South Bronx Talks with Javi is a weekly interview show hosted by Javi Lopez, a student-athlete on the South Bronx United 2003 Boys. In the first episode, Javi interviewed Sara Gomez, the Immigration Services Program Manager at South Bronx United. This is an excerpt of the interview and the first in a series of transcriptions from the episodes. The episode initially aired on April 10th.
Javi: I’m your host Javi Lopez from South Bronx United Boys U17. Today our first guest is going to be Sara Gomez. She is SBU staff who does a lot of things. This entire show is going to be about her job and her soccer career and how she wants soccer to be improved and how everything will be affected after the coronavirus. So, I hope you guys like it and yeah, peace. I have some questions about your job and about a lot of stuff I know about you, but I don’t know all of it so I’m just going to get some answers from them.
Sara: Sounds good. Thank you for having me on your show. I’m very excited to be here.
Javi: Yeah, well you’re the first person so.
Sara: I know, I’m so honored. My name is Sara Gomez and my title at SBU is the Immigration Services Program Manager so a little bit about what that means is that I’m the DOJ accredited representative on staff so if students or their families have questions about their immigration situation, I’m the expert on staff who can answer their questions, or if I can’t answer them myself, I will connect them with somebody who can. So, I’m not an attorney, but under this accreditation, I can file certain applications in a section of immigration law, immigration practice called USCIS for people. So yeah, if there’s anything I can’t do, so the limitation is that I can’t represent people in court, for example, I would connect students and their families with an attorney. And also, as part of my job, I run our Global Youth League which is part of our rec program, which I’m sure you’ve heard about. It’s on Saturdays. So specifically, I do the Global Youth League, which is our U19 league.
Javi: Alright, Oh I’m so excited. Well, so my first question. How are you doing with this isolation stuff, like how are you keeping yourself busy, are you trying something new?
Sara: Yeah, I mean it’s been a really big change. You know, I think the first week was definitely really hard because it felt sudden like SBU closed its office on a Thursday we were told that the next day we were closed.
Javi: Yeah, I remember because I was at practice, and my phone started ringing and I saw the news and how everything was shutting down in one day and I talked to Andy about it, and he said: “I don’t know what we’re going to do.” The next day they sent out those emails about schools closing and everything was just overwhelming.
Sara: Yeah, I think overwhelming is a good way to describe it, and I remember being on the field that night with Andy because I also manage the women’s team that started this year, so we were both on the field like “oh my gosh”. The MLS was done and all of the professional leagues were done, here we are, what’s going to happen with us, and there was a little bit of uncertainty and a lot of anxiety, and then the next day we were closed, and yeah that we were adjusting to being home all the time. It was hard. I live with my partner and my brother, and our apartment is really small so having to all be at home together at the same time is hard so you know, be productive, because I knew I still had a full day of work but just making sure that I’m being productive in the most helpful way with all of the changes was definitely hard in that first week but something that has helped me, was when I created a space in my apartment where I work so that’s my office and I commute to work every day. Takes about 30 seconds but I commute, but I sit there all day and make sure that I change my clothes and just little things that seem silly, but really do help. I try not to be in my pajamas all day and I have a workspace and I feel like those things have been really helpful.
Javi: Well I could relate with the whole office thing. Because In my kitchen, I have to treat the day like a school day. So, at 8:15 I have to get online and sign in to all my classes. I have to show up to English, and then 2nd and 3rd period. I’m in the corner of the kitchen with the table. I’ll ask people not to bother me because you know you don’t have to go to school, but you still have to go to school, so you wake up in a bad mood, do you think “man I thought I was going to be home all day”.
Javi: It’s been pretty interesting, to be honest. Like my perspective of it is way different to other people, to be honest. But I feel like a lot of people needed this break. I feel like the whole entire world needed this break. So, after this is all over, I feel like people are going to work really hard, so we’re going to see the whole world just come in together and get better and better so I’m sort of excited for it.
Sara: I think it’s nice to be able to see that silver lining and the positive side despite this being a horrible thing that’s happened. I can see where you’re coming from like it’s forced people to take a step back and really look at what’s important.
Javi: Yeah, and what their lives and goals are. I’ve been thinking a lot actually and it’s been pretty great for me. I’m not going to lie. It’s been great. I’ve been taking a lot of naps and when this is over I’m going to have a lot of energy.
Sara: What position do you play?
Javi: I play Center back
Sara: Well no one will get by you because you’ll be the fasted one and you’ll be so well-rested.
Javi: We have a new physical coach and he pulls up videos every day of our workouts and it’s been great. It was really great, and it works. So, I’m inspired and I want to do more so it’s great. How do you think COVID and isolation will affect immigration in the future in the US as a whole and SBU with the parents and clients? How will that affect your job and immigration?
Sara: Something that I’ve been thinking about during this whole crisis is that so many policies have been changed, not really in immigration, but some have. Some have changed that previously were very limited, but now because of this crisis, they’ve been expanded, so many people could access them, that weren’t able to before. I’ll use unemployment benefits as an example because so many people are now out of jobs, the federal government found a way to make sure that under the Cares Act, so many people can apply for unemployment benefits, and also under the cares act is the stimulus bill, which is the $1,000-$2,000 checks which you’ve probably heard about that people are supposed to get. Some people are joking about it as their “coronavirus check” which is interesting because there are always reasons why lawmakers decide that immigrants don’t fall apply for certain policies. Like low-income people, there are always barriers for them to receive certain government benefits. It goes to this idea of who deserving of certain benefits. The “deserving poor” as some would think of it. But now because of this global crisis, they’ve magically found a way for so many people to benefit from it. Yes, there is a global crisis, and yes there are many people in need, but this is something that you’ve shown that could have happened before too, and it’s intentional that it isn’t accessible to so many people.
Javi: So, it’s going to be over, and it’s going to go back to the same thing.
Sara: Yeah, it’s frustrating that without the context of a global pandemic, people who aren’t deserving don’t get the money that they need or the benefits that they need. But now people who are part of this “undeserving poor”, now that they need it, now we’ve been able to expand things. So that’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot, and something that I think is really frustrating and something that needs to change, but putting that in the immigration context, things that have changed are the immigration courts are closed, unless you’re detained from what I hear. Unless you’re in custody, your court case isn’t continuing. People who were previously checking in with ICE (Immigration Customs Enforcement) in person, now we’re checking in over the phone.
Javi: Which is worse sort of.
Sara: Yeah so that’s still happening, most court cases are at a pause. And now in terms of applying for new things, things are still being accepted, like new applications of being accepted but I don’t know who’s actually working on them or anything like that but it just seems like things are sort of at a standstill. Right now, ICE has said that they’re going to step off the gas pedal a little bit regarding ICE raids in communities and things like that. The word from advocacy groups is that this shouldn’t be trusted so that’s frustrating because as per usual their tactics are shady. So, going back to the original question about how it’s impacting everyone right now, I think I’ve been trying to make sure that messages are getting across clearly, so we’ve had webinars last week about what’s been going on. And in terms of how things will change in the future, I think it’s a little anxiety-provoking to think about when things will be back on if there will be any leeway for people who are given people who have cases in immigration court or have applications pending because let’s take DACA for example. (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), which is something that the Trump Administration has been trying to take away completely. If you have that status you need to reapply for it every two years I think so right now if someone’s status is about to expire, they need to reapply for it now but it’s difficult to do that considering everything that is going on in the world. Nothing has been announced yet to my knowledge about the governments expanding the expiration date or giving people the ability to recertify later so it’s scary to think about, what if someone is unable to re-certify right now and their thing just expires completely. What is going to happen to them? I would be surprised if they gave that for something that they’re trying to take away completely. You know? I think this organization as you know is super unique and does a lot. And we’re still small enough where every staff member has an opportunity to do a variety of things if they want to so my title doesn’t really encompass everything that I do because I’m able to do a bunch of other things. So, I don’t know if this is a cop-out answer or if this sounds corny but I really do enjoy my job in general and I love having the flexibility to do a bunch of different things, and I’m not limited to one thing. I’ve personally played soccer my whole life and my dad is an immigrant from Mexico and my mom is first-generation here Puerto Rican. And so, it’s really an amazing place to be and just being able to work with other people who are in similar situations that I was in is really cool.
Javi: One thing that I noticed is that everyone on staff is from a different culture and it’s interesting that our coaches and staff come from different backgrounds. And it’s interesting how you can do a lot of things like you said you’re from the women’s soccer team and your also managing accounts to help out people in the community and you also do your job from day to day and if other opportunities open, you could even do that. We’re a small organization but at the end of the day we have a lot of people who are good at what they do and they want to do more. The staff and the coaches always want to do more so that’s one reason why I stayed with the team. I’m going to stay with SBU for the next year because I know something new is going to happen because it’s been happening for the past four years. That’s something I look forward to doing because it’s like my job without getting paid. Every day I’ve got tutoring and then practice and then something new happens and that’s just exciting, to be honest. It’s exciting to have a change every year. So, you’re saying the women’s team have come out in January, right?
Sara: Yes, I believe our first practice was in January.
Javi: So how do you feel about playing with them, and what are some things you hope to accomplish with that team, are you accepting new players. What are your plans and future ideas?
Sara: Yeah so, the men’s team has been around for a year before the women’s team and my understanding about why the men’s team was formed was specifically for a few of the seniors were a little too old to play in some of the leagues that the seniors play in and so they formed that team specifically for them. Which is great, and another example of how flexible and how above and beyond SBU goes for their students. So that team had been around for a little for that specific reason and another initiative that I work on alongside Bridgett is working on our Football for Equality Initiative which was started last summer at the Women’s World Cup in France and a few of the SBU girls went along with some of the players from the NYCFC City of the Community Foundation program. So, there they talked a lot about gender equity and equality in sports and they brought that knowledge back and started a student lead and that was our first Football for Equality tournament last summer. So, Bridgett and I agreed that this was something that needed to continue because it was important and that we were both passionate about, having been soccer players and athletes our whole lives you know? And being in a sport that is dominated by men makes it important for us to know that our voices are heard and that we are seen. At that point, I had been working with SBU for less than a year. When that happened, I was new and still learning more about the organization and so I learned that we had a men’s team and not a women’s team and so I told them that we needed a women’s team. I know that interest because I play in different leagues around the city and I’m seeing a lot of those girls from SBU playing in those leagues and I know that they would play if they wanted to. I made a pitch and it was accepted, because why wouldn’t it be so it was just a matter of our staff reaching out to our alumni and making sure that they know the team exists and utilizing space that we already have like fields indoors and just organizing people and the first practice I think we had 22 young women so it was a really good turn-out. And before the quarantine, we’ve been consistent by practicing every week.
Javi: What are some goals that you have for the women’s team?
Sara: I really want the women’s team to be a continuation for the academy when people age out, I want it to be as close-knit of a community for women who are done playing in college or don’t play in college and can’t play in the SBU academy anymore. I just hope that alongside our alumni services as a whole, we can continue to build out that support so that it’s as much of a resource as our academy teams are right now.
Javi: Are there any leagues that you hope to compete with in the future? For the showcase, why not have the men’s team and the women’s team participate? Maybe we could do that for the Fall season.
Sara: Spring season was supposed to be a debut season. We were already in a league it was called the Metropolitan Women’s Soccer League, it’s on 11 the 11 leagues with two divisions 45-minute halves, you know all the normal stuff, so this spring was supposed to be our debut, now we’re not playing during that time. And our home field was going to be at Soundview. We had been training since January and we already went to the Brooklyn Women’s Cup so we were there and we were really excited to start playing but we couldn’t. I think the showcase would also be really cool, especially for the players who like I said are just a little too old for the SBU academy, I think it would be a really cool way for them to showcase their skills to college coaches, so Andrew, if you’re listening.
Javi: So, going back to the topic of immigration, what will be your goal after all this is over, your personal goals, with the soccer team, and SBU? Also, what are some thoughts that you want the entire US to know for after the coronavirus is over?
Sara: I think for SBU specific since I’ve started at SBU almost a year ago now. I tried to make sure that everybody including global youth league players and families who are in a recreational program really knows that I exist because I think, for example, you and I never met before and I think that’s because I don’t really interact with the academy students as much as Bridgett, Maria, and Andrew Hansen do, and Jess, my job is just different so I try to make sure that everybody in the academy knows who I am just so that we do have this service and we do have this person, and I don’t know everything but I am on staff the expert on immigration law and policy so once this is all over I hope the webinars that I put on sort of helped people know that I exist and I’m here to help, and I hope that that will continue and I hope that I can continue to be as successful as possible to help as many people who have questions as I can. And I guess on a national level, there’s a lot of work to be done to improve the lives of immigrants all over the US and I think one thing to be specific that there’s a lot of advocacy around now that I think more people should get behind because I think it will help is the need for legislation to be passed nationally and in New York to make sure that anyone who has an immigration court proceeding at any level has legal representation because there’s no guarantee that if you are in immigration court that you will be provided with an attorney that you can afford an attorney that’s free. In contrast, in criminal court proceedings, you are guaranteed an attorney if you can’t afford to pay for one. If you can’t afford one, the court will appoint one to you at no cost, but in immigration proceedings that is not the case. We’ve seen this with younger people who are under 18 and sometimes 5 years old and even younger. They go in front of an immigration judge are expected to know what they’re doing.
Javi: Yeah, do something that they can’t
Sara: Yeah, answer questions and the proceeding goes on without any legal representation so that just leaves room for a lot of abuses of power, and I think that one thing specifically that could be done to alleviate those abuses of power is to make sure that there’s always a legal representation, so making sure that there’s funding for that legal representation on a nationwide level would be really helpful.
Javi: How do you help students and parents with their legal status in the US?
Sara: In a variety of ways, there are a few ways that people can come to me. Let’s take an academy family, for example, most of the time it’s that an academy student has someone else know and trust that something is going on or that something has happened. That person will reach out to me and say that I can answer those questions. Once that comes to my attention, we’ll set up a meeting and going back to trust, it’s probably my first time meeting this person and they’re talking about something that’s very sensitive. Especially considering the political context right now. It’s important to be transparent, friendly, professional, and explain who I am, what I can do, and what I can’t do. So, I’m the Immigration Services Program Manager, I’m a DOJ accredited representative, I explained before what that means, I’m a social worker, I have my masters in social work so there’s a lot of things that I know and that I can do but most importantly I’m not a lawyer. So, there are some things that I can’t do, and being clear about that and that builds trust, and being respectful too is important. If people seem a little closed off about certain things because there’s always room to develop more trust once you meet with them and get to know them more. In that meeting too, it’s just a matter of asking the right questions to make sure I get the full picture and knowing what steps to take after that.
Javi: For the immigration process, what is one piece of advice that you would give them?
Sara: I would say utilize advocates who are in your corner. Like I said before, there isn’t a right to legal representation but there are a lot of advocates out there, and people who care and really want to help. Reach out to them and make sure that you have someone else in your corner who can really help advocate for you and know that there are people out there who exist despite the narrative right now from our administration that is a lot of negative rederick towards immigrants. There are a lot of people who care and really want to help.
Javi: What is one thing that you learned about yourself through the isolation?
Sara: One thing that I learned, which is kind of surprising is that I’m more of a homebody than I thought I was. I learned that the only reason I would leave my house is to go to work and to go to play soccer. I’m really happy being home for the most part which is something that I don’t think I fully realized before.
Javi: Yeah, I’ve always been a homebody and want to stay home, I guess it’s different when you are being forced to be home. One thing that I learned about myself is that I could think outside the box probably, I’ve done a lot of thinking, with scheduling and school, and then after school, I have to do some workouts and I could just do whatever I want. It’s like there are small periods of class, then you work out, and then you’re free. So, one thing I’ve learned is like, to think. To me, I think that makes me a better person because I’ve become more patient with people because my mental health is going to be stronger. I want to do a little thing for the last two minutes, I was thinking we would have a soccer talk. I want to know more about your background in soccer and one thing you wish you could change about soccer.
Sara: I started playing soccer when I was either four or five. I think at that time I was playing a few different sports and trying them out. I’ve always played more than one sport at a time like I was always into basketball, soccer, and softball. Those were like my three things growing up. But soccer was the only thing that I always really loved. I played basketball and softball when I had time to on the offseason. I can’t really remember a time when soccer wasn’t in my life. Like I said, my dad is an immigrant from Mexico and he’s my biological father and my stepfather who really raised me mostly, also an immigrant from Mexico. I think a lot of people in the US still haven’t really learned what “futball el viva” (Football is life) really means. Some people might say it but in the global context, soccer is one of the most popular sports in the world. That doesn’t really run in the US, but in other parts of the world, it really is a way of life. So, in my house, soccer was always playing, if it wasn’t a game, it was people talking about it on the television, and I remember if there was a game happening or something that my dad wanted to listen to, anything that I had to say, it wasn’t going to be heard, there was like a block, like a wall. It didn’t matter what I was talking about, he wasn’t listening. It’s always been a part of my life and it’s always been something that I’ve loved. When I went to the high school that I chose to go to, I grew up in Arizona, the high school that I chose to go to, I didn’t necessarily want to go there because of the people, it was one of those “preppy schools”. I wanted to go there because the soccer team was good. Turns out I wasn’t good enough to play on the varsity team, but I decided to go to that school for that reason, and I think had I not gone to that school, I wouldn’t have had as many opportunities that I did after high school, like getting into a good college and all of the things that came out of that. It was really for the love of soccer that I think my life took a really good trajectory when it could have taken a different one.
Javi: One thing you could change about soccer and why?
Sara: In the soccer world, I would definitely make sure that women are paid what they deserve. Like the US Women’s national team is advocating for equitable pay and that they’re granted everything that they want. I would also make sure that any amount of funding that would go towards a men’s professional team, would also go towards a women’s professional team. Not just in terms of what players make individually but also in terms of how much funding goes into publicizing games because there isn’t as much that goes into publicizing women’s games and I think that if more publicity happened that they would gain even more viewers than they already do, but because it’s not as publicized, it’s sort of like a domino effect because it’s not being publicized as much, there’s not enough being thrown at it and it’s not growing as much as it could. Unfortunately, money does have a lot of power.
Javi: Yeah, it’s a shame. Well, this was cool for the first time, I guess it’s over. If you have any feedback that would be perfect, how could I do better?
Sara: No, yeah thank you for having me. I think it’s good that when you ask the question, I like that you also give your perspective. I think that that’s cool because it’s not just me sharing things but it’s also you sharing things. I think you should definitely continue to do that. I think that’s cool to be able to learn about both of us. I think your questions were really thoughtful and really good. I think you did a really good job. I wasn’t sure exactly what you were going to ask me.
Thank you, Sara Gomez, for coming to the show for the first time. If you guys have any questions just drop them below in the comments I will drop the link to SBU for more information, upcoming events for people at SBU, and people helping the community. Thank you, guys, for watching. I hope you guys like it.