New York Would Never Dream of Building a Wall

“Sanctuary city” is a phrase that gets tossed around increasingly, but it has no specific legal meaning. It refers to cities that have adopted — some in response to federal laws that compel municipalities to report undocumented immigrants — an unofficial (or, in some cases, quasi-official) policy of noncompliance. The tally of such cities is inexact, but this year the Immigrant Legal Resource Center identified 38 of them in the U.S., including, of course, New York. That ours is a sanctuary city — arguably, the sanctuary city — shouldn’t be surprising. After all, for 130 years we’ve displayed, in the New York Harbor, the most iconic symbol of welcome in the world. In the weeks after an election season defined in part by an ugly debate over who should be allowed to live here, New York photographed dozens of immigrants and new citizens, ranging in age from 1 month to 91 years, to suggest the breadth of the New York–immigrant experience. Of course, capturing the full breadth would be impossible — there are 3 million New Yorkers who were born somewhere else, more than a third of the city’s population. All of which is a good reminder that even the city’s hoariest come-hithers — make it here, make it anywhere, etc. — contain an implicit promise: Our city is open to anyone who’s willing to give it a shot. Give us your poor, your tired, your huddled masses, yes, but also your ambitious, your artsy, your queer, your shunned, your misfits, and anyone else who can’t, for some reason, feel at home where they are. Whatever it is you’re a refugee from, this city can be your refuge. We may have a fabled reputation for crossed-arm toughness, but in reality, New York is the city whose arms have always been open the widest. —Adam Sternbergh

Kamilla
Age: 6 months
From: New York
Citizen

Born to a Dreamer from Mexico and a father from El Salvador, Kamilla is the first person in her family to become an American citizen. Both her mother and grandmother fear deportation, a threat that would split the family apart.

Montserrat Aca
Age: 22
From: Mexico
Undocumented

Montserrat Aca crossed the border with her brother Ricardo (read Ricardo’s story below) in December 2005, when she was 11 years old.

Watch Montserrat and Her Family Tell Their Story

Lourdes
Age: 47
From: Mexico
Undocumented

“I wish for her the same thing I wish for them, the best of life,” Lourdes, 47, says about her granddaughter Kamilla and her children, Ricardo Aca and Montserrat Aca, who are both Dreamers.

Tristan Kelvin Bosc
Age: 1 month
From: United States
Citizen

Bosc was born in November to German and French fathers who met in 2005, two years after moving to the United States.

Pepper Tsue
Age: 2
From: South Korea
Citizen

Tsue and her family moved to New York in 2015. Her mother is Korean and her father is Taiwanese-American.

Ibrahim Diallo
Age: 4
From: Guinea
Citizen

Ibrahim Diallo’s mother, Diaraye, came to the United States for medical treatment during her pregnancy and gave birth to Ibrahim in New York.

Milena Gonzalez
Age: 10
From: China
Citizen

Milena Gonzalez’s mother, Doris, moved to Queens from the Dominican Republic when she was seven.

Indigo Van Eijck
Age: 11
From: The Netherlands
Lawful permanent resident

Indigo Van Eijck is in sixth grade. His family started commuting back and forth from Rotterdam when he was 5 for his father’s work in landscape architecture.

Monica Quirante
Age: 15
From: Spain
Lawful Permanent Resident

“My dad is a stockbroker, a banker, and he moved here for work,” says Monica Quirante, who lived in Madrid and Chile before coming to New York.

Prioska Galicia
Age: 19
From: Mexico
Undocumented

“I remember the sound of helicopters, and running, and the cold breeze, and my mom trying to cover me up,” Prioska Galicia says about the night she crossed the border into Arizona in 2004.

Fayza Gareb
Age: 22
From: Syria
Refugee

Fayza Gareb’s family fled Syria for Turkey in 2013 when the Assad regime began bombing her family’s village near Aleppo.

Karl Friedrich Verna
Age: 27
From: Haiti
Naturalized Citizen

Karl Friedrich Verna was nine when his family moved to the United States. “It was August of 1999, at the time when Haiti was getting really dangerous.

Fatoumata Diallo
Age: 21
From: Guinea
Lawful Permanent Resident

Fatoumata Diallo arrived in April, after being sponsored by a family member. “The one thing I’m really excited to do is work. I really want to work here! For the moment I haven’t decided what I want to do, but I would really love to be a doctor, a pediatrician, specifically.”

Stephanie Ji Won Park
Age: 24
From: South Korea
Undocumented

Stephanie’s family came to New York in 1998 when she was five and overstayed their tourist visas.

Watch Stephanie Tell Her Story

Ricardo Aca
Age: 26
From: Mexico
Undocumented

In 2005, Ricardo Aca, 14 at the time, and his sister crossed the border to join their mother in New York.

Ahed Festuk
Age: 29
From: Syria
Asylum Seeker

When her family fled the country in 2012, Ahed Festuk stayed behind and became a nurse, working at a hospital in Aleppo frequently targeted by the regime’s warplanes.

Watch Ahed Tell Her Story

Kathleen Bomani
Age: 31
From: Tanzania
Lawful Permanent Resident

Bomani’s Tanzanian parents met while studying at Howard University. Her sister was born here, then her parents moved back home and had her and her brother.

Alsarah Abunama-Elgadi
Age: 34
From: Sudan
Naturalized Citizen

Alsarah Abuama-Elgadi’s parents were activists in Sudan. Then, in 1989, there was a military coup.

Thanu Yakupitiyage
Age: 31
From: Sri Lanka
Lawful Permanent Resident

The daughter of a professor, Thanu Yakupitiyage, who is Sri Lankan, grew up in Thailand.

Sokunthary Svay
Age: 36
From: Cambodia
Naturalized Citizen

Born to Cambodian parents in a refugee camp in Thailand, Sokunthary Svay and her family were sponsored by the International Rescue Committee to come to the United States in 1981.

Khalil Cumberbatch
Age: 35
From: Guyana
Lawful Permanent Resident

Khalil Cumberbatch and his mother immigrated to New York in 1986, when he was four years old, settling in Queens.

Watch Khalil Tell His Story

Donielle Lee
Age: 36
From: Jamaica
Naturalized Citizen

Donielle Lee’s mother was a nurse back in Jamaica. “I guess in the ’80s they gave nurses the opportunity to come here and work with visas,” Lee says now.

Mitchell McCormack
From: Vietnam
Naturalized Citizen

“We came straight from Vietnam — from the Vietnam War,” says Mitchell McCormack. His mother worked at a bar, and his father was an American GI.

Nahila Chianale
Age: 42
From: Italy
Naturalized Citizen

When the Italian Nahila Chianale moved to New York in 1992, “I didn’t know anybody,” she says, “and I didn’t know what I was going to do here.

Nick Ogutu
Age: 40
From: Kenya
Student-Visa Holder

Nick Ogutu came to the United States in 2010 on a tourist visa and made his way to Pennsylvania where he had a friend.

Pieter Henket
Age: 38
From: Holland
Naturalized in 2011

“I came here in 1998 to do a film course at New York Film Academy,” says Pieter Henket.

Roger Inniss
Age: 39
From: Panama
Naturalized Citizen

Sponsored by his uncle, Roger Inniss immigrated to the United States in 1998 as a lawful permanent resident.

Madiha Tahir
Age: 36
From: Pakistan
Naturalized Citizen

Madiha Tahir’s family fled political persecution in Pakistan in 1990. “It was freezing cold, that’s what I remember, and graffiti,” she says.

Porochista Khakpour
Age: 38
From: Iran
Naturalized Citizen

“My family had been a part of Iranian aristocracy,” says Porochista Khakpour. After the Iranian Revolution, they escaped through Turkey and were eventually granted asylum in the United States.

Watch Porochista Tell Her Story

Ian Mari Micabalo
Age: 40
From: Philippines
Lawful permanent resident

Micabalo lived in the Philippines most of his life but studied physical therapy in Australia.

Sagi Haviv
Age: 42
From: Israel
Lawful permanent resident

Now a named partner at the graphic-design firm Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv, Sagi Haviv moved to New York in 1996.

Takeshi Miyakawa
Age: 54
From: Japan
Naturalized in 2016

“I came here in 1989 from Tokyo, Japan,” says Takeshi Miyakawa, who studied architecture in school, after which he worked supervising building construction.

Watch Takeshi Tell His Story

Fabrizio Brienza
Age: 47
From: Italy
Naturalized Citizen

Fabrizio traveled to the United States often as a model in the 1990s. He made the move permanent in 1997, starting in Miami and eventually making his way to New York.

Slava Mogutin
Age: 42
From: Russia
Naturalized Citizen

Slava Mogutin was a young, gay journalist working in Moscow when he decided to come to the U.S.

Watch Slava Tell His Story

Clarisse Bennahmias
Age: 50
From: France
Lawful Permanent Resident

Clarisse Bennahmias moved to the United States with her ex-husband in 1999.

Jatinder Singh
Age: 48
From: India
Naturalized Citizen

“I came from India when I was two, so I grew up in New York,” says Jatinder Singh, whose parents started a garment-import business in the city.

Eugene Tabone
Age: 57
From: Malta
Naturalized Citizen

“I’ve lived in New York since August of ’84,” says Eugene Tabone. “I had just gotten married in Europe. My mother was born in Detroit, because my grandfather was a foreman with Ford during the Depression.

Martha Pinos
Age: 57
From: Ecuador
Lawful Permanent Resident

Martha Pinos immigrated in 2005 with her husband and three daughters. Another daughter was already living in New York.

Fadila Maamo
Age: 45
From: Syria
Refugee

Fadila Maamo fled Syria for Turkey in 2013 with her husband and three children.

Irina Kolkovska
Age: 62
From: Ukraine
Naturalized Citizen

“I’m from a little city in Ukraine, completely different life, and I came to this big monster,” Irina Kolkovska says about coming to New York in 1990.

Gil Quito
Age: 64
From: Philippines
Naturalized Citizen

Gil Quito moved to the United States in 1981 and joined his brother in New Haven before moving to New York.

K. Chye Lee
Age: 81
From: Burma
Naturalized Citizen

Sponsored by his older sister, Lee immigrated with his wife, mother, and nine children in 1981.

Reinhard Mergeler
Age: 77
From: Germany
Naturalized Citizen

Reinhard Mergeler arrived in the U.S. in 1957. “I had a sponsor from Milwaukee, and I got a green card almost immediately,” he says.

Claire Procopio
Age: 91
From: Italy
Naturalized Citizen

Claire Procopio’s father immigrated to the United States before she was born. He fought in World War I, and on a trip back to Italy, he married Claire’s mother before returning to the United States.

Watch Claire Tell Her Story

*A version of this article appears in the December 12, 2016, issue of New York Magazine.

Special thanks to Atlas:DIY, New York Immigration Coalition, Church World Service, Mercy Center, Immigrant Defense Project, Human Rights Watch, MinKwon Center for Community Action, and Boom Productions, Inc.

44 Immigrant New Yorkers on Living in a Sanctuary City