JACKSON HEIGHTS, Queens (WABC) –Hispanic Heritage Month begins Wednesday, and we’re showcasing a local grassroots group that has grown into one of the most trusted organizations when it comes to immigrant rights.
“I actually think sometime I spend more time here than at my own house,” said Natalia Aristizabal, of Make the Road New York.
The Jackson Heights offices are a haven, a place for learning, legal advice and so much more. It is an organization dedicated to helping immigrant families, founded in a church basement, which has grown over the last 20 years. They provide English lessons and job training to their mostly Latino members, while fighting for civil rights for all immigrants and people of color.
“We have, for a long time, fought for different policies to help our community,” Aristizabal said. “We’ve won some, and we haven’t for others.”
That is why Make the Road hits the road, protesting against issues impacting immigrants such as President Donald Trump’s proposed travel ban and the repeal of DACA. They say their work now is more important than ever.
“It’s the first time in my 13 years of doing this that the most powerful person in power doesn’t actually care about anyone pretty much,” Aristizabal said.
After its humble beginnings, there are now offices in Brooklyn, Staten Island and Long Island. Membership is up to 20,000, and there are 300 to 500 walk-ins every day.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty and fear in the immigrant community,” the organization’s Yaritza Mendez said. “And it goes without saying that it’s not just in the latino community.”
Mendez started at Make the Road as a teenage intern, giving up working at a law firm after college to become citizen outreach coordinator. She says some immigrants have stopped seeking assistance, given the current political climate.
“I think this is just a bump in the road, and we’ll figure it out,” she said. “We are a huge population in this country, and people are not alone and don’t have to live in the shadows.”
It is a grassroots campaign that promises to keep growing.
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