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A young lawyer, a night school law student and a veteran New York police officer who made his bones collaring mobsters are part of a small public agency with big plans for providing increased aid and comfort to New York City’s historic influx of new immigrants. Attorney Matilde L. Roman and law student Karen Fleshman, both 33, are as unbashedly idealistic as the boss — NYPD Sergeant John Sharp. Their calling comes at a time of nativist fervor that began in the past decade, and which is exacerbated by the horrific events of Sept. 11, 2001. No matter — Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his budget-cutters have given their blessings to the continued cause of an obscure agency of the Department of Youth and Community Development: “Citizenship New York City.” In fact, said Sharp, 47, the agency’s executive director, “We’re looking to hire [a third] immigration attorney.” Perhaps then he might undertake “a little project with a long way to go — something that’s always bothered me.” By which he means swindlers, such as Adela Holzer, who prey on New York’s most vulnerable newcomers. Holzer, 73, a/k/a Adela Rosian, was sentenced July 11 in Manhattan Supreme Court on conviction of fraud and grand larceny. According to Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, Holzer — a previously convicted con artist and former Broadway producer whose credits include the 1960s hit musical “Hair” — convinced victims that “private immigration relief bills” could be enacted into law by her pals in Congress. “We’ve been ripping off immigrants for as long as there’s been a New York City,” said Sharp, on loan from the NYPD since 1997 when former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani established “Citizenship NYC,” as the agency is commonly known. Holzer notwithstanding, immigrants are more commonly fleeced on smaller scales. For example, said Sharp, “There’s this Pakistani guy operating on Coney Island Avenue in Brooklyn. He’s peddling N-400s [the basic application form published by the Immigration & Naturalization Service] for $35. You can get that from us, or else off the Internet — for free.” Sharp, who oversees a staff of 100, would like to see legislation such as that recently passed in Arizona that would make small-time immigrant scams a low-grade felony. “You open up any ethnic newspaper, and you see these ads in the back pages from notary publics. It’s a scam. They’re offering information that’s either outdated, or free — or they’re holding themselves out as legal consultants.” One such consultant is Chang Ming Li, the subject of complaints by at least one lawyer in the city who alleged in papers filed with the New York Supreme Court Disciplinary Committee that Li appropriated his name without permission in advertisements for spurious legal services. Morgenthau has received the complaint against Li. According to a spokeswoman for the district attorney, “We are proceeding accordingly.” STRANGERS IN A STRANGE LAND Jeanne Ann Mulgrav, commissioner of Youth and Community Development, said the staff of Citizenship NYC is highly sensitive to indignities and mistreatment suffered by immigrants. The census of 2000 found that 36 percent of New Yorkers are immigrants — the highest proportion since 1910. Immigrants may contact Citizenship NYC for help in preparing their INS applications, comforted in knowing that someone at the agency speaks Uzbek, Georgian, Romanian, Tagalog, Urdu, Hindi, Bengali, Khmer, Serbo-Croatian, Spanish, Azerbaijanian, Beloruska, Hatian Creole, Vietnamese, Hebrew, Arabic, Yiddish, Portuguese or one of several Chinese dialects. Virtually everyone at the agency, Mulgrav noted, has family members who were once strangers in a strange land — with little money and few friends to help fend off trouble. Sharp’s grandfather arrived from Germany with 50 cents in his pocket. Allowing for inflation, Roman’s father was no more prosperous in 1963 when he landed in New York from the Dominican Republic with a $10 bill. “A year later, [my father] was able to send for my mother and my brothers and sisters,” said Roman, a graduate of New York Law School. “They lived in a one-bedroom apartment on Delancey Street and shared a bathroom with about 20 other people. I was the first of my family born here — in Brooklyn,” said Roman, who is fluent in Spanish. Describing herself as a “real advocate,” she said, “If you look like your name could be Mohammed, you’re going to be approached. So it’s important to become a citizen. Once you’re a citizen, it’s much harder for the authorities to make trouble for you.” Roman began agency duties only this week. Prior to that, she worked as an immigration attorney for a Manhattan solo practitioner. Fleshman, like Sharp, has been at Citizenship NYC since its inception — as director of the agency’s community outreach program. She is now in her final year as an evening student at Roman’s alma mater, New York Law School. After working 12-hour days to establish the agency during its first crucial year, Fleshman said she took advantage of the graduate scholarship program in the mayor’s office and decided to become a lawyer. While the program does not offer 100 percent tuition, she said, “When I graduate, I’ll have no debt.” CHALLENGING LEGISLATION Fleshman was recruited by Angie Tang, the former executive director of the mayor’s office of immigrant affairs during the Giuliani administration. Tang was the keynote speaker at a conference in Austin, Texas, organized by Fleshman to mobilize lawyers and civil rights activists to challenge a trio of 1996 federal laws she characterized as “terrible” for immigrants: The Illegal Immigrant & Responsibility Act, the Personal Responsibility & Work Opportunity Act, and the Anti-Terrorism & Effective Death Penalty Act. During her undergraduate years at the University of Texas, Fleshman studied to become a development economist. After a year in Latin America, she came to dislike the practice of “interloping in another society and telling [people] what they needed to do in their country,” she said. “Instead, I needed to work on my country.” Today, Fleshman directs a staff of 13 people who hold citizenship workshops for immigrant organizations around the city. Additionally, Fleshman and her staff visit city schools to impress on children of immigrants the importance of their becoming citizens. “Case in point,” said Sharp. “We had a kid who wasn’t doing what he had to do to become a citizen. He goes down to Daytona Beach at spring break with phony I.D. to get into the bars. Now it’s I.D. fraud, so now the kid’s in trouble. Since he’s not a citizen, he could get deported. Which could happen. The FBI is looking all over the place for members of al-Qaida.” Bryan R. Pu-Folkes, an attorney and director of programs for the private bar at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, praised the work of Citizenship NYC. “There’s a general fear that’s pervasive in the immigrant community,” said Pu-Folkes, 33. “That comes out of an anxiety in dealing with government or government forms.” The fact that Mayor Bloomberg did not cut Citizenship NYC when so many other agencies were cut, said Pu-Folkes, is “a real indication that the mayor is going to be a strong advocate for immigrants and for human rights generally.”

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