Fall 2018 Newsletter – Editorial



People across the country and around the world have been appalled at how our federal government is treating immigrant families. We have watched helplessly as the government implemented a sweeping policy separating children from their parents at the border, and cringed as we read individual cases of anguish.

These are the reactions of many American citizens who have no reason to fear an ICE raid. Imagine the stress and anxiety of our neighbors who are undocumented. What must they be feeling?

What often goes unreported is how deep and pervasive the fear of deportation can become, and how it can adversely impact the lives of entire families.

Union Settlement has been providing core social services to waves of immigrant families in East Harlem for over a century – from the Irish and German immigrants at the time of our founding in 1895, to the Italian and Jewish immigrants in the early 20th century, to more recent immigrants from Mexico, Central America, West Africa, the Middle East and China.

Many of these immigrants arrived without required documentation, but they stayed and thrived. But never before have our undocumented neighbors faced such clear threats of deportation, and many of them are reacting by going even deeper underground, and limiting their interactions with government, schools and social service agencies.

The fear is real. Last year, Union Settlement hosted a workshop for immigrants regarding their rights (covering topics such as: “What do you do if ICE stops you on the street?”), and we were counseled by immigrant advocacy groups not to post flyers about the workshop, and instead to rely on word-of-mouth communication, because of the appallingly conceivable possibility that ICE would send agents to detain attendees at the event.

Even more depressing, one portion of the workshop advised undocumented immigrant parents that, because they might get detained at any time, they must create a plan for who will take care of their children if they don’t come home one day.

So it is no wonder that undocumented immigrants are choosing to disengage, and not accessing services that are available to assist them. This includes some parents not enrolling their children in early childhood education programs like those offered by Union Settlement – even if those children were born in this country and are American citizens.

The harm extends even to basic subsistence issues.  Undocumented immigrants are entitled to receive food stamps to cover the cost of feeding their U.S.-born children. But given the constant anti-immigrant rhetoric from Washington, how many are forgoing those benefits because the application requires them to provide their name and address to the government, and they fear that information could lead to deportation?

Our social safety net should be available to protect everyone who falls on hard times and needs support. Unfortunately, the Trump administration’s words and actions are forcing undocumented immigrants to walk along a treacherous path and avoid even core services designed to help them survive and lead productive lives.

— David Nocenti, Executive Director of Union Settlement