Angelo Cabrera in Mott Haven
Angelo Cabrera in Mott Haven

Once upon a time, schoolchildren were told the story of an America where immigrants fleeing harsh lives or oppression would find welcome and opportunity. When 15-year-old Angelo Cabrera arrived in the South Bronx from central Mexico in 1990, he was pursuing that dream.

But Cabrera didn’t look out for Number 1; he used his opportunity to afford opportunity to others.

Five years ago, a Mott Haven Herald reporter visited the basement of St. Pius V Church on East 145th Street to tell his story. In the course of earning a bachelors and a master’s degree, Cabrera founded and led the Mexican American Student Association (MASA), devoted to helping New York City’s fastest-growing immigrant group–the Mexicans who have made Mott Haven and other South Bronx neighborhoods home—contend with the obstacles they find in a new land.

“We cannot change their legal status or change their financial situation, but we change their education,” said Cabrera. MASA offered tutoring to students and help for parents struggling to cope with the city’s educational bureaucracy in an effort to reverse the trend that has Mexicans dropping out of school in higher numbers than any other group.

Now, The New York Times has added a stunning new chapter to Cabrera’s story. He is back in his native Mexico, and barred from returning to the United States.

After living two-thirds of his life in New York, Cabrera returned to Mexico in an effort to leave the shadows that hide the undocumented. He needed to make his status legal in order to accept a job at his alma mater Baruch College, working to increase the enrollment of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans at the school, one of the City University’s elite campuses.

The immigration authorities denied his application for legal status and slammed the door on his life’s work.

Cabrera’s plight shows once again how mean-spirited the nation’s immigration policy is and how injurious it is to the country as a whole. This vindictive decision doesn’t just deny one person the chance to continue living a useful life in New York; it denies a generation of immigrants the help Cabrera would have been able to offer.

However, the publicity from The Times story offers an opportunity to reverse at least one foolish decision, and an outcry from Bronx residents against this injustice can help.

An online petition directed to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand seeks to enlist her in an effort to get the authorities to reconsider their decision to keep Cabrera from returning to New York. You can sign it at

Rep. Jose Serrano has long been a champion of immigrants in general and of Latinos in particular. Urge him to take up this case by calling his Bronx office at (718) 620-0084, sending a letter to him at 2227 Rayburn HOB, Washington, DC 2051 or using the e-mail form on his website at

Ask your representatives to help this New Yorker, Angelo Cabrera, return to his adopted hometown, where he has done and can do so much to help others like him.

This post has been updated to add the petition campaign and to substitute Serrano’s local office phone number for his Washington office, at the request of the congressman’s staff.

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