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The Trials and Triumphs of Asylum Seekers and Migrants in New York City

As part of the Just Conversations series by the Center for Brooklyn History and Brooklyn Org, Documented reporters discussed the trials and triumphs of the over 200,000 asylum seekers who have arrived in New York City since spring 2022.

Rommel H. Ojeda

Jun 12, 2024

Documented's Co-Executive Director, Mazin Sidahmed, delivering closing remarks. Photo by Ralph Thomassaint Joseph for Documented

On Monday, June 10, Documented reporters were joined by New York City Council Member Alexa Avilés, who chairs the Committee on Immigration, and Mihad Abdallah, senior case manager at the Arab American Family Support Center, to discuss the experiences of the more than 200,000 asylum seekers who have come to New York City since the spring of 2022, with around 65,000 remaining under the city’s care.

The event was part of the Just Conversations series, co-presented by the Center for Brooklyn History and Brooklyn Org, which brings into dialogue issues facing our borough, city, and society and gives voice to the changemakers who move us towards a more equitable future.

Documented’s newsletter writer, Fisayo Okare, kicked off the conversation by posing questions about the most pressing issues currently faced by asylum seekers in the city. Abdallah, who sought asylum in NYC from Sudan in 2017, recounted the first-hand obstacles she faced looking for employment before and after obtaining her work permit. She highlighted the need for migrants to be patient and to continue looking for opportunities.

Councilmember Avilés, who represents District 38 in Brooklyn, including parts of Gowanus, Park Slope, and Sunset Park — neighborhoods which are home to a large population of foreign-born residents — emphasized a proactive approach from City Hall to ensure the well-being of the newest migrants and New Yorkers alike.

Among the challenges faced by asylum seekers, Documented’s immigration reporter, Giulia McDonnell Nieto del Rio, mentioned access to childcare and employment, as well as the need for legal representation in immigration courts.

Also Read: Number of Unrepresented People in NYC Immigration Courts Marks 18-Year High

During the event, using Documented’s Spanish newsletter platform, Documented Semanal, Documented conducted a survey asking attendees what aspects of New York City made the city feel like their home.

“There are communities and like minded friends here, unmatched diversity and camaraderie, things that happen just when you’re at your wits end, resources and beautiful places to go even when you can’t spend money…. Wherever I go in the city, I feel we look out for each other in constant big and small ways, and especially if I leave, the intense feeling of belonging, of coming Home, envelopes me with comfort and relief when I return. I have a theory that if the City loves you (or it doesn’t), it shows it in a million different ways. (Yes, the City is a living, breathing persona, not just a bunch of buildings)”, Beth E., an attendee of the event, wrote in the Documented survey.

Documented also posed the same questions to the more than 6,000 members of Documented’s WhatsApp newsletter, Documented Semanal, who sent in their responses in Spanish. Lina Rengifo, a member of the community, said in Spanish that New York City felt like home to her because it challenged her to grow alongside her friends and family.

“Regardless of distances, you can delight in the diversity and multiculturalism from different cultural, gastronomic, musical, artistic, and religious practices,” she wrote. Rengifo currently resides in Queens.

Among the 15 responses received, the themes of community, diversity, and opportunity were prevalent.

(Common themes from the responses received during the poll. Graphic by Rommel H Ojeda for Documented)

Other comments also included the cultural diversity, food, and the vibrancy of the city as the reasons why New York City felt like home to them. 

Also Read: What We Learned When We Met With Our Latino Immigrant Readers In Person

Rommel H. Ojeda

Rommel is a bilingual journalist and filmmaker based in NYC. He is the community correspondent for Documented. His work focuses on immigration, and issues affecting the Latinx communities in New York.




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