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Pataki offers immigrants help at Flushing YMCA

Pataki initiated the program to ease confusion over Congress’s December...

By Dustin Brown

Gov. George Pataki visited the Flushing YMCA Saturday to announce the creation of a Citizenship Unit to help undocumented immigrants get legal residence under a revised federal law.

Pataki initiated the program to ease confusion over Congress’s December amendment of the U.S. Immigration Law, which extends until April 30 the deadline for eligible undocumented immigrants to file for resident status in the United States.

“The law in place until April 30 allows immigrants without documentation to get their green cards [allowing them to work] and have legal status in the United States,” Pataki said.

    Although 700,000 immigrants are eligible for the program, Pataki said as few as 200,000 may end up taking advantage of it if the government does not heighten awareness among immigrant populations.

    “This important piece of legislation has a deadline of April 30, but it replaces a system where people had to leave their families and their countries,” said Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin (D-Flushing).

    The Citizenship Unit will spread word of the law through immigrant communities to ensure that those who are eligible apply by April 30 and assist immigrants in filing for the amnesty.

    “Gov. Pataki has reached out to many of the non-citizens who have chosen the United States as their haven,” said state Sen. Serphin Maltese (R-Glendale). “It’s important this event be held here because of the strength of the Asian-American community. You have revitalized New York City.”

    As he praised immigrant contributions to both the city and the state, Pataki stressed his own grandparents’ immigration from Hungary. The governor said his father, who was born in the United States, did not learn English until the first grade because he had grown up in an immigrant household.

    “This is a state of unlimited potential and unlimited promise, because immigrants from around the world have made our state a better place,” Pataki said.

He stressed that the legislation does not offer blanket amnesty. To qualify, immigrants must have entered the country by Dec. 21 last year, and they have to be sponsored by a family member who has a green card or an employer who vouches the worker is essential and cannot be replaced.

    Members of Flushing’s Asian-American community who attended the conference applauded the governor’s efforts to provide immigrants with more secure standing in the country.

    “I’m extremely proud that our governor comes to our community of Flushing to show he is thinking and caring about the immigrants of this area,” said Meilin Tan, who is helping to coordinate the effort in the Flushing Asian community. “We want to be part of the mainstream and make this country great. Americans open their arms and their hearts and their doors to welcome immigrants from all over the world.”

    As the conference wound down many locals got to rub elbows with the governor, who spent nearly 20 minutes posing for snapshots and shaking hands.

    “Mr. Pataki spent a lot of time here,” said John Chen, a real estate investor who lives in Flushing. “You’d expect he’d stay five minutes and leave. Actually, we didn’t see that at all. We saw him stick around, say hello to everyone. That’s a very warm feeling that he delivered to the community.”

    “I think his speech was very good,” said Suchiao Hsieh, an immigrant who has lived in Flushing for 15 years. “He’s done something good for immigrants. A lot of people are going to have a lot of benefits from Pataki.”

    The hotline is open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and can be reached by dialing 800-232-0212 or 718-899-4000. Operators speak Cantonese, English, French, Haitian/Creole, Korean, Mandarin, Russian, and Spanish.

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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