Nonprofit organization assists migrants with filing asylum applications

Marcus Solis Image
Wednesday, August 16, 2023
Nonprofit organization aids migrants with asylum applications
Project Rousseau has been among groups greeting migrants at Port Authority and providing them months of legal and social services in New York City. Marcus Solis has more from Ellis

ELLIS ISLAND (WABC) -- With the stroke of a pen, Juliana Lopez is one step closer to the American dream - filling out Form 1-589, the official application for political asylum.

"I had to leave Columbia," she said. "My life and the lives of my daughters were at risk."

Lopez was among many who gathered on Ellis Island, where migrants have been receiving help with filing out asylum applications, courtesy of a non-profit organization called Project Rousseau.

Though the paperwork could be submitted elsewhere, Project Rousseau specifically chose the Grand Hall at Ellis Island, where nearly eight million immigrants passed through its doors.

"My family came to New York seeking a better life, fleeing nazi persecution," said founder Andrew Heinrich. "We all have a story of coming from somewhere and these folks are a continuation of that story."

The organization's mission is to empower youth in communities with the greatest need to reach their full potential, along with pursuing and exceling in higher education.

The gathering at Ellis Island was just a fraction of the over 100,000 migrants who have arrived in New York City over the past year, most fleeing political persecution in their home countries.

Among those migrants is Omar Urbina, who travelled with his two young children from Venezuela.

Talking to Eyewitness News, Urbina said he's thankful for educational opportunities for his kids and the protections provided by the United States.

Project Rousseau has been among the groups greeting migrants at Port Authority, providing months of legal and social services to people like Najim Arsalam, whose family fled the Taliban in Afghanistan and traveled to the U.S. via Brazil.

"We have suffered with malaria, we were hospitalized for 13 days, we received blood transfusion and with so much suffering, we arrived to the United States," said Arsalam.

For Pedro Perez, who led political protests in Venezuela where government agents would board buses looking for him, the decision to come to the United States is to pursue that American dream.

"We don't come here with any bad intentions," said Perez. "We just want to be free. We just want to be active members of the society."

For many of these asylum seekers, this is just one step in an ongoing process.

However, the path forward promises to be safer and more hopeful than the long road already traveled.

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