Author: JHISN

Five Facts About Next Year’s Census

Trump and his allies are hellbent on reducing our participation in the Census next year. And if they succeed, they’ll have an easier time passing laws that promote white nationalism and violence against immigrants and communities of color.

Their goal is to scare us. But we are unafraid, and ready to fight back for our communities. So we want to make sure you have the facts.

Here are five important things you need to know about next year’s Census.

  1. It WILL NOT include a citizenship question: It’s as simple as that. There will be no citizenship question on the Census, and everyone (citizens and undocumented folks) can fill out the Census.
  2. Participation is convenient: The Census forms will be sent right to your home (and you’ll receive reminders to fill it out). The forms can be mailed back to the Census Bureau free of charge.
  3. Your information is safe: The data is protected by the strictest confidentiality protections in federal law. This means that no one will be able to share the information you provide.
  4. It impacts how billions of dollars are spent. Do you want better schools, roads, hospitals, parks and public facilities in your neighborhood? The Census helps determine where $800 BILLION in federal funding will be spent.
  5. It impacts your political representation: We can gain a Member to represent us in Congress by filling out the forms. But we can also lose a seat at the table if we skip out.

Make sure everyone knows the real facts about the Census. Share on Facebook today.

Thanks to United We Dream for the information.



Denise Romero versus Chuck Schumer

At JHISN’s Community Gathering on October 17, activist Denise (Lupita) Romero spoke about her recent confrontation with US Senator and Democratic Party Leader Chuck Schumer on the streets of Woodside, Queens. Some video of the encounter can be seen online:

During the street confrontation, Romero told Schumer that he wasn’t welcome in Queens. She said that, in spite of Schumer’s claims about supporting immigrant rights, he and his fellow Democrats were actually dividing immigrants: offering to help some, while putting a deportation target on the backs of many others. Speaking over Schumer as he wagged a finger in her face, Romero insisted that dividing immigrants this way undermines the struggle for rights and justice for all immigrants.

Romero, a “Dreamer” brought to the US as a small child, would possibly be eligible for permanent legal status if the “comprehensive immigration reform” legislation proposed by Schumer and Nancy Pelosi ever passed in Congress. (At least if she met a set of strict eligibility guidelines and conditions.) But, as Romero pointed out to Schumer, her own parents would be still be subject to deportation, along with millions of other immigrants. In addition, the Democrats’ “comprehensive immigration reform” bills include billions of dollars for tougher enforcement—more ICE and Border Patrol agents, more courts and more equipment, including drones and other advanced technology.

At the JHISN community gathering, Romero said that she understands why lots of US citizens are caught up in supporting the Democratic Party as a way of defeating Trump. But she argued passionately that, with the rights of millions of immigrants on the line, people should be demanding much more from their leaders than what Schumer, Pelosi, and other mainstream Democrats are offering.

JHISN received a range of feedback about Romero’s talk. Some attendees expressed discomfort with her anger, and felt defensive. Others worried that attacks on Democrats could help Trump get reelected. And still others were enthusiastic about the talk, which they found inspiring, challenging or energizing. If you weren’t there, check out the video of Denise Romero, and see for yourself.

For a recap of our community gathering, including photos and videos of the speakers’ presentations and musical performances, see our News story.

We All Belong Here: Recap of our Annual Community Gathering

On October 17, 2019, the Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network (JHISN) held its annual community gathering at The Renaissance Charter School. Videos of the speakers’ presentations and musical performances, as well as photographs, are posted below. Following is a recap of the event.

Balafon master Famoro Dioubate from Guinea performed as attendees arrived at the gathering and found their seats.

Melissa Greenberg welcomed everyone and explained how JHISN began in 2017. She introduced Nuala O’Doherty, president of the Jackson Heights Beautification Group. Ms. O’Doherty described some of the difficulties immigrants face and how we as residents of this diverse Jackson Heights area need to support all our immigrant neighbors. She said we shouldn’t separate people into “good” and “bad” immigrants, but support all immigrants regardless of their history or past mistakes. She urged us to educate ourselves about the old laws we haven’t paid attention to, but that now are being enforced. She urged us to get those laws changed. Her most important point was that our immigrant neighbors are afraid and they must know that we’re behind them.

The featured speaker was Suketu Mehta, author of This Land Is Our Land: An Immigrant’s Manifesto, and a professor of journalism at NYU. His book has been celebrated as a “powerful, passionate, angry, and hopeful cry for justice.” Mr. Mehta recounted several of the themes in his book. He began by saying that he wrote the book in response to the emergency in the United States and all over the world of immigrants arriving in large numbers. Never have more people immigrated than now. He explained that people are leaving their countries because rich countries have stolen the future from the poor countries. “We re the creditors. You’ve stolen from us and we’re here to collect. We’re here because you were there.” Europeans took from colonies and the colonies made Europe rich. After different wars, Western colonial powers drew lines on maps without considering where people actually lived. This has caused problems that continue to the present day. Now imperial colonialism has evolved into corporate colonialism.

Mr. Mehta continued by pointing out some causes of migration: wars, gang wars in the Northern Triangle of Central America, and climate change that ruins economies because of drought. There are estimates that 1 billion people will have to move during this century because of continuing climate changes.

He also told of his experience at Friendship Park on the border between San Diego and Tijuana. There is a fence of thick mesh separating the towns. Here loved ones from either side of the border can meet for only 10 to 15 minutes across the fence that has only enough space for people to touch pinkies, not enough space to touch or hug one another. This has been dubbed “the pinky kiss.” It is a situation that mocks the name of the park and is a subtle cruelty.

The people who fear immigrants are people who don’t know any immigrants. The truth is that immigration is good news because everyone benefits. Immigrants send remittances back to their countries of origin. Immigrants are young and have children and pay taxes that support Social Security for the aging population of the USA. Immigrants help themselves and start new businesses. So his message is that immigrants are good for the countries they enter.

The third speaker was Denise Romero, originally from Mexico and now living in Sunnyside, Queens. She is undocumented and a DACA recipient. Ms. Romero is currently a legal advocate and tenant organizer at Mobilization for Justice Legal Services. She described a recent encounter she had with Senator Chuck Schumer at a street fair in Sunnyside. (You can see a video of that encounter here.)  Ms. Romero challenged Senator Schumer because he was a sponsor of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill and he proclaims he is a friend of immigrants. But Ms. Romero and others don’t see him as a friend of immigrants because the bill had too many compromises they could not support. The bill would only have helped some immigrants and would have pitted DACA kids against their parents.

Ms. Romero urged us to remember that 70% of immigrant families are mixed status, i.e., at least one family member is undocumented. She believes that if the government and Democrats aren’t ready to talk about the old laws (of the eighties and nineties) and the drug wars or abolishing ICE, then they aren’t really trying to help immigrants. She pointed out that none of the Democrats running for president are talking about immigration issues. So she urged us to pay attention to the candidates and to organize to force Senator Schumer and others to provide a real solution. Finally, she said the solutions have to come from those affected, so we have to back the young people. (See our post about the reactions to Ms. Romero's confrontation with Chuck Schumer.)

Following a song from Venezuelan folk singer Miriam Elhajli, the next speaker was Javaid Tariq. He came to the U.S. in 1990, escaping political repression in Pakistan. As a cab driver, he helped found the New York Taxi Workers Alliance to fight oppressive work conditions in the cab industry. Mr. Tariq explained that taxi drivers come from more than 100 countries and 60% to 70% of them are Muslims. The Alliance grew from 75 members to 22,000. After 9/11 there were crimes against the Muslim drivers, but his union stood up for those who were attacked. The Alliance fought for a Taxi Driver Protection Act, but it took 11 years before Mayor Bill de Blasio signed it into law. The union shut down JFK airport when President Trump initiated the ban against Muslims entering the U.S. Now they are fighting for economic rights for the drivers. Because of the tremendously high cost of medallions, many drivers are now deeply in debt. Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez is trying to get loan forgiveness for the affected drivers. The New York Taxi Alliance is bringing awareness and urging drivers to stand up for themselves. Mr. Tariq believes all immigrants must stand together.

Next we heard from Terry Duprat a volunteer at the New Sanctuary Coalition (NSC). New Sanctuary Coalition has an accompaniment program that trains volunteers to accompany people facing deportation to their immigration court hearings and ICE check-ins. Volunteers accompany hundreds of people each year and thousands of NYC immigrant families have been supported by NSC’s social justice work.

Ms. Duprat has been accompanying immigrants to their court hearings for three years. She described how there have been significant changes to the procedures during that time. Families used to be able to see and touch the detainees. However, since August 2019 detainees only appear on video. They can see the judge, their lawyer, the DHS lawyer, but not the accompanier or their family members. This is very upsetting for the families. Ms. Duprat said during the previous week, she attended 17 hearings at the Foley Square courts. Some of the judges were on video in other states and had to be instructed about NY State laws. Although using videos has made the process quicker, it is alienating for the detainees. Also, the asylum application is long and it changes often. This whole process is very stressful for all involved.

After Miriam Elhajli sang Woody Guthrie’s song “Deportee,” we heard from the final speaker, Julie Schwietert Collazo. Ms. Collazo is a writer, journalist and a mother of three. She founded the grassroots collective Immigrant Families Together (IFT) in 2018. IFT works with an all-volunteer staff to bond out immigrants being held in detention and reunite them with their children and families. IFT has reunited over 75 children and families and provided resettlement and legal support to dozens more. She expressed her surprise that IFT has raised $2 million through its GoFundMe page although she didn’t have a specific monetary goal in mind at the beginning.

In order to illustrate some of the common events she encounters, Ms. Collazo described four cases. The first was the case of a woman whose asylum hearing Ms. Collazo planned to attend. When the judge realized that she was not biologically related to the woman, he didn’t want her to be there until the woman told him Ms. Collazo was part of her family by choice. Her asylum plea was denied within 90 minutes of the hearing.

Next Ms. Collazo related the series of bureaucratic mix-ups that prevented a man from getting the travel documents he needed in order to return to his country to see his dying mother. ICE had taken his passport and since it was his only means of identification, his consulate wouldn’t grant him the travel documents he needed to return to Honduras.

The third case was a boy denied entrance to school although the Department of Education had said he was assigned to the last seat available in that school. The school couldn’t understand why the DOE had sent him there. Many hours were spent to finally get the boy into a school.

The fourth case was how a foster care agency claimed a mother had to pay $1000 to pay for the flight and chaperone for her child to be reunited with her. Ms. Collazo had been in similar situations before and knew the agency was legally required to pay. So she was able to get the foster care agency to pay the plane fare for the child and chaperone. The child was successfully reunited with his mother after a separation of 14 years.

Ms. Collazo emphasized that although these cases represent absurd events, she said they are very common. In closing, Ms. Collazo mentioned that her husband had asked her why they keep going to events like this in Queens, the most diverse place in the United States and arguably one of the most progressive. Her responses highlighted that there is still work to be done, even in neighborhoods such as ours, but she also stressed the importance of coming together to renew our commitment to do that work.

The evening ended with Famoro Dioubate playing another song while audience members purchased books on their way out. Representatives of the Astoria Bookstore provided copies for sale of Suketu Mehta’s book This Land Is Our Land: An Immigrant’s Manifesto, as well as a variety of children’s books that could be purchased for children of families Immigrant Families Together has reunited. Each attendee received an envelope with material related to the work of the Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network, including “Ideas for Volunteering and Activism.”


Some Facts About Our Community

The NY State Comptroller’s Office recently released what they call “An Economic Snapshot of the Greater Jackson Heights Area.” This area includes East Elmhurst and North Corona.

The report highlights an increase in new businesses and business sales, marking a rebound from the 2009 economic crisis. The growth is attributed largely to immigrants. As the authors put it, “The greater Jackson Heights area’s large, vibrant immigrant community is the driving force behind the local economy.” The “Economic Snapshot” also includes a number of interesting facts:

  1. Immigrants make up 60% of the population of the Jackson Heights area–roughly 102,300 people. This is a much higher percentage of immigrants than the City as a whole (37%) or the US (14%).
  2. According to the US Census Bureau, the largest immigrant group in the Jackson Heights area today is Ecuadorans, making up 20% of the immigrant population, or about 20,800 people. The second-largest group is Dominicans, followed by Mexicans. Bangladeshis, Colombians, Peruvians, Chinese and Indians also made up significant shares. (Many people believe that the Census Bureau has undercounted the population of Jackson Heights, especially immigrants.)

  1. In 2017, more than 60% of residents (both native born and immigrant) considered themselves Hispanic, 19% Asian, 12% white, and 5% Black or African American.
  2. 81% of all residents of the area speak a language other than English in their home. At the same time, 84% of area children are proficient in English.
  3. Immigrants make up more than three quarters of the employed residents of the Jackson Heights area. The most common jobs are construction worker, housekeeper, janitor, taxi driver, retail worker, restaurant worker, administrative assistant and office clerk. The Jackson Heights area also has an unusually high level of self-employment (15%). 90% of the self-employed people are immigrants.
  4. Median household income in the Jackson Heights area is $56,600. This has been rising over the past several years. But it is lower in earning power than the median 2009 income level, because of inflation.
  5. 12.7% of households in Jackson Heights proper live in poverty, less than the City as a whole. The percentage is 18.8% in East Elmhurst and 19.5% in North Corona.
  6. Since 2009, median rent in the Jackson Heights area has grown by 26%, nearly three times faster than the growth in household income. 10% of households in the area are considered severely overcrowded.

The full State Comptroller report can be downloaded here.



JHISN In the News

Barbara Mutnick of the JHISN contributed to the Fall newsletter of the Jackson Heights Beautification Group, providing an overview of recent actions and policies against immigrants and how the Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network supports our immigrant neighbors.



This happened a long time ago, but it made a big impression on me:

I was a young white activist, recently moved to the US Southwest. An older Mexican guy named Oscar had taken me under his wing, helping me survive in a factory job that I had more or less faked my way into. Oscar knew a lot about the world, and we talked about politics all the time.

One day, I was yakking away about American foreign policy, and the relationship between America and Mexico, and he held up a finger. “You know, Mexicans are Americans too,” he said.

It was so obvious, but it stopped me cold. How could I have been so blind? What kind of arrogance does it take for a country to assign itself the name of a whole continent, as if all the other inhabitants of that continent didn’t matter?

Soon afterwards, I started getting involved in Latin America solidarity organizing, and I began to travel in Mexico. I studied Spanish, and got to know lots of Mexican and Central American activists. I noticed that none of them referred to US residents as “Americans.” Apart from slang words, they used two terms: “norteamericanos” (North Americans) or “estadounidenses” (United Statesians). The same terms were used in Latin American books, newspapers and magazines. They still are.

My Mexican and Central American friends didn’t make a big deal out of it when people from the US called themselves Americans. But they noticed who did, and who didn’t.

I try not to refer to this country as “America,” or talk about US residents as “Americans.” But it’s easy to fall back into that usage. I understand why most people in the US, like my younger self, don’t even consider it an issue. Because every aspect of our society is infused with “Americanism,” from our everyday speech, to the media, to patriotic songs. This is part of the imperial politics of language, which ultimately grows out of economic and military power.

In the Americas, far too often, might makes right. Habits of cultural arrogance and political domination have become entrenched over time. Normalized. In fact, these days I sometimes hear Spanish-speaking people refer to North Americans as “Americanos.” I’ve been told that in some parts of Latin America, this is normal usage; in other parts it’s considered insulting. (Few people in Latin America refer to this country as “America,” since that’s just confusing.)

Meanwhile, there have always been people inside the US who reject the label of “American.” For instance, some Indigenous people dislike the term “Native American,” which was first promoted by the US government. They have their own names for themselves and for the land. Why should they accept the name “America,” derived from Amerigo Vespucci, one of the European invaders? Some radicals of African descent refuse to call themselves “Americans.” They don’t wish to adopt the term that the slave owners and overseers used to describe themselves. Many people of Mexican heritage prefer not to be called “Mexican-Americans.” It seems redundant, and a denial that Mexicans were already Americans before the US seized half of their territory. For instance, my friend Oscar, a US citizen, insisted he was “Mexican,” period.

Everybody has to decide for themselves whether or not to use “America” to refer to the US, and “American” to refer to US residents. But I would argue that it’s something that deserves reflection, especially for those of us who support human rights for migrants.

We should at least pay attention to how those words sound in the mouths of our opponents. Anti-immigrant forces in this country talk about “defending America’s borders.” In August, Tucker Carlson of Fox News, speaking about the Central American caravans, asked his viewers, “Will anyone in power do anything to protect America this time, or will leaders sit passively back as the invasion continues?” Rush Limbaugh says that if the migrant “invasion” isn’t stopped, this country will lose its identity. “The objective is to dilute and eventually eliminate or erase what is known as the distinct or unique American culture.”

In these disgraceful passages, we witness Euro-Americans, descendants of settlers, describing other Americans, many of them indigenous to the continent, as outsiders to America, invaders of America and destroyers of American culture. This is a prime example of what psychologists call “neurotic projection”: Falsely accusing others of doing exactly what you did to them.

Anti-immigrant sentiment can be expressed in many ways, using different language. Plug “the US” into those sentences, and they are still reactionary. But it seems to me that Carlson and Limbaugh’s arrogant use of the term “American” is part of, and helps amplify, their racist message.

What do you think?

DS, 9/19