Graphic Novel Tries to Help Immigrants Avoid Scammers
JACKSON HEIGHTS — He may not swing from webs or jet across the skies in a cape, but the new protagonist of a Spanish language graphic novel may be a new hero for the immigrant community, warning of fraudsters who try to take advantage of newcomers.
José is the star of “José Busca Legalizarse” (José Seeks Legal Status) — a graphic novel set to be unveiled Thursday night by the Jackson Heights community organization New Immigrant Community Empowerment (N.I.C.E).
In the “Novela Gráfica,” José is an undocumented worker who comes to the United States and gets scammed by illegal immigration service providers who promise to help him gain legal status in the country, according to the organization.
While he is left short on cash in the novel, José’s experience allows him to help out other newly arrived immigrants in the neighborhood.
"Roosevelt Avenue is a hotbed for predatory, sub-standard and sometimes fraudulent practices targeting immigrants," said Valeria Treves, the Executive Director of N.I.C.E. "So, we’ve created this educational material."
This is the first time N.I.C.E is attempting to reach out to the Latino community via graphic novel and the effort is part of its larger immigrant consumer justice campaign.
Of the 2.3 million people living in Queens in 2010, according to the census, close to 50 percent were foreign-born, according to Borough President Helen Marshall’s office.
N.I.C.E. primarily works with newly arrived immigrant workers like José — many of whom toil in low-paying jobs as day laborers or restaurant and deli workers.
Each year, the organization deals with several cases where immigrants have been defrauded in immigration scams, Treves said. Many never get reported to the authorities because immigrants are afraid they will be deported, she added.
Treves hopes the new graphic novel, which will be distributed free at N.I.C.E’s office at 37-41 77th St., will be an easy way to communicate information to the Latino community about scams and to whom they should report such illegal activities.
Instead of a leaflet, which might be tossed out, Treves hopes the book will reel readers in and help them understand how immigration and the legal system works in America.
"José represents the common man in our community. It was very painful for me to hear how people lost their money [to these scams]," said Astoria artist Alfredo Lopez, 28, who is originally from Mexico City and volunteered for N.I.C.E.
"All they want to do is unite with their families. It's very painful for them. I wanted to contribute to my community. We can make the change."
In the six-page novel, José describes the difference between a "Notario" in Latin America and the United States. In South America a "Notario" is usually a lawyer, explains José. But in America, he adds, a "Notario" is a notary officer, who cannot give legal advice.
José also warns his friends to be wary of people or services that promise new immigrants instant legal status. Another tip urges immigrants to write their lawyers checks instead of paying them in cash.
With its bright colors and helpful tips, Treves hopes the graphic novel will be a simple way to help understand a complicated immigration system.
The novel will be unveiled Thursday from 6:30–9 p.m., at the Queens Museum of Art.