Keeping Up with Manuel Castro, Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs

Keeping Up with Manuel Castro, Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs

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Photos courtesy: MOIA

By Linda Nwoke

New York City is celebrated for its diverse and vibrant immigrant communities. As of 2021, New York City remained home to over 3.1 million immigrants, constituting about 37% of the City’s population.

According to the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, there are over 200 distinct immigrant communities in New York City, ranging from large gatherings such as the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and China, to smaller communities like Mali and Ukrainians.

These communities contribute significantly to the City’s diversity, economy, and culture, shaping the City’s image. Thus, with the recent influx of immigrants from the southern border, the Mayor’s Office, through the Department of Immigrant Affairs, has been working tirelessly to support and protect these communities by providing crucial resources and services to help them thrive.

They have been at the forefront of efforts to empower immigrant New Yorkers and uphold their rights. In a recent interview with our Editor-in-Chief, Pearl Phillip, Commissioner Manuel Castro of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs in New York spoke about the challenges and opportunities facing immigrant communities in the City.

With years of experience advocating for immigrants’ rights, Commissioner Castro discussed the initiatives and policies the Mayor’s Office has implemented to better support and protect immigrant communities. From language access programs to fighting against anti-immigrant policies at the federal level, Commissioner Castro’s insights shed light on the crucial work being done to empower and uplift immigrant New Yorkers.

Reaction to the influx of Immigrants in New York City.

Since 2022, the Governor of Texas has bussed immigrants from the US-Mexico border without much notice, resulting in coordination problems for the City’s administration. Since then, the department has opened over 120 new shelters with various colleagues and other city agencies. Commissioner Castro said, “We lease hotels throughout New York City, turned them into shelters practically overnight to be able to house and provide services to asylum seekers.”

This arrangement was with the support of other city departments like Health and Human Services under the leadership of Deputy Mayor Anne Williams-Isom.

Yet, with recent threats and possible challenges of having a new immigrant influx as envisaged from the lifting of Title 42 by May 11th, which has hitherto, stemmed the influx of migrants based on COVID-19 restrictions, and the transition to the enforcement of Title 8 Act, there is a possibility of more immigrants bussed to New York by Governor Abbott of Texas. The situation remains a significant consideration that the Commissioner said the City’s administration is poised to manage, despite the high cost of providing support services which have run into billions, with a minor bailout from the federal government, as experienced over the past months.

“We will work through it. We will continue to reach out and work with our federal and state partners. But in the meantime, my role is to support immigrants as they arrive, welcome them, especially children and families, because it’s a very fearful time.”

The Commissioner says that despite the political games, immigrants are safe and supported by the City of New York. He also reacted to President Biden’s proposal to create an emergency work authorization pathway for asylum seekers. In the Commissioner’s view, it is legally possible for the President to accomplish the intention through an executive order or the redesignation of Temporary Protective Status to go beyond the humanitarian situation.

Labor Force

Immigrants continue to support the City’s labor force in various capacities; thus, celebrating May Day, the Commissioner recognized their contribution towards building New York City’s Infrastructure. He says, “I think the City and our society really depend on each other and the labor force of our communities. We want to celebrate that but also remind people that safety comes first. So I want to work with my colleagues at the Department of Buildings, the Department of Consumer Affairs, and Worker Protection to ensure everyone knows that safety comes first. And if you’ve been a victim of workplace violence, please get in touch with the City so we can support you.”

Complaints can be made through a hotline called ‘Ask MOIA’ – Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs; call (212) 788-7654 or send an email to

He encouraged immigrants to call and ask questions about their workplace rights, worker safety issues, and other rights they are entitled to in the United States and promised they would receive support.

Celebrating Immigrant Heritage Week

Reacting to the City’s ‘We Love Immigrant NYC’ Campaign theme for the 2023 Immigrant Heritage Week, which the Commissioner, Manuel Castro, launched, he explained that it is important to celebrate immigrants and their heritage in New York City. “We celebrate that moment when many immigrants came to New York and the United States. And we want to remind everyone that they were probably immigrants or had family members who immigrated.”

Commissioner Manuel Castro revealed that he believes in celebrating immigrants always and noted that there would be a continuous celebration of immigrant neighborhoods and enclaves. in the City.” New York City has many different immigrant communities; we have over 100 other immigrant areas.”

Sadly, only a few of the numerous communities have been celebrated over the years. However, there is promise of a change moving forward. In fact, other heritages like the celebration of immigrant communities like Little Dominican Republic in Washington Heights, Inwood, and the proposal to celebrate other immigrant communities like Little Mexico in Port Richmond, Staten Island, and Little Haiti in Flatbush are underway.

As a Commissioner of Immigrant Affairs, who is also an immigrant, he recalls his experience living in the City as an undocumented immigrant. His feelings of not belonging and being excluded from certain benefits resulted from his immigration status. He explained that this experience helps him empathize and connect with other immigrants undergoing the process of integration into society.

“But there’s a lot of people who are still facing the same challenges. I’m able to connect with them. They must know that people with similar experiences are on this side and ready to support and welcome them.”

The Commissioner explained that people could reach his office to seek additional information about the immigrant heritage celebrations. Furthermore, new immigrants can find help navigating the city service by dialing 311, which supports their ability to track incoming calls and requests and helps them review occurring issues, including figuring out necessary languages for effective communication. There are specialized services for people that prefer to use other languages to communicate as an alternative. For those experiencing trouble from dialing 311, a direct call to the office will grant them access to help.

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