Testimony by New York Legal Assistance Group before the New York City Council Committee on

Immigration regarding the role of ethnic media in informing and educating immigrant communities

 

January 27, 2016

Good morning Chair Menchaca, Councilmembers and staff. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to testify to the role that ethnic media plays in informing and educating immigrant communities. My name is Camilla Jenkins and I am the Director of Communications at the New York Legal Assistance Group. NYLAG is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing free legal services in civil law matters to low-income New Yorkers – and over half the clients we serve each year are immigrants. Our clients include the homebound, veterans, families facing foreclosure, renters facing eviction, low-income consumers, people in need of government assistance, children in need of special education, domestic violence victims, people with disabilities, chronically ill patients, low-wage workers, members of the LGBTQ community, and Holocaust survivors.

Along with our fellow legal services providers, NYLAG works closely ̶ with the City Council, the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs and other city agencies, community advocates and organizers, pro bono attorneys, and volunteer law students ̶ to bring comprehensive services to New York’s immigrant communities. We have extensive experience in galvanizing our collective forces to make sure that immigrants take advantage of every opportunity the city has to offer to enhance their quality of life, and maximize their contributions to the vitality and prosperity of New York.

But no matter how effectively we coordinate and collaborate, our outreach efforts cannot succeed without the support of ethnic media, whose strong bonds of loyalty and trust make it a vital link to local communities and neighborhoods. A reporter from an influential Latino news outlet once told me that she thinks of herself as both as an objective journalist and an advocate. She knows her audience: their culture, their language, their concerns. She sees herself as someone whose role is to strengthen the community by cherishing its culture, while giving immigrants the information they need to assimilate and improve their lives.

Together with our city, community and private bar partners, NYLAG coordinates and participates in press conferences, briefings, large-scale legal clinics and individual assessment programs held at schools, churches, community centers and other safe places within immigrant neighborhoods. In 2015 alone our partnership across the five boroughs culminated in 33 community clinics, serving 1,923 people with general immigration screenings, application assistance for citizenship, and a range of other services. A critical factor in our success has been extensive and prominent ethnic media coverage that helps immigrants to become informed consumers and encourages them to seek out the services that are available to them.

Ethnic press exposure helped us spread the word to many vulnerable populations, including: Haitian nationals seeking temporary protective status following the 2010 earthquake; DREAMERs newly eligible for DACA in 2012; the forgotten immigrant victims of Superstorm Sandy; and women in Chinatown fleeing domestic violence. It has enabled us to communicate the benefits of the city’s Municipal ID program to those who are undocumented, homeless, or struggle to obtain government-issued ID that accurately reflects their gender. And, at a time when inflammatory political rhetoric and the President’s stalled executive action on immigration have created an unprecedented level of fear, thanks to ethnic media news stories we have been able to help communities isolated by culture and language get the real facts about our nation’s immigration policies.

As one of the largest immigrant services providers in the State of New York, we have long made it a priority to educate immigrant communities about the dangers of fraudulent immigration law practitioners, a pervasive, ongoing problem that tends to surge at times of heightened insecurity and fear. In this area in particular, ethnic media has provided a cultural and educational lifeline to immigrant populations vulnerable to the false promises of notarios and others who prey on them.

An amazing example of their power played out in 2014, when Attorney General Eric Schneiderman appointed NYLAG the administrator of a multimillion dollar fund to provide restitution to immigrants defrauded by nonprofit organizations that made false promises of citizenship, engaged in the unauthorized practice of law, and illegally charged exorbitant fees for services. NYLAG’s job was to find, through community outreach and direct mail, thousands of immigrants who might be eligible for restitution. A tall order, since years had passed and many potential claimants had moved on with their lives.

That’s where the ethnic media community made all the difference. Over the course of the next several months, Spanish-language newspapers, websites, TV and radio outlets blitzed immigrant communities – often running multiple stories that laid out the sordid details, featured immigrant victims of the scam and urged people who may have been defrauded to apply for restitution. 75% of the nearly 2,000 immigrants who eventually received compensation read or heard about the fund through a Spanish-language media report.

A recent Rutgers University study looked at the health of the media ecosystem in Newark as compared to several nearby New Jersey suburbs. It raises concerns about the risks associated with “media deserts” – communities that get significantly less original news coverage than other communities, creating an information gap that can be devastating to underserved populations. [1]

We need to make sure that there are no media deserts in the City of New York. It is essential to have independent news sources with distinctive personalities, as well as a commitment to, and engagement with, underserved communities.

Ethnic media provides vital information in a targeted, culturally sensitive way that has helped us reach more people, more effectively and in less time than mainstream media alone can do. We applaud the efforts of this Committee to clarify and confirm the unique value and role of the ethnic press in New York City, and to take steps that will ensure that these trusted messengers remain a central partner in our commitment to open and effective communications with immigrant communities.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today.

Respectfully submitted,

Camilla Jenkins, Director of Communications

 

[1]   Napoli, Philip M., Sarah Stonbely, Kathleen McCollough, and Bruce Renninger. “Assessing the Health of Local Journalism Ecosystems: A Comparative Analysis of Three New Jersey Communities.” Rutgers School of Communication and Information. June 2015.

http://mpii.rutgers.edu/assessing-the-health-of-local-journalism-ecosystems/