Author: JHISN

How To Not Be Brave

By Jackie Orr, Activist and Member of the Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network


"I am not there to ‘aid.’ I stand in solidarity. We do not need medals. We do not need authorities deciding about who is a ‘hero’ and who is ‘illegal’ …. What we need are freedom and rights."
—Pia Klemp, captain of migrant rescue ship, arrested by Italian authorities in August 2017

The man, hands cuffed behind his back, was taken off the train platform by three uniformed border patrol agents wearing guns and bulletproof vests, and accompanied by a German Shepherd straining at the leash. The man’s encounter with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) was just beginning. I stood watching in the doorway of the Amtrak train car where the man had been a passenger; my own encounter with US Border Patrol was ending. The man is now being pressed through the US deportation machine. I am now sitting safely in my home writing you a story about what it might mean today to be a US citizen, watching non-citizens being detained, incarcerated, and cued up for deportation. What will we do besides watch?

My encounter with CBP began on the sidewalk outside the Amtrak station. A uniformed man approached me as I stood next to my luggage. With a friendly smile, he asked, “Are you a citizen of this country?” The sun was shining, and I was a white, middle class , fiftysomething, US citizen who had never before been asked this question by an official bulked out in militarized gear, smiling. For a moment I was speechless. Then a mental rerun began of several videos I had watched this summer, posted by people driving through border patrol checkpoints in the Southwest and exercising their rights. I said, “By what legal authority are you asking me that question?” The agent looked bemused and said he wasn’t in the mood to have that conversation. I said, “I refuse to answer your question.” He smirked and said, “You already did.” And walked away.

I followed him. Because I had watched those videos. Because the ghosts started dancing, ghosts of fascism and trains and uniformed men demanding identity papers. Because the smirk made me angry. Because he looked like a cold threat on a warm, sunny day. The agent entered the train station, and I kept following—and now saw two more uniformed CBP agents awkwardly standing around. I approached all three of them, again asking by what legal authority they posed their ‘citizenship’ question. In the 10-minute conversation that ensued, I learned some useful things. That US immigration agents since 1952 are allowed to  “search for aliens” on railway cars, ships, and other transport vehicles within a “reasonable distance” from the US border. That questions about citizenship status are a ‘consensual interaction,’ and the immigration agent is not permitted to in any way coerce a response. That three men with guns enjoy mocking a white woman citizen (no weapon) who asks questions.

My train was pulling into the station, and I went up to the platform. I was surprised to see one of the CBP agents boarding a train car ahead of me. I followed him. He was asking some people, not others, the question: ‘Are you a citizen of this country?’ When he entered the next train car, I followed him and said in a loud voice (I hoped no one could hear my voice shaking), “You are not required to answer the questions you are about to be asked. And if you are a US citizen, it may be useful to non-US citizens around you to refuse to answer this question.” The CBP agent then said, equally loudly, “If you are an alien and you do not answer my questions, you can be arrested.” My head spun with the illogic of what he was saying—how would anyone know you were undocumented if you remained silent and didn’t answer the question, which is the right of citizens and non-citizens alike? I stopped following him when I saw him exit the train car. And I thought everything was over.

It wasn’t over. A few minutes later, as the train was still held in the station, I entered another train car looking for a seat and saw a man, hands behind his back, being led down the aisle by a border patrol agent. My heart died. He was being taken off the train. “Is there a phone number you want me to call, to tell someone what has happened?” I cried out. Dying again inside because I could only speak English, not Spanish. The man looked at me with an extraordinary calmness, and shook his head. He was taken off the train and the two other CBP agents quickly appeared, one with a German Shepherd, and walked the detained man down the platform ramp, disappearing.

What happened in the next hours on that train? Two passengers passed me small folded written notes, thanking me for my “courage.” One of them, a Canadian citizen, wrote that she was shocked by what she had just witnessed, and that the man detained had two children, both of them still on the train and sitting a few seats back. Conversations with the two teenage children, shocked and red-eyed, now returning home on a train without their father. Google searches for more information on the legality of border patrol operations and stories of citizens’ resistance. Wait in line for the bathroom where a young woman, a recently naturalized citizen, tells me that when the border agents asked her if she was a citizen, it was the first time that her heart didn’t race, and she told them ‘Yes.’ But then she saw how they moved through the train car and arrested the man. And so she had spent the last 4 hours posting to friends, and searching Google about Amtrak trains and border patrol searches, and preparing herself to say something different next time. She says, “You were badass.” I say, “I was scared, I didn’t feel badass at all … I was angry and scared but I’d watched these videos that gave me ideas about what else to do.” Phone call to my partner, weeping, to say that nothing that I did made any difference; this man’s life was changed by being detained, while his children watched. Learning that a local immigration and refugee defense network had immediately sent volunteers to that train station—where five people had been detained before 12 noon. Weeping again, with an intimate gratitude, for all the people trying to resist.

“I am listening to what fear teaches. I will never be gone. I am a scar, a report from the frontlines, a talisman, a resurrection. A rough place on the chin of complacency,” writes Audre Lorde in 1988. Thirty years later, her words reverberate across this landscape of deportation terrors and immigration raids. How to create, individually and together, a ‘rough place on the chin of complacency’?  How to use fear’s lessons to mobilize the security and privilege of US citizenship in the name of immigrant freedom and rights? I write you this story from the safety of my home, in the shadow of a stranger’s detention and the haunting memory of his calm demeanor, performed in part for his children seeing him being handcuffed and taken away. I write you with the honest question, what can you do besides watch? Bravery is not required. You don’t need to be a hero. Find what you need to act. You can cry or tremble inside later … many of us do. But don’t think you are not needed. You are. We are. The time is here. To do everything that we can.


Greyhound Protest Draws Hundreds to the Port Authority

“As I followed hundreds of protesters down the escalator to the Greyhound ticket counter, our lively chant ‘ICE off the buses! ICE out of New York!’ engulfed the sound space of the Port Authority.” –Dovar Chen

On Friday, August 23rd, members of the Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network attended a spirited protest against Greyhound Bus at the Port Authority Building in Manhattan. Although Greyhound is not legally required to let ICE or the Border Patrol onto a bus without a signed judicial warrant, which they almost never have, Greyhound has been allowing immigration agents to board buses. Agents walk up and down the aisles demanding documents from passengers to prove their immigration status. Some people are pulled off buses and detained.

Friday’s protest was part of a growing nationwide campaign to force Greyhound to change their policies and stop assisting the administration’s attack on immigrants or allowing the government to intimidate passengers.

Dovar Chen, a member of the Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network, attended the event. “I found the experience empowering and uncanny. Exactly one week before, I was accompanying a person who was just released from a NJ detention center to Port Authority to catch his Greyhound bus. We spent hours at the Port Authority waiting for his phone to recharge from months of no use; to buy a prepaid SIM card, so he can reconnect with his family via cellphone; to stand in a long line to print out the bus ticket for his upcoming two-day journey back to Texas to reunite with his family.”

Greyhound has argued that they let immigration agents board buses for the “safety” of their drivers and passengers. This excuse has been exposed by the drivers’ union, which argues firmly against the company’s policy of letting ICE and the Border Patrol onto buses.

Grassroots groups will continue to keep the pressure on Greyhound. The ACLU is sponsoring a national petition campaign. Please sign their petition. As Dovar Chen said, “People’s solidarity and voice empower us—we are not alone in this struggle. Not me, and not you. Together is the best way to fight injustice, and inhuman and oppressive government practices.”





Some Facts about Immigrants in NYC

  • NYC is home to 3.2 million immigrants (foreign-born people), the largest number in city history.
  • Immigrants make up over 37% of the city’s population. There are more households that include immigrants than there are households without any immigrants.
  • Over a million children (under 18) live in a household with at least one foreign-born family member. This represents almost 60% of all NYC children.
  • About 56% of immigrant New Yorkers are naturalized US citizens. Almost half of those naturalized citizens have lived in the US for 20 years or more.
  • An estimated 660,000 legal residents of New York (green card holders and others) are potentially eligible to naturalize in the future under current law.
  • 5.3% of New Yorkers are undocumented immigrants. This is roughly 477,000 people. Mixed-status households, which include at least one undocumented family member, make up 12.7% of households in the city.
  • The undocumented population of the city has been going down since 2008, nationally and locally. The decline has been attributed to the weak economy after the 2008 housing crash, improved economic conditions in Mexico, and increased enforcement at the border.
  • 16.6% of Queens residents are undocumented immigrants—roughly 184,000 people. This is far more undocumented immigrants than live in any other borough.
  • 67% of undocumented immigrants in New York have at least a high school diploma. Over 21% have a college degree, including advanced degrees.
  • 65% of all New Yorkers over age 16 are in the labor force. But 77.4% of undocumented immigrants in the city over age 16 are in the labor force. Their median earnings are 35% lower than those of citizens.

Source: “State of Our Immigrant City, MOIA Annual Report for Calendar Year 2018”

Resources for Individuals and their Families Facing Detention or at Risk of Deportation

Freedom for Immigrants has posted resources for individuals and their families facing detention or at risk of deportation, including:

  1. ICE Detainee Locator – To locate a person currently in ICE custody or who was released from ICE custody within the last 60 days
  2. A phone number to find out a loved one’s U.S. Immigration court date
  3. Directory to find a U.S. Immigration Attorney
  4. Information that describes what a U.S. Immigration Bond is
  5. What to do if you’ve been granted asylum in the United States
  6. What to do if you or a loved one has been wrongfully deported
  7. How to find a host or sponsor for someone in ICE detention
  8. What are the rights of people with disabilities in immigration detention
  9. How to find people detained anywhere in the world

Click here for further information.

Update on Public Charge Rule

A letter from Nick Gulotta, Director of Outreach and Organizing, Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs:

Dear Community Partner,

As you know, the Trump administration has released the “Public Charge” rule change. This rule change has not gone into effect.

As Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner Bitta Mostofi of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs said in a statement, this rule is another attempt to instill fear and concern among countless working immigrant families. But as we know, New Yorkers are fighters and the City will do everything in our power to ensure people have the resources they need at this critical time. The City of New York will be bringing legal action and will have more to share in the coming days.

Update you should know about the public charge rule:

  • It will go into effect on October 15, 2019. (Anticipated litigation over the rule may change this timeline.)
  • The rule will penalize low and middle income immigrants applying for a Green Card or certain types of visas, for using certain public benefits for which they are eligible.
  • Immigrants who are concerned about how the public charge rule might affect them or their loved ones can call ActionNYC at 311 or 1-800-354-0365 and say ‘public charge’ to access City-funded, trusted legal advice.

Please share this update with your network. Resources in multiple languages will be made available shortly on

We are committed to helping all New Yorkers access the public benefits and services they’re entitled to.

In solidarity,


Nick Gulotta
Director of Outreach & Organizing
Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs
Pronouns: He/him/his


Petition to Keep Border Patrols off Greyhound Buses


Sign the Petition HERE.

From the ACLU:

Throughout the country, people rely on Greyhound to get to work, visit family, or to simply travel freely. But Greyhound has been letting Border Patrol board its buses to question and arrest passengers without a warrant or any suspicion of wrongdoing. The company is throwing its loyal customers under the bus.

For more than a year, we’ve been urging Greyhound to stop letting Border Patrol board its buses, but the company is refusing to issue a policy protecting its customers. So now we’re taking our fight to the next level.

Greyhound is owned by FirstGroup plc, a multi-national transport group based in the UK, whose own Code of Ethics and Corporate Responsibility contradicts what its subsidiary has been doing to passengers.

“We are committed to recognising human rights on a global basis. We have a zero-tolerance approach to any violations within our company or by business partners.”

Greyhound’s complicity in the Trump deportation machine is a clear violation of the human rights values that FirstGroup professes to uphold. We must raise our voices: Sign the petition to demand that FirstGroup direct Greyhound to comply with its code of ethics. Greyhound must stop throwing customers under the bus.

Sign the ACLU’s petition to FirstGroup plc, the parent company of Greyhound, to demand that they comply with their code of ethics and stop allowing Border Patrol to board and search its buses without probable cause or warrant.

Sign the Petition HERE.