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Nov. 6 Election May Determine the Future for Young Bronx Immigrants

Eduardo Resendiz woke up in Mexico City to his mother’s whisper. “My son, get your things ready, we are about to leave,” she said seven years ago. “We’re going to meet your dad in the United States.”

The next thing the lanky teen remembered were two grueling bus trips along 700 miles to the northern border, and a frightening trip with a dodgy coyote — a human smuggler — who would paddle the family of three for a fee in a small, inflatable raft over the Rio Grande River along the Texan border.

“We were like zombies, tired, hot and hungry,” said the now 22-year old junior at Lehman College from his apartment on University Avenue in the Bronx. All his life he had heard countless stories about migrants who never made it across.

Resendiz never imagined that seven years later he would still be living in a country where he was not able to work legally, where the threat of deportation is always looming. “I never really had a decision about this,” he said. “I didn’t really know what it meant, I just knew that we had to pack and go.”

But now, the executive order by President Barack Obama that offers deportation deferral to some young undocumented immigrants might dramatically change his future. If the offer of deferral extends to Resendiz, his immigration status would not be permanently resolved, but he would be able to apply for college scholarships.  More importantly for him, he would be able to work legally.

That’s if Obama is re-elected on Nov. 6. If the President loses, his opponent, Gov. Mitt Romney has promised to eventually put a halt to the program. The policy could be easily overturned because it was an executive order.

Eduardo Resendiz, 22, is eager for the elections to be over. If Obama wins, he could legally work in America. (JIKA GONZALEZ/The Bronx Ink)

On Aug. 15, the first day that the policy was put into effect, Resendiz was among the thousands of young undocumented immigrants who lined up around schools, churches and consulates waiting to fill out applications for deferred action.

But unlike the thousands of hopefuls who jumped at the chance to change their immigration status, Resendiz’ application is sitting in a drawer, still waiting for his own signature.  He is waiting to file his paperwork until he knows the result of next week’s presidential election.

Deferred action for childhood arrivals, referred to as DACA, is meant for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children and teens. Applicants must fit specific criteria. They must prove that they were brought in to the U.S. before their 16th birthday and be under 31. They must be in school, have a high school diploma or equivalent. And they must have a clean criminal record.

Some legal experts understand the fears, but believe that simply submitting papers will probably not increase the possibility of deportation. “There are risks involved, but deportation is highly unlikely,” said Maaria Mahmood, a third-year law student at Brooklyn Law School, who assisted Eduardo with the application. “The government is saying that they won’t go after the families, but you have to understand that you are giving all your information to the government.”

While the president’s offer of temporary amnesty is promising, Resendiz remains skeptical. The politically divisive climate has led to anxiety, and while Republican candidate Mitt Romney has publicly said that he won’t reverse approvals, he has also stated that he will halt the program as soon as he’s in office. “I don’t want to put my family in danger,” said Resendiz, noting that his mother, father and sister are also undocumented. “I think it’s too risky knowing that Romney could reverse the decision.”

Applicants are screened by the U.S. Office of Homeland Security. Those who meet the criteria will be allowed to remain in the United States and work legally for two years. As the policy stands now, they will be able to re-apply after the initial two-year deferral passes.

With deportations at a record high, averaging 400,000 per year under Obama’s presidency, the new policy could benefit up to 1.7 million of the 4.4 million unauthorized immigrants, according to the Pew Research Center.

From 2005 to 2010 the department of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which is overseen by Homeland Security, apprehended over 34,000 New Yorkers, according to a study published last July by the Immigrants Rights Clinic of New York University School of Law. Apprehensions have increased 60 percent since 2006, averaging at 7417 each year. The report also noted that 91 percent of those detained in New York are deported.

Resendiz fears that if he does not get approved, or if the policy is reversed, he could be putting himself and his family at risk of deportation. “I’m afraid of being separated from my family, afraid of having to go back to Mexico and having to start all over again,” he said.

Seven years after arriving to the United States, diplomas awarded for his academic performance line the walls of the young man’s room. He dreams of being a music teacher, and of being to others what his mentors have been to him.

“All the teachers remember him, even the principal,” said Ian Mustich, Resendiz’ former music teacher at New World High School, the school where Resendiz landed when he arrived as a teen to New York.

At the time he found walking around New York City was “unreal,” and settling into a new life in the Bronx, tough. “You don’t know how to get around, you don’t know the language,” said Eduardo. “You feel like you don’t belong.”

When Resendiz arrived to the U.S. with his mother and his 7-year old sister, his father had already been living in the Bronx for three years. His father had left Mexico in 2002 when Eduardo was only 12 years old.  He had come to make more money as a construction worker and support his family back home.

A photograph of the Resendiz family when Eduardo, his mother and sister first arrived to the United States. (JIKA GONZALEZ/The Bronx Ink)

Three years later, Resendiz’ mother decided that it was time to reunite her family. She felt that her children needed a father. “They needed to recognize who he was, they needed to know who was putting food on the table,” she said in Spanish.

The first day as a high school freshman was rough. Resendiz, who said he had always been a straight A student, found himself frustrated and unable to communicate. “All my classes were in English and I didn’t even know how to ask for permission to drink water or go to the bathroom,” he recalled. “I got home and I told my parents that I didn’t want to go back.”

Resendiz was disillusioned, but his parents pushed him to keep trying. Six months later he finally began to adapt. Mustich, who taught at the school for eight years, described Eduardo as an outstanding student. Three years after graduation the principal still has a picture of Eduardo and his friends on his desk.

Today, Resendiz feels at home. He identifies as both Mexican and American, but feels he cannot grow lasting roots in the U.S. as long as he remains undocumented. “I live here, I speak the language, I feel accepted,” he said.

As of Sept. 14, over 32,000 undocumented immigrants have applied for the Obama Administration’s deferred action. So far, 29 applicants have been approved, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Services.

“The chances that Eduardo won’t be granted deferred action are slim to none,” said Thanu Yakupitiyage, a communications associate at The New York Immigration Coalition. “He is a highly qualified candidate.” She calculates that once Eduardo sends his application, he would have the result in roughly six months time.

Yakupitiyage, who got to know Resendiz when he was granted a college scholarship through the coalition in 2012, was with Resendiz when he put his application materials together. There were hundreds of people inside and out of lower Manhattan’s St. Mary’s church. Resendiz gathered his documents quickly but did not leave when he was done, remembered Yakupitiyage. He stayed and offered his help to other deferred action hopefuls throughout the day. “He is very talented, very smart and very active in his community,” she said.

Pending the results of next week’s election, Resendiz will be ready to file his paperwork. “It’s necessary to have peace of mind and not have the fear of deportation always present,” he said. He wants to make his parents proud, graduate from college and get a master’s degree. “But when you’re not stable in a country, you can’t do much, you can’t put roots down.”

Eduardo Resendiz, 22, a music major at Lehman College: “When you’re not stable in a country, you can’t do much, you can’t put roots down.” (JIKA GONZALEZ/The Bronx Ink)




Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Featured, Politics0 Comments

Raising The Age: One Step Towards Fixing The Juvenile Criminal System

Javier Gonzalez, a 24-year-old from the South Bronx, looks down at the floor as he speaks. The traces of prison are tattooed on his body. “Dear God,” starts off the ink on his right arm, “I am a sinner and need forgiveness.”

Gonzalez was arrested for the first time when he was 16 and was caught carrying a knife. A charge for weapons possession sent him to the Mohawk Correctional Facility, a medium security prison near upstate Utica, where the median age of inmates is 35.

That initial charge altered the rest of his life. If Gonzalez had been arrested in Connecticut or New Jersey, he would not have to report his record to future employers. But because he was arrested at age 16 in New York State, Gonzalez was considered an adult and his record follows him wherever he goes. “If you’re old enough to commit the crime, you’re old enough to do the time,” he said. “That’s how they look at it.”

Approximately 46,000 minors come into contact with the New York courts each year. In 2009, 47,339 youths between the ages of 16 and 17 were arrested. More than half of those arrests were in New York City, according to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services.

New York and North Carolina are the only two states that set criminal responsibility at the age of 16.  While the law is at the discretion of the court judge, minors arrested after their 16th birthday and sentenced to more than a year are often tried as adults and incarcerated in adult correctional facilities.

New York also treats teens 13 to 15 years old as adults when they are accused of murder or other serious crimes. They are considered juvenile offenders, and are subject to mandatory imprisonment unless the ruling judge decides to make an exception.

According to a 2011 report by the Governor’s Children’s Cabinet Advisory Board, these youth are “systematically disadvantaged” because having an adult criminal record “reduces lifelong opportunities for education, employment and housing.”

Since he left the bench in 2008, former New York judge Michael Corriero has been on a mission to change the age of criminal responsibility in the state. Corriero, who served as a judge in various state courts for 28 years, has been touring New York talking to community and family organizations about the “Raise the Age” campaign, a movement that aims to increase the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18. Now, he and others say, the turning point could come as soon as January when reform of the current laws will come before the state legislature.

Former New York judge Michael Corriero talks about juvenile criminal responsibility to an audience of students, teachers and community leaders at the Hyde Leadership Charter School in the Bronx. (JIKA GONZALEZ/The Bronx Ink)

“Children in Hunts Point should have the same opportunities as children in Scarsdale,” said Corriero at a recent community forum at the Hyde Leadership Charter School in the South Bronx. “We are denying young people the American dream by judging them for poor choices made at a young age.”

Elmer Blanco, a youthful offender once judged in Corriero’s courtroom, was like the many teens that Corrieo wants to help. The scar over Blanco’s left eyebrow is a reminder of his days with Dominicans Don’t Play, an American-Dominican street gang that he considered family when he lived in the Bronx. “I got jumped so bad I don’t even know what they hit me with,” said Blanco, now 24, describing one of his last street fights with the gang. “I got messed up real bad.”

When Blanco was 15, he had already had a run-in with the law and had spent a year in a juvenile detention facility. He was on probation for five years.

After his release, Blanco returned to the Bronx and enrolled in a new school, but maintained ties to his old group. “All of a sudden, it’s like you’re the man,” said Blanco, talking about the status his conviction gave him. “I’m thinking I’m cool because I was arrested, my friends are giving me props.”

Shortly after leaving “juvi,” Blanco was back in trouble. He was “jumped” by some guys in school — an action that, in his mind, called for revenge. Blanco hid a glass soda bottle in his North Face jacket, knowing that the metal detectors at school would not pick up on the weapon.

“My mentality that day was: ‘I’m going to get arrested, I don’t care,” he said.

The punches started. “I took the one nearest to me, I took the bottle and hit him three times in the face,” said Blanco. “The last time, he got cut because the bottle was already open.” The other boy required 17 stitches.

Because of the assault, Blanco was sentenced to 18 months at the Youth Leadership Academy, a boot camp-style juvenile detention center run by the Office of Children and Family Services in upstate New York.

Blanco credits the center for instilling discipline in him, although he continued to get into trouble a few more times after his release. He was fortunate to land in Corriero’s courtroom.  The judge, he said, could have locked him up for violating parole, but instead gave him multiple chances to turn his life around.  “Corriero was super mad at me,” Blanco said. “But he still gave me the benefit of the doubt.”

“There is so much talk today about this school-to-prison pipeline,” said Corriero, referring to the policies that are viewed as pushing students out of school and into the criminal justice system. Corriero believes that reform could “derail that pipeline” by addressing the issues that bring teens into the system when they first come into contact with the court.

“How many of you would like to be defined by what you did at 14?” asked Corriero, as heads shook from side to side in the high school gym at the community forum in the South Bronx. Former youthful offenders such as Blanco often accompany him for these talks.

“Come January, we will need you to make sure that legislators hear you,” he said. “I need to do it with you, I need your activism.”  Corriero is looking for community members to support his campaign by calling their elected officials and asking them to raise the age of criminal responsibility. He wants to have community organizations backing him up when lawmakers address the issue.

Corriero views the “Raise the Age” campaign as an initial step towards reform in the juvenile justice system. Several studies, such as those conducted by the Vera Institute of Justice and the MacArthur Foundation, show that children and teenagers are developmentally different from adults and require special treatment.

As judge, Corriero presided over Manhattan’s Youth Part, a court set aside within the adult court system that deals exclusively with the cases of 13 to 15-year-olds charged with serious and violent crimes. “My experience in the Youth Part really confirmed that we really want to be dealing with kids in a different way,” said Corriero. In his 2006 book, Judging Children as Children, he outlined his views on the current system and offered a detailed reform.

As a former judge, Corriero is one of the few public figures lobbying for change, but he now has support from New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippmann. “Put simply, the adult criminal justice system is not designed to address the special problems and needs of 16 and 17-year-olds,” said Lippmann in a speech to the Citizens Crime Commission in September, 2011. “Prosecuting these adolescents in the criminal courts does not improve public safety or the quality of life in our communities.”

Corriero considers Lippmann’s support  a crucial step because it is the first time in decades that someone in his position has publicly addressed the issue and supported the cause.  The laws regarding juvenile criminal responsibility have not been addressed in legislation since 1978 when it was decided to officially treat juvenile offenders 16 and older as adults.

Lippmann asked the New York State Permanent Sentencing Commission to work with Corriero to “produce the blueprint for a more modern and more effective juvenile justice system.”

Corriero views the next few months as a window of opportunity that has never existed before, and hopes that the commission’s upcoming proposals will be a priority for the legislature in early 2013.

According to the New York Center for Juvenile Justice, an organization formed by Corriero with the mission of  promoting fair reform for juveniles in the criminal system, children convicted as adults have no access to the therapy and rehabilitation they need. If they were tried in Family Court, they would be more likely to get specialized services.

Corriero also noted that 60 to 80 percent are re-arrested within 36 months of their release – a statistic that both Javier Gonzalez and Elmer Blanco illustrate. Recidivism rates are high for teens convicted as minors and adults, an issue that in Corriero’s view should be addressed through specialized services in Family Court.

Although Corriero sees solutions in Family Court, he does not see it as ideal. “Before we can transfer all of these kids to the Family Court, we have to re-invest in the Family Court as an institution,” he said. “We need more Family Court judges… we need more services and the expansion of services, we need more facilities that are child friendly.”

After being out of prison for two years, Gonzalez found himself back behind bars serving a second sentence for drugs and, once again, weapons possession. Blanco also re-offended, but unlike Gonzalez, the opportunities he was offered through the Family Court have led to education and employment. He is now a business administrator at the Children’s Aid Society, an organization he was introduced to as part of the rehabilitation program Blanco completed with his second sentence.

Studies show that children and teens prosecuted in adult criminal court are more likely to re-offend because they don’t get services that they need. “It’s sort of mind-boggling,” said the Rev. Que English, president of the Bronx Clergy Criminal Justice Roundtable, a coalition of community-based and faith-based organizations that work together to identify and address community issues. English views the current policy as a way to guarantee recidivism.

“You’re putting them in an adult population so you’re messing with their psyche,” she said. “They’re not ready for adulthood. They still need that walking by the hand; they still need that mama, and they still need that family structure.”

Despite all the evidence supporting reform, Corriero has struggled to convince others.  “It’s a tough sell when nobody is talking about spending money,” said Corriero. By Corriero’s estimates, it would take $80 million to reform Family Court all at once. Even though the overall investment for reform is high, he is convinced that over time, the state would save money.  According to the Correctional Association of New York, it costs an average $226,320 to keep someone in a juvenile detention for one year in New York. Alternative community based programs in other states cost $2,500 to $15,000 per youth per year.

“Some people think the system works, but we’re locking up more people than almost any other nation in the world,” said Corriero. There are 2.3 million people currently imprisoned in the Unites States — approximately 1 percent of the population.

He pointed out the United States is not a signatory to the United Nations Convention to the Rights of the Child, which indicates that children under the age of 18 should get special treatment. “That’s why I say it has to be addressed at the level of morality, as a civil rights issue,” he said.

An argument against reform is that kids committing serious crimes shouldn’t get off easy just because they’re young, and should pay for their crimes just as adults. Corriero’s response to this is that those cases can be dealt with separately, “In a more intelligent way,” he said. In his view, it is only a small percentage of convicted minors, those charged with the most heinous of crimes, who should be treated with the same severity as adults.

Corriero believes that approximately 40,000 minors out of the approximate 46,000 minors that get arrested every year should be dealt with in the family court, and the remainder could be considered as adults on case-to-case basis.

“There are always ways in which we can identify the violent child,” said Corriero. “But the vast majority of children who come in contact with the criminal adult system are accused of non-violent offenses. They surely are redeemable.”

Randy Harper, the manager of a Bronx a residence where  young people live while waiting for their cases to be addressed in the Family Court, strongly disagrees with Corriero’s campaign. Harper believes that if these teens aren’t addressed by the time they are in the 8th grade, it is a lost cause. “They have to realize there are consequences for their actions,” he said, adding that  “18 is too late.”

Halper, who volunteers his Saturdays to coach basketball for kids at the Southeast Bronx Neighborhood Center, says the most important thing is to help youngsters see that they may have a future beyond the difficult circumstances of their neighborhoods.

Blanco graduated from high school, completed an associate degree at Bronx Community College, and went on to get his bachelor’s degree at Baruch College. He is considering getting a master’s degree and hopes to soon move out of his parent’s apartment.  His record is now sealed.

“He’s cool,” Blanco said, referring to Corriero. “He gave me a lot of chances.”

Gonzalez on the other hand, is out of prison and done with parole, but finds himself unemployed, with unstable housing and a baby on the way. “I just came home, and I’m trying to get my life together,” he said. But he is pessimistic about the future. “I’ve got three felonies, who’s going to hire me?”





Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Crime, Education, Southern Bronx1 Comment

75-Year-Old Woman Attacked Inside City Housing Project

Two men slashed a 75-year-old woman’s throat as she entered her building in the South Bronx, reports  the Daily News.

The victim, Rosa Rodriguez, was left bleeding in front of her builing in the St. Mary’s Park Houses where she has lived for more than 40 years. Rodriguez is currently hospitalized.

Following the incident, neighbors rallied outside the housing project complaining about the lack of security.




Posted in Newswire0 Comments

Police Identify Hypodermic Needle Robber

The police have released the photo of Anthony Angel Cintron, 39, who allegedly threatened victims with hypodermic needle.

The  victims of the robberies were all male, and as young as 14, reports NBC 4 New York. Citron is accused of stealing  iPads, iPods and cell phones, police said.

Anyone with information in regards to these incidents is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-577-TIPS or at NYPDCRIMESTOPPERS.COM or by texting their tips to 274637 (CRIMES) then enter TIP577.

All calls are kept strictly confidential.

Posted in Newswire0 Comments

Bronx District Attorney Curbs Stop-and-Frisk Abuses

Angelo Meneses, 17, protested the New York City Police Department’s Stop and Frisk policies at a rally held by the New York Civil Liberties Union at City Hall. (JIKA GONZALEZ/ The Bronx Ink)

The Bronx District Attorney’s office became the first in the city to openly question the validity of some stop-and-frisk arrests, by requiring police officers to verify each one in person before charges are rendered.

In the past, arresting police officers had to fill out a sworn statement and routine paperwork. Now, officers will now also have to prove under questioning that the suspect was not a resident or an invited guest in the housing project. The policy has been in place in the Bronx since July, as first reported by the New York Times.

“It’s a great step and it shows that the community pressure can no longer be ignored,” said Jose La Salle, a community organizer with Stop Stop & Frisk, a police reform advocacy group. “People don’t really know yet, but it’s up to the community to let the community know.”

The policy’s objective is to “seek the truth” and give prosecutors a better understanding of the cases before they lay charges, said Steven Reed, spokesperson for the Bronx District Attorney Robert T. Johnson.

“When we don’t have the ability to question the officer as to the specifics, we don’t always get the complete picture of what occurred,” he wrote in an email to the

Reed also said his office discussed the policy with other district attorneys and with police before it was implemented. He declined to comment further due to ongoing litigation.

Legal and community advocates in the Bronx responded with guarded relief. “The Bronx District Attorney’s Office found what we have seen on the ground for years–a pattern of unlawful arrests resulting from the NYPD’s policies that target young men of color,” said Robin Steinberg, executive director of The Bronx Defenders, a non-profit legal aid organization.

Police data shows that young black men represent 26 percent of NYPD stops, but only 2 percent of the city’s population. Latino men make up 16 percent of the stops, but only 3 percent of the city’s population.

“It’s about time that a prosecutor finally had the courage to stand up to the NYPD,” Steinberg said.

Numbers from August show misdemeanor trespassing cases in the Bronx have dropped by almost 25 percent, which suggests the new policy may be having a dramatic effect.  Total trespass arrests have also declined in the Bronx since this time last year, dropping by more than 38 percent.

In other boroughs like Manhattan and Brooklyn, the number of cases declined by only 5 percent since last August. In Queens, trespass arrests actually saw an increase over the same time frame.

District attorneys in the other four boroughs have not commented on Johnson’s policy change.

Community activists hope the other boroughs will follow suit.  Bronx prosecutors “are starting to see that they can’t stand behind the NYPD,” said Andrea Ritchie, a civil rights attorney with Streetwise & Safe. “They don’t want to waste their time prosecuting people for no reason.”

The move is a step in the right direction, said Tomasina Sams Riddick, co-founder of the Black Law Enforcement Alliance, a nonprofit civil rights group that advocates fair law enforcement practices for people of color. She said the move highlights the current need to execute stop-and-frisk “appropriately” and puts more responsibility on police to arrest with a reason.

FURTHER READING: Sounding Off Stop and Frisk: Bronx Ink reporters fanned out over 12 neighborhoods last week to capture the stories and thoughts from Bronx residents about law enforcement tactics.


Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Crime, Former Featured, Front Page, Housing, Sizing up Stop and Frisk1 Comment

Bloomberg Criticizes Bronx District Attorney for Stance on Stop and Frisk

Mayor Bloomberg has asked the Bronx District attorney to reconsider the decision to halt prosecution of unwarranted arrests during stop-and-frisk, reports the  NY Post.

“If you want to bring crime back to New York, this is probably a good way to do it, ” said Bloomberg.

The District Attorney’s position is meant to avoid unnecessary prosecution on people who have been arrested for trespassing on public housing projects unless the arresting police can verify the arrest was legitimate.

The decision was made after many complaints that housing tenants and their guests were being stopped and arrested for no legitimate reason.



Posted in Newswire0 Comments

Assembly District Challenger Sues City Board of Elections

After losing the elections for the 84th Assembly District, Maximino Rivera is suing the New York City Board of Elections, reports the Daily News.

Rivera is accusing Assemblywoman Carmen Arroyo of using “intimidation” tacticts to win the election.

The accusation claims will be heard by a judge on Monday, Oct. 3.

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Donald Trump’s Golf Course Angering Bronx Residents

Donald Trump’s $97 million golf course development is angering Ferry Point residents who are now dealing with the release of high levels of methane gas, reports the Daily News.

The golf course is being developed over a garbage dump that has been closed since 1963. Methane, produced by decomposing garbage, is being released due to the construction.

The release of methane has been a concern since 2000 when the golf course was first proposed.

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