of New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE). During the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, NICE stipulated almost $4 million in direct cash support and distributed food to immigrant families. It also helped thousands of immigrant workers request the state’s Excluded Worker Fund (EWF). Castro also serves on the New York Immigration Coalition’s (NYIC) board of directors. It’s his story that makes him a champion for immigrants. At age five, he and his mother crossed the US-Mexico border and began to put roots down in Sunset Park. As a teenager, Castro was tired of living with the uncertainty that many, if not all, immigrants endure. He joined forces with other undocumented youth activists who helped lay the foundation for DREAMers. After years of advocating change for immigrants, he’s now in charge of making those changes.
Listen to an interview with Manuel Castro, Commissioner, Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs below:
New York City provides essential services to all its residents regardless of their immigration status. In a recent interview with The Immigrants Journal, Castro told us, “One of the most important focuses of our office is to ensure that all government services are available for immigrant communities.” The list is endless, split between legal services and city services: there are resources for NYCitizenship, COVID-19, housing, and Action NYC, to highlight a few. Still, Castro spotlights that all these services can be found in scores of different languages. “The Mayor is very supportive of making sure this is not an English [speaking] only city,” Castro said. In order of Local Law 30, MOIA and the Mayor’s Office of Operations use Census data to determine the top languages New Yorkers speak and ensure that all services receive that necessary translation appropriate for each community.
Immigration Fraud Prevention
All over the country, immigrants are targets of immigration fraud. Though accurate statistics of the number and frequency of these schemes happen are limited, it is known that immigrants fall for these evil schemes in many ways. Imposters make threatening phone calls imitating Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents demanding payments and phishing emails claiming the victim has landed a Green Card and must provide private information to collect it. Also, fake websites are emulating U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The first nationwide study of immigrants falling prey to immigration fraud was conducted by Assistant Professor of Sociology Juan Manuel Pedroza from the University of California Santa Cruz earlier this year. Despite his report, the number shown could be only but a fraction. Experts believe many of these scams go unreported because the victims either do not know their rights or are afraid to come forward due to their immigration status and fear of deportation.
“We want to make sure to find those bad actors as soon as possible,” Castro said. “We’re happy to support anyone if they think they are in the middle of a scam or have any suspicions.”
It’s important to ask questions, ask for proof, get different opinions, avoid over-the-phone transactions, visit physical locations, and get copies and written receipts of all transactions. Castro urges immigrant New Yorkers that if they get even a speck of suspicion that they’re being exploited, not to be afraid to reach out to MOIA for assistance.
Health Care Alternatives for Immigrants
Another concern that immigrants are afraid to address is health. Fear of deportation because of their current immigration status leads to immigrants avoiding doctor or hospital visits when needed.
NYC Care is a program that combats severe health risks in immigrant communities. Not quite health insurance but more of a health care access program, it is offered to New Yorkers who do not meet requirements for insurance or cannot afford it. “NYC Cares is a program… designed with immigrants in mind,” said Castro.
With NYC Care, patients pay what they can afford. Depending on the patient’s family and income, they can qualify to start at zero dollars. Locations are available in all five boroughs, including plenty of community-based health centers and 11 hospitals.
Additionally, Castro announced that these services, which would typically have a 6-month waiting period before immigrants could qualify, will now be available immediately to all newly arrived immigrants omitting the waiting period.
“Whether you’re coming from you from the Ukrainian region fleeing that violence or Central America or the Caribbean,” said Castro. “[Immigrants] can go to the hospital and make sure you get the support they need.”
A Message of Hope and Inspiration
During what feels like unending times of adversity with COVID, war around the world, and the rise of racially motivated attacks in this country, a quote by Berny Sanders comes to mind, “For many, the American Dream has become a nightmare.”
But Commissioner Castro and the countless immigrants who overcame all obstacles would bet against that remark. It is not a nightmare, and it is not lost. “Embrace your story [and] share your story with others,” said Castro. “We want to make sure this is not just a city of immigrants but a country of immigrants.”
And this is a country of immigrants. The American Dream exists because of immigrants.