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Find out how to fight for immigrants in New York

Written by
Tolly Wright

Fact: More than 3 million New Yorkers were born in countries outside the United States. That’s nearly 40 percent of our fair city’s population. Yet many are suffering in poverty and lack the resources granted to American citizens and a means to fight unjust workplace situations. Some are refugees, still dealing with the trauma of leaving their home to seek asylum. Others are here illegally and have children who are citizens. “In NYC, immigrant families are terrified of being torn apart by deportation,” says Thanu Yakupitiyage of the New York Immigration Coalition. “Schoolchildren are being harassed in schools and are scared for their parents; immigrant New Yorkers have been subjected to verbal abuse and hate crimes.” Sensing this fear in their neighbors, more than 500 new volunteers have signed up for NYIC in the past month. Here’s how you can pitch in too. 

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to activism in NYC

New York Immigration Coalition

NYIC is an umbrella organization that covers more than 200 immigrant- and refugee-rights groups, organizes, fund-raises and provides general support to immigrants in New York. Among its chief goals are registering new citizens to vote, advocating for local, state and national laws protecting immigrants’ rights, and training people in immigration law. So how can you chip in? The coalition is always looking for volunteers, especially those who can tutor young English-language learners and folks to pitch in at seminars on health-care access, not to mention assist in organizing events, panels and community meetings. Sign up for the newsletter at, or reach out to Yakupitiyage at

Make the Road New York

Since the ’90s, Make the Road New York has helped poor and working-class Latin-American immigrants living in Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island to receive vital government services, including welfare and health care, and provided legal services regarding both immigration law and wage-theft prevention. Its adult-literacy and education services give immigrants agency and are a particular boon in the battle against employers, landlords and groups trying to take advantage of the community. Volunteers can teach English and Spanish literacy and offer GED tutorage. Currently, the agency is particularly in need of tech-savvy do-gooders who can brush up others on computer skills. To volunteer, email Monica Robles at


This organization assists refugees from all corners of the world in finding safety and integrating into American life. While there are several ways to volunteer in NYC, including as an English-conversation partner or by providing legal aid, it doesn’t take education skills or a law degree to make a difference in the HIAS-CIVIC letter-writing group, which gathers once a month to write notes to asylum seekers who are in United States detention centers. The hopeful immigrants have reported how much they appreciate peoples’ thoughts and consideration while in a strange place, waiting to learn whether they can stay in the country.

Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights

Each year, thousands of children come to the United States—without their parents or family members—to escape war, child labor and other atrocities. And when they are discovered by authorities, these young ones are usually sent back to their countries of origin. That’s where the Young Center comes in, working to make sure these kids and teens receive legal aid and an advocate. New Yorkers willing to dedicate a lot of time and energy can apply to be a volunteer child advocate who helps the kids navigate their legal choices, go with them to court hearings and write them letters of recommendation.

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