Author: JHISN

JHISN Newsletter 04/03/2021

Dear friends,

Since we sent our last newsletter two weeks ago, immigrant workers have continued their hunger strike demanding inclusion of a Fund for Excluded Workers in the New York state budget. The ‘Fast for the Forgotten’ has brought together workers, mothers, aunties, brothers, husbands, sisters, grandmas, elders, and our neighbors, who are putting their bodies on the line to get emergency pandemic relief for undocumented workers. We continue to cover the historic strike below.

We also report on a recent legislative victory celebrated by local immigrant justice groups. House passage of the American Dream and Promise Act 2021 is a major step toward creating a possible citizenship path for Dreamers, TPS holders, and other immigrant residents. 

Newsletter highlights:

  1. ‘Fast for the Forgotten’ enters its third week 
  2. Legislation promises citizenship path for over 4 million immigrants  

1. Hunger strike continues as state budget talks drag on

“We are here because we have suffered enough. We have already endured a year of hunger. What difference does it make to endure two or three weeks more with the purpose of getting something that we deserve…Our stomachs ask for food, but our hearts ask for justice.”  —Veronica Leal, hunger striker (Documented, March 31, 2021)

Now in its third week, with individual hunger strikers in wheelchairs and facing increasing health risks, the ‘Fast for the Forgotten’ is a challenge now for us. What will we do, as immigrant and undocumented workers refuse to end their strike until the New York State legislature passes a ‘just budget’? How to measure our own hunger for justice against the ease of forgetting that almost a quarter-million undocumented immigrants in New York State have been excluded for over a year from any federal pandemic emergency relief? What does it mean to remember that many of the workers who have stocked grocery shelves, delivered take-out food, served meals and washed dishes for folks who venture out to eat, are hungry? And have families and children who are hungry too.

The #FundExcludedWorkers coalition, led by immigrant New Yorkers, has been mobilizing political pressure since last summer to tax the rich and raise state revenue to financially protect undocumented workers devastated by the pandemic. On March 16, as JHISN reported, the coalition launched a hunger strike now in its 19th day, with immigrant strikers staying in Judson Church in the West Village, and dozens more participating statewide in the strike in Westchester, Syracuse, and Albany. They aim to secure a $3.5 billion workers fund in the New York State budget. The initial proposed budget contained a suggested $2.1 billion fund, but activists insist that anything less than the full $3.5 billion is not enough to retroactively make up for the lost emergency support to excluded workers over the past year. 

The state budget was scheduled to be finalized by March 31. But that deadline has come and gone, with negotiations dragging on through this weekend. Hunger strikers continue to drink water and refuse food. Day 20…21…22?

Since the launch, elected officials and NYC mayoral candidates have joined the hunger strike on select days; immigrant justice groups and their allies have organized virtual hunger strikes in solidarity; rallies have been held in front of Governor Cuomo’s office; supporters have been arrested for civil disobedience in the streets; local politicians have washed the feet of hunger strikers in a symbolic Holy Thursday action; and musicians, dancers, artists, and storytellers have put their creativity in service of funding excluded workers.    

How has Governor Cuomo responded to this historic mobilization? By March 29, Cuomo’s team had introduced new barriers to workers’ ability to access the multi-billion-dollar fund included in the state assembly’s original budget proposal. The ‘poison pills’ proposed by Cuomo would require immigrant workers to present federal ITIN numbers, or bank account and payroll stubs, in order to access funding. “We cannot move forward with an Excluded Workers Fund that excludes the excluded workers,” noted Jessica Maxwell of the Central New York Workers Center. Immigrant workers and their allies rallied in Washington Square Park to decry the new barriers and demand a ‘flexible application’ process for undocumented workers. If Cuomo’s restrictions are put in place, most of the individual hunger strikers will not be eligible for the funds they starved for. 

As we remember the ‘Fast for the Forgotten’ and the urgent need for government support of all workers caught in the pandemic catastrophe, the words of Ana Ramirez—a hunger striker speaking at a public rally on Day 5—can inspire and haunt us:

“I want to make it clear to this nation, the most important nation in the world, that we will no longer conform to being told ‘Good Job.’ We want the laws to be just, because it is then that we can work with love, with honor, with dignity…  

“It is not just me but thousands of families—families that went to the bakery to bake the bread so that the rich can eat during this pandemic comfortably. I am forgotten, I am one of the excluded. We are house cleaners, construction workers, restaurant workers, retail workers, laundry workers, all of whom have worked hard for this nation… 

“When the body is depleted of its minerals, the vitamins that it needs, you begin to tremble. But this gives me more strength. Because that is the hunger that thousands of working families face…

“And the rich, the powerful, the thieves that don’t pay taxes, they were able to go through the pandemic with comfort and ease. But we the poor don’t ask for anything given. 

“I want to tell you all that my hunger strike is only beginning. Because if they want to see me die of hunger, they will.”

Ana Ramirez, hunger striker since Day 1

(translated from Spanish)

WHAT CAN WE DO?

  • Immediately contact your state legislators to voice support for the $3.5 billion Excluded Workers Fund.
  • Follow daily Hunger Strike updates, solidarity events, and social media campaigns at Fund Excluded Workers website and Instagram
  • Check out the Allies Action Toolkit with instructions on how to organize your own solidarity hunger strike, and amplify via social media.
  • Donate to the Strike Support fund here.

2. Path to citizenship could open for millions

“Yesterday, yet again, we made history with the passage of the Dream and Promise Act (H.R. 6). This legislation, which passed with bipartisan support yesterday by a vote of 228-197, is a historic step towards correcting the injustices in America’s immigration system. … This is truly a grassroots win.” Pabitra Khati Benjamin, Adhikaar (email, March 19, 2021)

More than 4 million undocumented immigrants could get a path to citizenship under a bill passed last month by the U.S. House of Representatives.

While it faces a potentially steep uphill climb in the Senate—and it would leave millions of other people still without a path to legal status—the new bill has been supported by many immigrant advocacy groups, including Queens-based Adhikaar.

The American Dream and Promise Act of 2021 would provide conditional permanent residence for up to 10 years to people who came to the United States as children, including recipients of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). By meeting certain requirements—for example, going to school or getting a job—those individuals could then gain permanent resident status (a green card), which could eventually lead to citizenship.

They’d be ineligible for conditional status if they have certain criminal offenses on their records, and they’d lose their status if convicted of a serious crime. Additionally, the Department of Homeland Security would have authority to deny applications if officials have “clear and convincing evidence” that the applicant was involved in gang activity in recent years or is otherwise a public safety threat. These provisions have been criticized by several groups, including The Bronx Defenders and Human Rights Watch, who cite the disproportionate effect the stipulations could have on immigrants of color.

Certain other immigrants, including those with Temporary Protected Status and those protected under a program called Deferred Enforced Departure, would also be eligible for permanent status under the new bill.

The Migration Policy Institute estimates that about 4.4 million of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States could become eligible for permanent status if this bill becomes law.

“The passage of the American Dream and Promise Act within the first 100 days of the 117th Congress signals the overwhelming support for the legislation and a commitment to make good on overdue promises,” Amaha Kassa, executive director of African Communities Together, said in a statement. “We call on the Senate to take up and swiftly pass this legislation into law.” President Joe Biden has already voiced his support for the bill.

The so-called Dreamers—young people who were brought to the United States as children, many of whom have been protected by DACA—are probably the most often discussed group that would be covered by the bill. Less often talked about are TPS holders.

Temporary Protected Status grants temporary legal status to immigrants who would face humanitarian emergencies like war or fallout from natural disasters if sent back to their home countries. (Deferred Enforced Departure, which currently covers people from Liberia and Venezuela, is similar to Temporary Protected Status, and DED holders are also covered by the new bill. But whereas DED is at the discretion of the president, TPS is under the supervision of the secretary of Homeland Security.)

Nepal, Syria, Haiti, and Somalia are among the countries whose citizens have gained TPS protection in the United States.

“TPS holders are critical essential workers on the frontline of our economic recovery from the ongoing COVID-19 crisis,” said Pabitra Khati Benjamin, executive director of Adhikaar. The group advocates for the rights of the Nepali-speaking community here in Central Queens and has been a leader in the fight to maintain protection for TPS holders. (Nepal received TPS designation after the massive earthquake and aftershocks that hit the country in 2015.)

The Trump administration tried to rescind TPS protection for hundreds of thousands of immigrants from several countries, including Nepal, but the policy was stalled amid litigation over the issue, which is still pending. Adhikaar has called for the Biden administration to redesignate Nepal as a protected country. At the same time, the group has advocated for Congress to provide permanent residency to TPS holders.

If passed into law, the new bill would be a significant step in that direction. It wouldn’t create the pathway to citizenship for all undocumented individuals that Adhikaar and other groups want, but advocates say this is still a victory.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

  • If you are able, consider a donation to Adhikaar to support their ongoing fight for Nepali-speaking TPS holders.

In solidarity and with collective care,

Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network

Follow @JHSolidarity on Facebook and Twitter and share this newsletter with friends, families, neighbors, networks, and colleagues so they can subscribe and receive news from JHISN.

 

 

JHISN Newsletter 03/20/2021

Dear friends,

As we count the days toward spring, it is Day 5 in the hunger strike launched by immigrant New Yorkers who are calling for billions to fund workers intentionally excluded from pandemic emergency and unemployment benefits. And it is Day 59 of a new administration that promised, but has not yet begun, a 100-day moratorium on deportations. Spring will come. Let’s join forces to see that urgent funding for excluded and essential workers also arrives. Let’s demand that an indefinite moratorium on deportations ushers in a season of immigrant justice and radical changes to a damaging, racist US immigration system. 

If you are receiving a stimulus check in the new round of pandemic relief and have the resources, please consider a direct donation to one of the six local immigrant groups that are part of JHISN’s Neighborhood Emergency! fundraising campaign.

Newsletter Highlights:

  1. Hunger strike launches to support Fund for Excluded Workers
  2. JHISN calls for a ‘Deportation Moratorium Now!’

1. ‘Fast for the Forgotten’: Hunger strikers demand NYS pandemic relief 

“Because of the pandemic, I’ve lost all my savings and all of my income. I am eight months behind on rent and unable to support my family …. The government doesn’t ask me for my status when it wants me to pay taxes, but it bars me from receiving help. Excluded workers have been through enough this year. We need support now.”  Rubiela Correa, hunger striker, Jackson Heights

Activists are calling on state leaders to provide billions of dollars in relief for undocumented workers who have yet to receive assistance as the pandemic enters its second year. They’re urging lawmakers to set $3.5 billion aside in the state’s budget for workers excluded from federal pandemic relief packages. And they say they won’t eat until it happens.

With an April 1 deadline to finalize New York’s budget for the coming year, the State Assembly is considering allocating just over $2 billion for excluded workers. This fund would be the first of its kind in the nation. But excluded workers say that while it’s a start, it’s not enough.

On March 16, immigrants launched their hunger strike on the steps of St. John the Divine and other spots around Manhattan and Westchester, in a coordinated effort to pressure state politicians. About 75 people have signed on to participate in the Fast for the Forgotten, including members of Make the Road New York and other immigrant rights groups with the #FundExcludedWorkers coalition. On March 19, more than a dozen state politicians joined the ongoing hunger strike in solidarity. The $3.5 billion they’re calling for would retroactively distribute money to workers for the past year of unemployment. According to the coalition, this amount would be comparable to what other unemployed workers have received during the crisis.

“Workers who have been laid off or furloughed through no fault of their own should get the same support that has helped keep other New Yorkers afloat—especially because excluded workers themselves pay taxes to make unemployment insurance possible for other workers,” said Bianca Guerrero, coordinator of the Fund Excluded Workers coalition. The lawmakers’ current proposal is welcome, she said, but it won’t give workers what they need.

New York’s wealthiest residents continue to make billions of dollars during the crisis, Guerrero noted, and the state should tax them more to raise the needed revenue for those who have been economically devastated during the pandemic. A survey by Make the Road last August found that 98% of unemployed undocumented workers hadn’t received any federal or state government assistance. The Fund Excluded Workers coalition estimates 500,000 undocumented workers have been left out of relief packages. This past week, major unions and labor organizations declared their support for increasing taxes on the ultra-wealthy in New York.

This isn’t the first time excluded workers are striking: Last summer, immigration activists in Madison Square Park fasted for 24 hours to bring visibility to the lack of assistance for excluded workers. In the fall, they formed a mock bread line outside Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office. And in December, activists unveiled a three-block-long scroll in Central Park to bring attention to the wealth gap exacerbated by the pandemic, with the state’s richest residents increasing their wealth by tens of billions of dollars while the poorest continue to go into debt.  

“This is not a game,” said Ana Ramirez, a hunger striker and member of New York Communities for Change. “Our lives and the lives of our families are on the line. We’re here for two days, for three days, for 10 days, for 100 days—until we are heard and treated with dignity.”

WHAT CAN WE DO?

  • Volunteer to support NYC hunger strikers. If you are an artist, educator, dancer, writer, musician or have other skills—you are needed! See Strike Volunteer Sign-up Form.  
  • If you are able to, donate to the Hunger Strike Support Fund to cover meal stipends for hunger strikers’ families, and to provide PPE and sleeping materials for onsite strikers. 
  • Follow the Fund Excluded Workers coalition and Make the Road New York on social media to stay up to date on the progress of the hunger strike.
  • Add your name to the petition to Governor Cuomo to establish a $3.5 billion relief fund for excluded workers.

2. Moratorium Now!

“All deportations and immigrant detentions must stop while the current immigration system is abolished and re-imagined.” —JHISN leaflet

The early days of the Biden administration demonstrate that the long-standing demand for a complete moratorium on immigration detentions and deportations is more urgent than ever. Since the election, right-wing anti-immigrant forces have mobilized to stop the new administration’s reform efforts. For their part, leading Democrats show signs of sliding back into an unprincipled “good immigrant vs. bad immigrant” approach to immigration legislation. Without a groundswell of support for a real moratorium, millions of undocumented immigrants will continue to be threatened by arrest and expulsion. JHISN joins the call for a Deportation Moratorium Now!

Biden started his term by proudly announcing a 100-day limited “pause” on many deportations and detentions. Within days, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued to stop the new policy. He succeeded, obtaining a temporary restraining order against the moratorium from a Trump-appointed U.S. District judge. This has now become an indefinite temporary injunction.

ICE has openly defied the enforcement policies and priorities Biden spelled out, and has actually accelerated deportations. For instance, in an act of racist child abuse, agents deported 22 Haitian children, including an infant, on February 8. This is exactly the kind of injustice Biden had pledged to stop. On February 18, ICE issued a memo affirming that its agents have wide powers of enforcement—in effect, undercutting Biden’s moratorium and the provisions of his proposed Citizenship Act.

News media are currently full of stories casting doubt on the new administration’s ability to carry out fundamental immigration reform at all. Biden now says he’s “flexible” on what legislation to fight for; his officials urge “patience.”

The obstacles are certainly daunting: the Immigration Tracking Project has found over 1,000 Trump-sponsored immigration policies that are now embedded in regulations and executive orders. At the southern border, large numbers of migrants hoping for consideration by the new administration pose logistical and political challenges for Biden. “As of Wednesday, more than 3,700 children were reportedly being detained in Customs and Border Protection temporary holding facilities…for longer than legally permitted—a record high” (N. Narea, Vox, 03/15/21)

Meanwhile, in a discouraging retreat from Biden’s broad immigration bill, Vox reports that some House Democrats are falling back on “piecemeal immigration reform.” The bills they have introduced “narrowly address immigrant populations perceived as sympathetic by members of both parties.” Passage of these bills, which is far from assured, would certainly help many farmworkers, TPS holders and Dreamers. But it would leave millions of other immigrants under continued threat of detention and deportation while reinforcing the toxic discourse of “worthy” vs. “unworthy” immigrants.

Responding to the current moment, immigrants are making their own voices heard:

Movimiento Cosecha, a national movement fighting for undocumented immigrants in the United States, has presented President Biden and Democrats with a deadline for action in protecting the undocumented community. The group has vowed to mobilize in D.C. on May 1st if Biden fails to provide permanent protection for the 11 million undocumented workers and families living in the states. —WGVU, 03/11/21

On March 14, Cosecha sponsored a rally in front of Democratic leader Chuck Schumer’s Park Slope home, protesting his “empty promises.” Later, they projected messages onto the triumphal arch at Grand Army Plaza, including “Schumer: Do Your Job.”

Immigrant justice groups including DRUM, Chhaya, Make the Road and the New York Immigration Coalition have been calling for a complete moratorium on deportations and detentions for years. JHISN has also made this a central demand. In our new moratorium leaflet, we call for abolishing and re-imagining the current immigration system, and replacing it with a system based on human rights, international law, and decriminalization. 

We recognize that transitioning to a just system will be difficult and complicated. It will require, among other things, a thorough purge of the white nationalists inside DHS. But it can be done, especially if Biden and the Democrats are sincere about a path to citizenship for all 11 million undocumented migrants. During the process of abolition and restructuring, however long it takes, there’s no excuse for continuing to criminalize, detain and deport more of our family members, friends, co-workers and neighbors. 

A symbolic or temporary moratorium is not enough. Along with other immigrant justice organizations, we demand a complete moratorium on deportations and immigrant detentions until there’s a system in place based on human rights for all immigrants.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

In solidarity and with collective care,

Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network

Follow @JHSolidarity on Facebook and Twitter and share this newsletter with friends, families, neighbors, networks, and colleagues so they can subscribe and receive news from JHISN.

 

 

JHISN Newsletter 3/06/2021

Dear friends,

As we approach the one-year mark of pandemic life in the US, with vaccine distribution promising hope and also delivering predictable class- and race-based inequality, JHISN offers a look at history and the near future. Behind the recent headlines reporting the horrific number of Filipino health care workers who have died from COVID-19, we recount a less talked about history of US colonialism and the out-migration of health care workers from poorer to richer countries. We then examine how immigration activists are reacting to the new administration’s sweeping proposal for future immigration legislation.

Like us, you may be looking for a path toward spring, without forgetting the pandemic season we have dwelled in together—and which is not over. We hope the newsletter can provide a few useful signposts.

Newsletter highlights:

  1. Understanding the Disproportionate Deaths of US Filipino Health Care Workers
  2. Biden’s 2021 Citizenship Act: Immigrant Justice Groups Respond

1. Colonial History Behind COVID Deaths Among Filipino Health Care Workers

Three times as many Filipino health care workers have died here in the US than in the Philippines. So right away we know there’s something wrong.Jollene Levid, founder of the memorial website Kanlungan

A tide of grief is washing over Filipino communities around the country, as COVID death and illness falls relentlessly and disproportionately on their members working in health care. Four percent of nurses in the US are of Philippine ancestry, but they make up almost one-third of all nurse deaths from the pandemic. So far 178 Filipino healthcare employees are known to have died, dozens of them in New York City alone. Serious COVID illness is widespread among Filipinos working in health care, including doctors, hospital staff, and home health aides. This heavy toll is another bitter inflection point in the long history of colonial rule and racist discrimination inflicted on the Filipino people.

The US wrested the Philippines away from a fading Spanish Empire in 1898, initiating “one of the most brutal military occupations in American history” (J. Ditz, HuffPost). Intent on crushing the Filipino independence movement, US occupiers cemented their ownership through a vicious 15-year counterinsurgency war, employing widespread summary executions, torture, and concentration camps. Estimates of Filipino deaths at the hands of the US invaders range from hundreds of thousands to as many as a million people.

Colonial administrators combined vicious repression with paternalistic social programs to “uplift” the population. Catherine Choy’s definitive book about the complex history of healthcare colonialism in the Philippines, Empire of Care, reports that the imperialists called the occupation “benign assimilation.” They insisted that the colonized population needed US intervention to overcome ‘uncivilized’ dirt and disease. Starting as early as 1907, English language nursing schools were established to train Filipinos according to Americanized medical protocols, targeting the recruitment of women students. 

The training schools helped launch an enduring pattern of emigration by Filipino nurses, who left home to staff health care systems around the globe. After Philippine independence in 1946, nurses eventually became one of the country’s main ‘exports,’ praised by the government as “national heroes” for the money they sent back home. Remittances by migrant workers—mostly healthcare workers—now make up roughly 10% of the gross national product of the Philippines, to the tune of 15 billion dollars a year. At times, including during the current COVID crisis, this out-migration has created devastating and deadly nursing shortages back home.

Large numbers of Filipino nurses first came to the US after 1965, when an explicitly racist, anti-Asian immigration quota system was replaced by the Immigration and Nationality Act, which included “skills-based” provisions. Demand for nurses accelerated with the passage of Medicare and Medicaid, and again during the 1980s AIDS epidemic. Many white women in the US left nursing and fought their way into previously male-dominated professions, creating a further shortage. Meanwhile, economic crisis, devaluation of the peso, and the rise of political violence in the Philippines pushed more workers to migrate. By 2018, there were 145,800 Filipino registered nurses, along with many other Filipino health care workers, living in this country.

As migrants of color in the US, and mostly women, Filipino health care workers have been concentrated in the “front line of the front line” health care jobs: critical care, acute bedside care, elder care, surgical care, etc. This is a source of pride to many of the workers, but has had dire results during the pandemic, made even worse by the criminal withholding of adequate personal protective equipment by a profit-hungry medical system. The disproportionate death statistics, in other words, are no accident.

Last June 12—Philippine Independence Day—residents of Woodside’s “Little Manila” district unveiled a mural on the wall of Amazing Grace restaurant to honor Filipino health care workers. Incorporating a traditional Tagalog salutation—’Mabuhay!’ (or ‘to life!’)—it was painted by local artists and community members using details and themes from Philippine culture. Activist Sockie Laya Smith read the names of Filipino healthcare workers who had died from COVID-19. Speaking of the mural, Smith said, “This is to remember them as human beings—not simply as a labor percentage, a deceased statistic, or an immigration number. We thank you, say thy name. Mabuhay!”

WHAT CAN WE DO?

  • Visit the Kanlungan memorial website for healthcare workers of Philippine ancestry around the globe who have died from COVID-19. If you are able, consider donating to help maintain the online memorial.
  • Support and employ care workers from the local Damayan Workers Cooperative, managed by Filipino immigrant worker-owners.

2. Beyond the 2021 Citizenship Act

Last month, the White House presented a Bill to Congress promoted as a ‘new’ system of immigration and border control. But the Citizenship Act of 2021—with its clumsy official title, ‘To provide an earned path to citizenship, to address the root causes of migration and responsibly manage the southern border, and to reform the immigrant visa system, and for other purposes’—reads partly like pre-Trump business as usual. 

Any bill that is not a fear-mongering, immigration-halting, proudly racist policy crafted in the malevolent spirit of Stephen Miller is a step forward. But that alone doesn’t guarantee a real course correction from decades of problematic immigration policies. Some of the proposed changes, like replacing the word ‘alien’ with ‘noncitizen’, are minor steps toward addressing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)’s systemic dehumanizing policies and procedures. And yet there is still no clear legislative path to eliminating the rampant racism, white supremacy, and misogyny inside DHS’s Border Patrol and ICE. 

Non-governmental organizations have done their best to summarize the details of the Citizenship Act and explain the scope of its changes. The centerpiece of the Act is an 8-year ‘earned path’ to citizenship for all 11 million undocumented US immigrants, and an expedited 3-year path for Dreamers, Temporary Protected Status holders, and some farmworkers. The New York Immigration Coalition celebrates the activist work that inspired many specific features of the bill. Angeles Barrancos, member leader of the NJ chapter of Make The Road, notes that the “introduction of the Citizenship Act of 2021 demonstrates the strength of our movement.” Frank Parry, founder of “America’s Voice” which created DHS Watch in 2018, states: “We have to give credit to the people who have been organizing from the ground up for the last 20 years” for the existence of the Biden Bill— their work made “what once seemed a little radical seem common sense.”

At the same time, immigration and other progressive groups have made clear that there is more to be done, and to be demanded. Well-known activist Ravi Ragbir, co-founder of NYC-based New Sanctuary Coalition, said in early February, “Even though the Biden administration wants to stop deportations, an enforcement agency like ICE has the unchecked authority and power to continue doing so.” Members of the Congressional Black Caucus have expressed outrage that DHS is blatantly ignoring new White House directives, as ICE continues to terrorize Black immigrant communities. For instance, ICE deported a New York immigrant to Haiti, although he was not born there and had never lived there.

South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), which includes local groups like Adhikaar, Chhaya CDC, and DRUM, acknowledges the “possibilities this legislation presents.” They also urge Congress to address some of its “harmful provisions” like the exclusion of immigrants harmed by a racist criminal legal system, or discouraging immigrants from accessing vital services as they move toward citizenship. SAALT also calls on President Biden to “transform the immigration system to explicitly account for climate change, religious persecution, and growing right-wing fascism.”

Looking at the foreign policy elements of the 2021 Act, Alberto Velázquez Trujillo of Faith in Action in Central America says that the $4 billion in promised ‘investment’ in the region must also have accountability checks. “If Biden wants to help Central America, he needs more discernment about where the money is spent. If he just gives money to the governments [as administrations have done in the past], things will remain the same.”

In sum, there is no settled summary of the ambitions, gaps, and dangers in the proposed 2021 Citizenship Act. All that is unfolding, in real-time. The ACLU notes “This legislation provides one of the most far-reaching pathways to citizenship and legal residency in recent history.“ But importantly they voice concerns too:

[W]e must … ensure that Congress passes legislation that does not import the wrongs of the broken and racist criminal legal system, nor lead to more wasteful funding for technology at the border that would undermine everyone’s right to privacy.” —N. Shah, ACLU Statement, 2/18/21

WHAT CAN WE DO?

In solidarity and with collective care,

Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network (JHISN)

Follow @JHSolidarity on Facebook and Twitter and share this newsletter with friends, families, neighbors, networks, and colleagues so they can subscribe and receive news from JHISN. 

 

 

JHISN Newsletter 2/20/2021

Dear friends,

Snow has fallen on Jackson Heights and the rest of the nation – JHISN hopes that you and those close to you are well. It is Black History month and The Immigration Coalition has shared 7 Facts reminding us of the history of Black immigrants in relation to national policies which unjustly incarcerate and vilify. This week’s newsletter offers two stories on the politics of incarceration and decarceration for US immigrants. First, the repeal of a NY State criminal statute that benefits transgender immigrants in Jackson Heights. Second, our ongoing challenge to demolish the powerful fiction of ‘good’ vs. ‘bad’ immigrant, as a new Democratic administration must face its own history of criminalizing immigration.

Newsletter highlights:

  1. Repeal of “Walking While Trans” Ban Celebrated by Immigration Groups
  2. Refusing the Narrative of ‘Good’ vs. ‘Bad’ Immigrant 

1. ‘Walking While Trans’ repeal marks a turning point for New York trans immigrants

Racial justice, LGBTQ, and immigrants’ rights advocates scored a long-awaited victory early this month when Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a law lifting a decades-old rule that posed a threat to many of the state’s Black and Latinx residents. Among the chief complaints raised was the way it had been used by police to target New York’s transgender residents, including here in Queens.

Advocates say repeal is especially important for trans people of color and immigrants. It could also create momentum for more change, including decriminalization of sex work.

The new law repeals a statute passed in 1976 that became known as the “Walking While Trans Ban.” It allowed police to stop people for loitering, ostensibly to stop prostitution. But critics said the “notoriously vague” law permitted police to arrest, without evidence, anyone they presumed to be engaged in sex work. In a 2016 civil rights class-action lawsuit arguing that the law was unconstitutional, the Legal Aid Society wrote that a “woman can be improperly arrested and detained simply because an officer takes issue with her clothing or appearance.”

“This statute has been utilized at the discretion of law enforcement to profile, harass, and criminalize women of color, particularly trans women of color, not only creating a pipeline to unjust incarceration, but creating potential immigration hurdles and barriers seeking employment and housing,” said a February 1 letter to the governor from Make the Road New York, signed by more than 150 organizations, including JHISN. 

The letter is part of Make the Road’s broader campaign to secure the dignity and safety of translatinas: “Our deep ties in the translatina community in Queens, and to the larger immigrant organizing community, allows us to address the unique and multifaceted challenges facing immigrant, undocumented, and Latinx trans people.”

Aside from the psychological and physical impacts of being detained, arrest leaves many trans immigrants in a potentially dangerous position. An arrest on sex work-related charges could lead to deportation under U.S. immigration law. Many trans immigrants are asylum seekers who face dangerous persecution in their home countries. Having arrest records sealed, as the new law mandates, could prevent deportation and reopen the opportunity for asylum.

But some advocates say the repeal is only one necessary step toward destigmatizing trans and gender-nonconforming people. The next big hurdle for many is decriminalizing sex work. Supporters of decriminalization, like Make the Road New York, say it would allow for safer working conditions for all sex workers, including many of the people who were arrested under the recently repealed law.

A bill introduced in the New York legislature in 2019 with support from the New York Immigration Coalition and Make the Road New York would allow consenting adults to trade sex and to patronize sex workers. It also aims to combat trafficking, rape, assault, battery, and sexual harassment. A competing bill, crafted by Senator Liz Kreuger and New Yorkers for the Equality Model, would also decriminalize people doing sex work. But, in contrast, it would treat buying sex, sex trafficking, and brothel owning as illegal. It would also increase access to social services for sex workers.

The debate on how to decriminalize, and how to increase safety for sex workers, is not new. But decriminalization is gaining momentum now, with greater focus on racial justice and immigrant rights, particularly for LGBTQ people. The Walking While Trans repeal adds even more fuel to the movement.

“It feels like it’s so powerful to know that the advocacy of a community so disenfranchised like the trans community was able to lead this groundbreaking change in the state of New York,” Cecilia Gentili, founder of Transgender Equity Consulting, told NPR. It’s “very refreshing for the trans community and the immigrant community, especially Black and brown trans people…and knowing that they will be able to walk in the streets without having that nervousness of being stopped and frisked by police.”

WHAT CAN WE DO?

  • Read and share the original letter to Governor Cuomo from Make the Road New York urging repeal of the Walking While Trans ban. Then read differing views about the push for sex work decriminalization.
  • Support Make the Road’s platform promoting TGNCIQ (transgender, gender non-conforming, intersex, and queer) Justice, and the empowerment of TGNCIQ community members.
  • Listen to the Season 9 Launch of the Immigrantly Podcast (Episode 108). An interview with the editors of the recent publication, “Queer and Trans Migrations: Dynamics of illegalization, Detention, and Deportation”.
  • Watch the Queens Public Television video about Lorena Borjas, the Jackson Heights Latina transgender undocumented activist who died last year.

2. Challenging the politics of ‘good’ vs. ‘bad’ immigrants 

Picture the scene: a 23-year old DACA recipient is asked to embrace an immigration system that would finally grant her secure residency in the U.S. … while that same system targets for deportation her mother, an undocumented immigrant who has lived and worked in NYC for 20 years, and her younger brother with a ‘criminal’ record for a minor drug offense. Multiply that scene across millions of immigrant families in the U.S., and you start to have a feel for the brutal power behind the narrative of ‘good’ vs. ‘bad’ immigrants.

That narrative is being directly challenged as immigrant justice groups nationwide build their blueprints and collective dreams for post-Trump immigration legislation. Activists are calling for a new immigration system that can address—with dignity and justice—the need for a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented residents. For an end to the criminalization of migration. Will the Biden/Harris administration listen?

[T]his story of the “bad hombre” has been weaponized over the decades to punish entire immigrant communities. By contrasting the, quote-unquote, “bad hombre” with the, quote, “good” immigrants, who work unnaturally hard and never break any rules, essentially what politicians are doing is they’re reducing immigrant lives to caricatures who can be exploited and expelled from the country. (Guerrero, Democracy Now, 1/26/21)

Much of the responsibility for the dangerous framing of good vs. bad immigrants can be attributed to the Clinton administration’s simultaneous pursuit of ‘tough on crime’ and ‘tough on immigration’ policies in the mid-1990s. Several Clinton-era laws dramatically expanded the population of immigrants vulnerable to mandatory detention and deportation (see Loyd & Mountz, 2018, Ch. 6). The 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) helped cement the legal infrastructure for the massive deportation machine operating today: immigrant deportations increased from 70,000 in 1996 to 400,000 by the Obama administration’s first term.

The figure of the “criminal alien”—contrasted with images of the legal, ‘good,’ and contributing immigrant—was popularized in these years. By 2009, almost 50% of immigrants detained by ICE were channeled through the ‘Criminal Alien Program,’ a nationwide and semi-secretive web of federal, state, and local law enforcement that is responsible for hundreds of thousands of immigrant removals. CAP operates in all federal and state prisons, and hundreds of local jails, where immigrants who have been arrested (including those not yet convicted) are subject to removal proceedings. This collusion between federal immigration authorities and the historically anti-black US criminal justice system also disproportionately affects Black immigrants, who are removed at rates five times their representation in the US population.

[C]ruel policies of immigration enforcement are a pillar of Democrats’ governance. The rhetoric of “productive” and “legal” immigrants, with the simultaneous demonization of “criminal” and “illegal” immigrants, has been the cornerstone of the party’s immigration platform for three decades. (Harsha Walia, The Intercept, 2/7/21)

As a new Democratic administration takes the reigns of DHS and immigration policy, the brief history offered here becomes terribly relevant. With even a limited 100-day moratorium announced by Biden stopped in its tracks by a Trump-appointed federal judge, and with recent headlines that the Biden administration is ready to be ‘flexible’ re their promised overhaul of immigration—can the dreams and demands of immigration activists be meaningfully realized? Can a ‘good’ immigration system finally be constructed, in the face of a very ‘bad’ history of both Republican and Democratic governance?

In solidarity and with collective care,

Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network

Follow @JHSolidarity on Facebook and Twitter and share this newsletter with friends, families, neighbors, networks, and colleagues so they can subscribe and receive news from JHISN. 

 

JHISN Newsletter 2/06/2021

Dear friends,

Amidst the cascade of immigration news at the national level (executive orders, new DHS/ICE/CBP appointments, policy reviews, and more), we take a look this week at immigration politics closer to home. As the pandemic deepens our relationships with our neighbors and our local communities, JHISN investigates a major change in how we vote in New York City: ranked choice voting. Thousands of Queens residents already cast votes in a special election this week that, for the first time, will be decided by ranked choice. As this new voting method becomes the rule, the promise, and risks, for immigrants are still coming into focus. We hope the newsletter helps us begin to unravel the complexities, and together create a local politics committed to immigrant justice and solidarity.

It’s not too late to contribute to our ‘Neighborhood Emergency!’ fundraising campaign. Our website links you directly to the donation pages of six local, frontline, immigrant-led organizations that are fighting for community empowerment during the pandemic. Whatever you are able to afford can make a real difference, in Jackson Heights and beyond.

Ranked choice voting: hope and concern from immigrant advocates

Ranked choice voting (RCV) has been billed as a way to ensure that all New Yorkers—especially immigrants and other underrepresented groups—have a voice in local elections.

But with a pandemic rollout, a fast-approaching mayoral primary, and several special elections already underway —including here in Queens—many people worry that the new RCV system will bypass the groups it’s supposed to benefit.

Nearly three-fourths of New York City residents who voted in 2019 approved ranked choice voting. The system applies to primary and special elections, including this week’s special election in Queens’ 24th District. (An official winner has yet to be called, but Democrat James Gennaro has all but secured the race with more than 50% of the votes.)

Here’s a brief explanation of how ranked choice voting works:

  1. Rather than casting your ballot for one candidate, you rank candidates with a first choice, second choice and so forth, up to five.
  2. If no candidate gets 50% or more of the (first-choice) votes, the candidate with the fewest votes is removed from the race.
  3. If you listed the removed candidate as your first choice, your ballot will instead be counted toward your second choice.
  4. The process repeats until one candidate ends up with more than 50% of the votes.

Advocates in New York who support the change, including the New York Immigration Coalition, say it will encourage candidates to reach beyond their bases to court second, third and fourth spots on voters’ ballots.

A widely cited 2018 study found that in California races with ranked choice voting, more candidates of color participated, and more women of color won local elected office. The authors hypothesized that the RCV system encourages a more diverse array of candidates, since candidates don’t have to worry about splitting the vote with competitors of similar backgrounds so none of them win.

But springing a brand-new voting system on residents during a pandemic—in a mayoral election year—doesn’t sit well with some, especially those advocating on behalf of communities that are often left out of public outreach efforts.

“When it became apparent that the Covid-19 pandemic would constrain its ability to enable a ‘robust voter education plan’ for this new and complex system, the city should have accelerated the pace of its efforts to execute its public outreach plan,” the City Council’s Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus said in a December statement. They argued that without adequate education, the system risks disenfranchising residents of color, seniors, and people who speak limited English. Several caucus members were among those that filed a complaint with the New York Supreme Court.

Despite the criticism, the Supreme Court refused to nix ranked choice voting for the special election in the 24th District. Meanwhile, several stakeholders in that election also voiced their support for RCV.

“If immigrants can handle the challenges they face on a daily basis, like operating in their second or third language, navigating government bureaucracies, or even learning to vote the traditional way in their non-native country, we are confident they will be able to rank their preferences in an RCV election, just like everyone else,” advocates from Jackson Heights-based Chhaya and the Chinese-American Planning Council wrote in an op-ed in the Queens Daily Eagle. In January, Chhaya and other community groups were out in the streets and online educating residents in eastern Queens about the new voting process.

The 24th District election could have led to the City Council having its first South Asian member. But that seems unlikely to happen at this point. There were complicating factors on top of the pandemic, including low turnout and the election date falling during a major snowstorm.

“There are 66,000 of us in Queens….And we don’t have representation,” said Moumita Ahmed, a Bangladeshi American and a prominent City Council candidate in the 24th District, in a Gothamist interview. “Ranked choice voting is literally the only way our voices can matter, can be heard.”

WHAT CAN WE DO?

  • Learn about ranked choice voting and talk to family and friends to make sure they know how it works. The city’s finance board explains RCV, with information in English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, and Bengali.
  • For those of us who are voters, start researching candidates for the November 2 City Council, District Attorney, Mayor, and other races, many of which will be effectively decided in the June primaries. Early voting for the primaries begins on Saturday, June 12. Registration must be completed by May 28, and absentee ballots must be requested by June 15.
  • Listen to Jagpreet Singh, lead organizer at Chhaya CDC, discuss RCV on a recent WNYC Brian Lehrer Show.

In solidarity and with collective care,

Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network (JHISN)

Follow @JHSolidarity on Facebook and Twitter and share this newsletter with friends, families, neighbors, networks, and colleagues so they can subscribe and receive news from JHISN. 

 

 

JHISN Newsletter 1/23/2021

Dear friends, 

This week, a different cry went up near the steps of the US Capitol: “If we’re to live up to our own time // Then victory won’t lie in the blade // But in all the bridges we’ve made // That is the promised glade  // The hill we climb if only we dare it // Because being American is more than a pride we inherit // It’s the past we step into // And how we repair it.”  In solidarity with the fierce spirit of Amanda Gorman, a young Black woman poet laureate who captured the inaugural stage, we offer you this week’s newsletter.

On the cusp of political change—a moment of promise that so many have fought for, and a moment of danger that together we must name—we analyze the connection between an emergent US fascism and anti-immigrant hatred. Closer to home, we then look at the politics of distributing the Covid vaccine in immigrant communities like Jackson Heights. Finally, we offer a local history of immigrant justice groups and the key role of women’s leadership in repairing the past and making bridges … in our own time.        

Newsletter highlights:

  1. US fascism and anti-immigrant politics
  2. Vaccine rollout and NYC immigrant communities
  3. Women-led immigrant activism

1. Hatred of immigrants fuels US fascism

After four years of relentless racist attacks, sponsored and directed by the highest levels of government, hatred of immigrants of color has become a more normal, open feature of mainstream politics in the US. This hatred provides fuel for a rising wave of fascism: a revolutionary movement of the racist Right that treats the existing “deep state” government as an “anti-American” fraud. Not all anti-immigrant sentiment is fascist. But fury against immigration plays a central role in the rise of fascism here, as it does in other countries around the globe. This is evident within the key political trends feeding into the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol—Proud Boys, QAnon, and the militia movement:

  • Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes constantly mocks and insults immigrants and people of color. “I love being white,” he says….”I don’t want our culture diluted. We need to close the borders now.” Enrique Tarrio, the new head of Proud Boys, is the son of conservative Cuban immigrants. He denies that he (or Trump, or law enforcement) is fascist, or racist. But in online chat rooms, Tarrio and other Proud Boys spew white nationalist hate and call for violence against undocumented people. Tarrio’s Twitter feed was suspended in 2018 after he tweeted racist comments about Black actor Leslie Jones, and slurred Islam, Jews, and trans people.
  • QAnon supporters, who promote a bizarre conspiracy theory alleging that top Democrats are running a massive pedophilia ring, also pretend to be inclusive. But they are deeply implicated in anti-immigrant politics. Ashli Babbitt, the QAnon “martyr” shot to death while invading the Capitol, posted videos “ranting about immigration at San Diego’s southern border.” Marjorie Taylor Green, the new QAnon congresswoman, considers immigration “a full on illegal invasion.”
  • Anti-immigrant hatred is a prominent feature of the national right-wing militia movement. The Oath Keepers, a large militia drawn from law enforcement and the military, is convinced that undocumented immigrants are part of a Democrat plot to shatter US society. (Two of the people arrested last week after the insurrection are members of the Ohio State Regular Militia, a subset of the Oath Keepers.) The Three Percenters consider immigrants and Muslims to be enemies, while the insurrectionary Boogaloo movement is “a broad anti-government movement that is full of white power activists” promoting race war. These three militias were key actors in the Capitol attack.

Fascism walks hand in hand with racist attacks on immigrants. US fascism is also rooted in anti-Black racism, as the many Confederate flags waving during the Capitol invasion proudly proclaimed. It’s of grave concern that the cancer of fascism has become deeply embedded inside police forces and the military. Notably, neo-nazis and other fascists are highly active inside ICE and the Border Patrol.

As the Trump regime leaves office, hopes are high that the new administration will reverse his anti-immigrant policies. But the fascists and their hard-core white supremacist allies aren’t going away. The immigrant justice movement must join with the Black justice movement and other progressive people to turn back the fascists’ violent threat, and to uproot their social influence. The boldness, militance, and size of the attack on the Capitol indicate that this will have to be a sustained struggle.

2. New York will not share citizenship status with feds during Covid vaccination

As New York begins rolling out the Covid-19 vaccine, public health officials and advocates urgently stress the importance of getting it to marginalized communities, including immigrants.

As part of that effort, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo last month announced that the state will not share identifying information with the federal government that could be used to determine an individual’s citizenship status. Sharing this sensitive data could have discouraged undocumented immigrants—many of whom are essential workers—from getting the vaccine. 

The announcement came soon after Governor Cuomo sent a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, requesting in part that HHS allow New York to develop its own system to keep track of vaccinated individuals and administration of doses. The December 1 letter objected to the federal government’s original requirement that states provide information on individuals receiving the vaccine—such as social security, passport, or driver’s license numbers—that could be used to determine if a person is documented.

The letter was signed by the governor and leaders of 52 community groups, including Queens-based organizations like New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE) and Adhikaar, as well as Make the Road New York.

The success of the vaccination campaign will likely be determined by its rollout in communities of color, which include many immigrants. Not only have these communities been hit hardest by the virus, but they include large numbers of essential workers who can’t work from home. Reaching them for vaccination will be key for New York to prevent more loss and achieve herd immunity—the point when enough people are immune that the virus can’t spread. (Officials often say that about three-quarters of the U.S. population would need to be vaccinated to get to herd immunity.)

At the same time, some members of these communities have said they’re skeptical about getting vaccinated, something advocates have warned about given long histories of mistreatment and neglect by scientific and medical institutions.

“We are working hard with the undocumented and Indigenous immigrant population,” Janet Perez, director of programs at Sunset Park-based Mixteca, said last month. “Our goal is that they also have access to those vaccines.”

As with most other aspects of the pandemic response, policies to distribute the vaccine vary from state to state. New Jersey officials said all residents and workers in the state can get the vaccine, including those without documentation.

Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts was criticized early this month for saying undocumented immigrants wouldn’t be included in the early vaccine rollout—even though many of those individuals work in meatpacking plants, which have been well-known sites of outbreaks. A spokesperson later said that while proof of citizenship won’t be required to get vaccinated, “Nebraska is going to prioritize citizens and legal residents ahead of illegal immigrants.”

The confusion and stigmatization come during an already complicated vaccine distribution effort that’s been slowed by high demand and short supply, and frequently changing guidelines on who’s eligible. Many of these problems have been attributed to mismanagement at the federal level that’s kept states from getting vaccines and, until recently, withheld critical funding for distribution. President Joe Biden is aiming to distribute 100 million vaccines in his first hundred days in office.

In New York City, health care workers and people 65 years and older, as well as public-facing grocery store workers, teachers, and homeless shelter residents, are eligible to sign up for a vaccine appointment. However, appointments are hard to come by, and over 20,000 appointments were canceled this week due to lack of vaccine. At the current rate, the governor has said it could take until the summer for those eligible to get vaccinated and for the rest of the state to begin. What remains clear is that the inclusion of immigrant workers and communities is vital to the success of any vaccination program in New York. 

WHAT CAN WE DO?

3. Local History: Women and Immigrant Activism

This week, the daughter of two immigrants was sworn in as the first Black, South Asian, and female vice-president of the United States. On the campaign trail, Kamala Harris laid out a roadmap to citizenship for DREAMers, another example of the power of women’s leadership in the recent history of immigrant activism. Women’s leadership has also been central in our own Queens-based neighborhood organizations.

Immigrant rights activism is not an old story. After the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act granted legal status to almost three million undocumented immigrants, border enforcement also became more harsh; more immigrants stayed in the US instead of migrating back and forth. The unintended effects of IRCA actually increased the number of undocumented workers living in the US, which prompted the development of organized groups advocating for their right to stay and for safe work conditions … these groups needed activist leaders.

Immigrant rights groups share goals with civil rights and labor movements, but don’t share the tradition of dominant male leadership. Studies of immigrant activist groups in California suggest that since many immigrant justice groups were created after struggles for women’s rights, the women who had migrated to the US and had to work outside the home, were motivated to take on those leadership roles. In Queens, we can tell similar stories.

In the early nineties, Latin Women in Action was founded by Haydee Zambrana in Corona for Hispanic women and families in Queens. Shortly after, Sakhi for South Asian Women started tabling in Jackson Heights for women’s rights as part of International Women’s Day. At the end of the `90s, Sakhi spun off a Queens-based Women’s Domestic Workers Committee group called Workers Awaaz. Closing the decade, NICE developed in response to anti-immigrant billboards placed in Queens. (In 2020 a founding board member of NICE, Jessica González-Rojas, was elected to represent the 34th Assembly District).

In the 2000’s Seema Agnani, a founder of Jackson Heights-based Chhaya CDC, created housing and economic support for low-income South Asian Workers building from her experience working at Asian Americans for Equality’s housing and neighborhood development program. Shortly after that Monami Maulik founded DRUM to build up the power of South Asian workers. Damayan was co-founded by Linda Oalican to support Filipino domestic workers, and Voces Latinas was co-founded by Nathaly Rubio-Torio to reduce violence and HIV transmission among immigrant Latinas. In that same decade, Luna Ranjit helped create Adhikaar in Woodside for the Nepali community to promote human rights and social justice. In nearby Astoria, the RIF Center was established by Maria Blacque-Belair to support the legal needs of refugees and asylum seekers.

While the idea for Immigrant Movement International was conceived by artist Tania Bruguera in 2006, it took four years and support from the Queens Museum to create a space for its services, where artists use their skills to advocate for immigration reform. IMI was the seed that became Centro Corona which shares a close connection with woman-led Queens Neighborhoods United—a local activist group that advocates for democratic control over land use, policing, and immigration policies.

Join with JHISN in honoring the historical leadership of the many women-led organizations that advocate and fight for immigrant workers, families, and communities.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

  • Donate to DRUM’s Campaign and Leadership Development Fund to support future women leaders.
  • Be inspired by the life of Queens immigrant/AIDS/LGBTQ/Sex Worker activist Lorena Borjas who tragically died of Covid in 2020, at the age of 59.
  • Join our developing crowdsourced JHISN initiative to build out a robust timeline of immigrant activist work in our neighborhood – contact timeline@jhimmigrantsolidarity.org for more information.

In solidarity and with collective care,

Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network

Follow @JHSolidarity on Facebook and Twitter and share this newsletter with friends, families, neighbors, networks, and colleagues so they can subscribe and receive news from JHISN.