Everything under one roof— here in New York City? The New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC) hopes the decade-plus “Key to the City” program can serve as the one-stop shop for the city’s new arrivals.

“We noticed that, especially for immigrant New Yorkers, when you’re looking for services, you have to bounce all around the city,” said NYIC’s Theodore Moore. “You have to go to one place for housing assistance, then you’re all the way across the city looking for healthcare. You’re looking for assistance to figure out 3–K and [other] education for your kid and you got to go to a completely different place.

“This is all time-consuming for folks who are really struggling and hustling. Not to mention how much it costs to hop on a train or take a cab. What if we put all of these things in one place, and then we put it directly in the communities where they actually need it?”

Over the past few months, the Key to the City program set up shop at the Justice Sonia Sotomayor Community Center in the Bronx and the Queens YWCA building. The events were laid out like resource fairs, with immigrant assistance organizations at tables to provide information, services, and free pens. A purple-colored NYIC booth offered hygiene products like deodorant sticks, diapers, and a choice between tampons or pads. 

Almost 19,000 immigration cases remained open in the Bronx this past February, according to Syracuse University’s TRAC Immigration datasets, and more than 56,000 immigration cases were open in Queens. 

There’s a higher demand for services due to the recent influx of asylum-seekers from buses charted by southern border state officials like Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. This past February, City & State reported long lines of migrants awaiting their immigration court hearings, many navigating a complicated bureaucratic system without a lawyer. 

Nora Melendez, who manages NYIC’s community programming, said in a recent onsite interview provided by the organization that legal services are crucial at the moment.

“There’s over 190,000 open cases in the immigration court [and] over 65,000 people who don’t have access to legal representation,” she said. “When someone has access to a lawyer, they’re 10 times more likely to win their case than when they don’t have access to a lawyer. Being able to provide someone [with] that initial consultation, and let them know what the resources and services are available for what they need, goes a long way [toward] making sure they get the right services and the right information to win their case.”

The program boasts “linguistically relevant” services, said Moore. Spanish-speaking assistance is readily available for neighborhoods with large populations of southern border migrants while Haitian Creole-speaking help is available in communities like East Flatbush. 

Two Key to the City events are returning to the Bronx and Queens over the next week: family resource fairs at the Riverdale Library next Tuesday, April 18 and Beach 41st Cornerstone Community Center in Far Rockaway next Friday, April 21.

According to Moore, the City Council—in particular, Speaker Adrienne Adams—is a strong partner of the program. 

“The Council is a proud supporter of the Key to City Program and its role in connecting immigrant New Yorkers, including recent arrivals, to the resources and services they need to succeed and thrive,” said a City Council spokesperson.

Moore confirmed that refreshments are served at Key to the City events. 

Two Key to the City events will return to the Bronx and Queens over the next two weeks: family resource fairs at the Riverdale Library next Tuesday, April 18, and at the Beach 41st Cornerstone Community Center in Far Rockaway next Friday, April 21.

“Food serves multiple purposes because you are there for a couple of hours,” he said. “People get hungry, but it’s also supplying an immediate need [as] people may be coming hungry. And quite frankly, as an organization that deals [with] the immigrant population [and] communities of color, food is just a way to bring people together.”
Tandy Lau is a Report for America corps member and writes about public safety for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep him writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting https://bit.ly/amnews1.

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