Change in leadership at Coalition for Immigrant Rights
by Mike Fitelson
By the time you read this, Raquel Batista is likely to have already logged several days of beach time in Mexico.
June 30 was the last day of her five-year term as executive director of Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights. The next day she was booked on a flight to Mexico.
When Batista was hired, it didn’t look like the coalition, founded in 1982 to educate, defend and protect the rights of immigrants, had much of a future.
The financial books were a mess, she said, and the staff was close to walking out the door. Batista inherited a $250,000 budget and five-person staff; she leaves having overseen the doubling of both.
The Coalition services about 6,000 clients a year, mostly Latinos, although more South Americans, Africans and even Europeans have started knocking on their W. 182nd Street door in recent years.
Batista, who previously worked at Audubon Partnership for Economic Development, counts among her successes helping to stabilize the organization, opening a new office in the Bronx in 2008 and, particularly, growing the Coalition’s community organizing presence. She proudly points that new voters in Northern Manhattan increased 17 percent between 2004 and 2006 (data for 2008 are not yet available).
The Coalition has also developed a strong partnership program with the 2010 U.S. Census, helping allay concerns of some immigrants that personal information provided to the national count could jeopardize their residency.
Restless to invest her ambition into a new direction, and confident that she had laid a strong foundation for the Coalition’s future, Batista worked closely with the board to find her successor. And now she’s contemplating what her future looks like.
Batista was a likely City Council candidate this year until term limits permitted incumbents to run again. Now she is weighing options in both New York and Washington, D.C.
The change has been difficult for some of her peers. “Some folks are surprised, [saying] aren’t you sticking around forever?” Batista said. “The most important thing is that our supporters keep supporting us.”
Batista’s replacement is Angela Fernandez, who has served as the organization’s deputy director with the primary task of overseeing the opening of the new Bronx office.
Fernandez, whose mom is Dominican and dad is from Spain, graduated from Columbia Law School about 10 years ago before pursuing corporate work than television news reporting.
It was while she was an off-air reporter during the September 11th terrorist attacks that she realized that she wanted to help people directly.
Following her heart, Fernandez worked in education and nonprofit work, but always thought about immigration issues in the back of her mind.
The immigration reform movement in 2006 led her husband to suggest it might be a good way to exercise her law degree.
Now she has penned an impressive set of goals: growing the Coalition’s budget to $2 million within five years; surveying immigrants about their workplace issues to better provide employment law; highlight economic justice issues so immigrants learn about their options, such as alternatives to predatory lenders.
The organization will continue to advocate for overturning the 1996 Immigrant Reform Act that has led to the deportation of many immigrants for crimes that were once classified as misdemeanors.
Fernandez hopes to educate high school students who are immigrants that the “consequences of doing something that any teen might do” could be deportation.
Of course Fernandez’ plans could be sidetracked if the national debate on immigration reform heats up again and more of the organization’s time is spent on policy and advocacy.
“Immigration is the civil rights movement of the early 21st century,” she said.
The Manhattan Times is the bilingual newspaper of Washington Heights and Inwood.