Category: Activism

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 1/9/2021

Dear friends,

We live in a neighborhood that celebrates an extraordinary range of new years. Sweet new year’s greetings to all who mark time by the Gregorian calendar. This month we also mark a change of political seasons: a regime that began with howls of white nationalism now explodes with the fist of fascist violence. As Trump is forced from executive power, with the new administration still an unknown quantity, our newsletter focuses on the urgent demand for a moratorium on the deportation and detention of US immigrants. Also, we offer a close-up look at the grassroots work of one local immigrant justice group that continues to organize power and political solidarity during the pandemic.  

For those of you who are financially able, please consider donating all or part of your $600 Covid relief check to JHISN’s ‘Neighborhood Emergency!’ fundraising campaign. The campaign directs all donations to six immigrant-led community groups. If you can afford to donate all $600, that’s $100 for each of the six immigration groups!  

  • History & Future of a Deportation Moratorium 
  • DRUM Builds Power and Solidarity during the Pandemic

1. What Kind of Moratorium? 

President-elect Joe Biden’s repeated promise to implement a 100-day moratorium on deportations came about because of sustained grassroots pressure. The demand for a moratorium on deportation and immigrant detention has been a common theme of immigration justice activists for years. By agreeing to a moratorium, Biden has elevated it as a mainstream political issue. The question now is what his moratorium will look like, and whether it will be more than symbolic. Will the moratorium respect and address the recent history of specific demands by immigration activists?  

  • In 2014, near the end of the Obama administration, a huge coalition of 159 organizations called for a moratorium under the slogan NOT1MORE. Endorsing groups included the New York Immigration Coalition, Make the Road, DRUM, Chhaya, and the American Federation of Teachers. The coalition asked Obama to “stop the raids, provide relief from unjust removals, and uphold the civil, human, and labor rights of the undocumented population in the US.” 
  • After March 2020, 70 groups asked Congress to pass the Immigration Enforcement Moratorium Act, which would release people in ICE detention and halt ICE deportations and detentions during the pandemic. Also, a call for a moratorium on deportations to Haiti during the Covid-19 crisis was endorsed by several groups, including Adhikaar.
  • Since early last year, Cosecha’s Dignity2020 campaign has highlighted three demands: 1) an end to all immigrant detention and deportation; 2) immediate legalization for all 11 million undocumented immigrants; and 3) family reunification for everyone separated by detention and deportation. They argue that “Any politician serious about immigrant dignity must commit to” these demands.
  • Other prominent immigrant rights groups and leaders promote a “moratorium on all ICE operations, deportations and detentions” as part of the Migrant Justice Platform. The Platform aims to “identify specific actions that the next administration can immediately take to begin to repair the harm caused by Donald Trump.”
  • The ACLU advocates a moratorium on deportation and suggests a series of steps to reform the immigration system while deportation is frozen.
  • The AllOfUS1/27 campaign, endorsed by Make the Road and several other organizations, is building for an action later this month in DC and other cities to oppose the Muslim Ban and call for a general deportation/detention moratorium.

So how will the new administration incorporate–or sidestep–this recent history of moratorium demands? 100 days doesn’t seem like much time to sweep all the white nationalists and sadists out of ICE and the Border Patrol, let alone substantially reform the immigration system. Will the new administration make exceptions to the moratorium that undermine its force? Will the current mass incarceration of immigrants waiting for their hearings continue during the moratorium? What happens on Day 101?

There are some worrying signs. Some of Biden’s advisors seem to resent pressure they are getting from immigration activists, claiming activists are “too adversarial.” According to NPR, “there are a number of people within Team Biden who are just uncomfortable with a lot of the policy initiatives that they recommend.” One of the biggest points of contention is the deportation of immigrants with criminal records. During the “Deporter-in-Chief” Obama administration, thousands of people were ripped apart from their families and deported for minor offenses. NPR reports that Biden has met repeatedly with “moderate” immigration groups like the National Immigration Forum (NIF) that continue to promote the divisive discourse of “good immigrants” vs. “bad immigrants.” This distinction has served as a pretext for racist demonization and massive deportation programs for decades, under both Republican and Democratic administrations. NIF’s ‘moderate’ position is that immigrant communities don’t want to “see a moratorium on the deportation of public safety threats.” A look at the NIF’s Board of Directors shows the weight of corporate money behind this position.

There are some hopeful signs for Biden/Harris immigration policy, however. They have endorsed creating a roadmap to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants, and a series of other progressive steps, including fortification of DACA and Temporary Protective Status (TPS). Although he hasn’t included immigrant detention in his promised moratorium so far, Biden has called for closing private immigration prisons and for freeing most immigrants awaiting ICE hearings. It appears that some immigration justice arguments have gotten through to him. But clearly, there will be an ongoing struggle among Democrats over the nature and purpose of a moratorium and many other aspects of immigration policy. How can we make sure that the collective voices and demands of immigration activists are heard, and make a real difference, in that struggle?

WHAT CAN WE DO?

2. Rising Up & Moving in a Pandemic – DRUM Builds Community Power

Crises transform society. We will never return to the way things were. While billionaires have increased their wealth by $584 billion, the people and movements must continue to fight in order to ensure that we shape the direction of our society. We need to mobilize a base of people that are ready to engage in collective efforts to restructure society in ways that serve human needs and … a culture of solidarity and mutuality. DRUM report 2020

As the pandemic shut down everyday life in March 2020, local immigrant justice groups were faced with a nightmare dilemma: how to meet crisis-level community needs just as you had to close up your office, end face-to-face organizing, and conduct all work remotely? Desis Rising Up & Moving (DRUM)—with their office in Jackson Heights and with South Asian and Indo-Caribbean members based in Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx—just published a Community Report chronicling their extraordinary response to this nightmare.

Pivoting their work “to meet people’s realities,” DRUM designed and launched a new campaign during the pandemic: Building Power & Safety Through Solidarity. The campaign aimed both to address members’ urgent needs concerning food, health, housing, money and to mobilize political analysis and collective empowerment to address deeper histories and structures informing the crisis. Presenting stories, artwork, analysis, biographical sketches, statistics, and concrete strategies and recommendations, the Community Report offers a model for how to organize, and even strengthen membership, during a devastating health and social emergency.

As women members of DRUM built rent strikes in their own buildings, they also built women’s power and challenged gendered conventions of domestic labor. As mutual aid networks delivered food and direct assistance, they created relationships that can be mobilized to defend against evictions or abolish ICE. As DRUM reached out to members, in their own languages, about safety protocols and preventive measures against Covid, they also educated about the history of hospital closures (18 NYC hospitals closed down) and the structures of austerity and privatized health care that left a public hospital like Elmhurst vulnerable to being quickly overwhelmed by the pandemic.

After asking individuals about their basic needs and providing relevant updates about policies impacting their lives, we agitated members to make clear the structural factors that led to the current crisis. Agitation served as a bridge connecting their material realities to the need for organizing for collective liberation. It provided an opportunity to reflect on why the richest country in the world was facing the worst crisis.DRUM report 2020

During the six-month-long campaign, DRUM made over 12,075 phone calls and talked with 2,175 people who expressed interest in becoming a DRUM member. These numbers are remarkable. But the real story of the Building Power & Safety Through Solidarity campaign is how DRUM met the crisis with imagination and political strategy, linking the immediate struggle for mutual aid in the pandemic to the long-term “fight for the society we deserve.”   

In the middle of all this death and sadness, this campaign was the only powerful thing I could do. –Syeda, DRUM member, DRUM report 2020

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 12/19/2020

Dear friends,

Winter arrives, with beauty and threat, in pandemic times. As the snowstorm swirled this week, COVID deaths continued their catastrophic rise across much of the country. Since last March, when JHISN started to meet remotely, we have drawn inspiration from the ongoing grassroots activism of so many local immigration groups during the crisis. We offer this final newsletter of 2020 with a focus on the collective resistance of the hunger strikers in New Jersey, and on the powerful political art created by immigration activists here in NYC.  

For those of you who have not yet — please consider contributing to our ‘Neighborhood Emergency!’ fundraising campaign. The campaign gathers direct donations to local immigrant-led community groups who are providing, under extraordinarily difficult conditions, emergency support throughout the pandemic. Deep thanks to each of you who has already made a donation.

We wish you collective warmth as, together, we continue to find ways to struggle and to celebrate.

Newsletter Highlights:

  1. Hunger Strike by Local Immigrant Detainees
  2. The Billionaire Scroll — ArtActivism@CentralPark

1. The Struggle at the Bergen County Jail

When anyone embarks on a hunger strike, they are putting their bodies on the line for the opportunity to be heard. These brave hunger strikers are protesting their indefinite detention and right to be reunited with loved ones and community where they can safely socially distance. —Abolish ICE NY-NJ

As this is written, several immigrant detainees at the Bergen County Jail in Hackensack, New Jersey, have been on a hunger strike for over a month. They are demanding their right to wait for their immigration hearings at home with their families, instead of locked inside freezing cold, unsanitary cells where they are abused by guards and denied adequate medical treatment and water. One of the hunger strikers has lost over 40 pounds. In retaliation for the strike, ICE has transferred some of the strikers to other jails, where they will potentially be subjected to force-feeding and increased exposure to Covid-19

Transferring those putting their bodies on their line for a chance of freedom is a clear act of retaliation. The process separates people from their network of support, worsens the COVID-19 pandemic behind bars, and is directly responsible for the record number of deaths in ICE detention this year. Officials must act immediately to release those on hunger strike, and take substantive steps towards decarcerating ICE prisons.” —Tania Mattos, Freedom for Immigrants, Dec 9, 2020

Supporters of the hunger strikers have maintained a daily presence outside the jail, and have sometimes clashed with police. In recent days, Bergen County Sheriffs have become increasingly aggressive with protesters, including arresting 25-year old Niko Sanabria-John on December 11th on multiple charges. An organizer for the group Ridgewood for Black Liberation considers the arrest of Sanabria-John, who is Black, to be racially motivated. On December 12, nine more people were arrested outside the jail, eight of whom are New Yorkers. (Most of the immigrants detained in the Hackensack facility are from New York.) Jail windows have been covered to prevent strikers from hearing the demonstrators outside.

Meanwhile, in Manhattan, six people attending a demonstration supporting the hunger strikers had to be rushed to the hospital after a car drove into the middle of their protest on December 11.

According to existing law and past practice, people arrested for immigration offenses are supposed to be individually evaluated as to whether they are a flight risk or threat to public safety. If not, they are supposed to be released on bond or their own recognizance. But the New York ICE field office is jailing virtually everybody. As an excuse, they use a risk assessment algorithm, modified in 2017 by the Trump regime to remove any option that could produce a recommendation for release.  According to the NY Civil Liberties Union, “ICE has secretly decided to detain thousands of New Yorkers unlawfully, inflicting enormous and entirely unnecessary harms.” 

NYCLU and Bronx Defenders brought a class action suit against this illegal policy in February. But while that effort works its way through the courts, many immigrants in the NY/NJ area are stuck in jail, separated from their families, and deeply worried about contracting coronavirus. That is why they have taken the drastic measure of staging a hunger strike.

The current strike was also inspired by the success of a previous hunger striker, Marcial Morales Garcia. Morales Garcia insisted that his underlying health problems made him vulnerable to coronavirus. After nine days of striking, he was allowed to leave the jail with an ankle monitor–something that could also be done for the current hunger strikers. Instead, ICE continues to resort to aggressive threats and systematic retaliation.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

  • Volunteer with or donate to the New Sanctuary Coalition “Free Them All” campaign.
  • Fight to make the Biden administration enact a moratorium on immigration deportation and detentions

2. Scrolling for Justice — Activist Art for Excluded Workers

[T]he billionaire class, over all, has been the biggest winner from the pandemic, and the working-class has been the biggest loser. —The New Yorker, Dec. 10, 2020

Snow was falling thick and fast as activists, masked, shouted into the microphone, demanding passage of an emergency billionaires tax in New York State. On December 9, over 100 community members gathered in wintry Central Park to display a stunning three-block-long black scroll, calling for a new tax on the very richest to support working-class, immigrant, and undocumented workers. The scroll was designed and built by artist Ange Tran, with creative support from Zosia Skorko, in a huge studio space donated just for the project.

Immigrant justice groups including Make the Road NY, the Laundry Workers Center, and the Street Vendor Project, came together to roll out the massive 650-foot scroll, representing the $600+ billion in net worth held by New York’s 120 billionaires. Angeles Solis, an organizer with Make the Road, took the mic to make clear the connection between #Tax the Rich and the urgent campaign to fund excluded workers:

In a moment of mass inequality and desperation, the NY billionaires have gained more than they ever need or deserve. As I stand here in the snow, in the cold, with hundreds of excluded workers who are lining up every single day at food pantries to survive, we are outside of the homes of billionaire Leon Black, Steve Schwarzman, and the Trump Tower, a small representation of the disgusting hoarding of billionaire wealth in New York.Angeles Solis, Dec. 9, 2020

Far from a quixotic battle, the movement to Tax the Rich took a huge leap forward as dozens of state lawmakers called for a return to Albany before the New Year to pass emergency legislation, including a tax hike on the wealthy. A national group of 50 economic and legal scholars released a public letter on Dec. 10 advising top NY officials to raise taxes on billionaires in the face of fiscal emergency. Responding to Cuomo’s repeated concern that NY billionaires will move out-of-state, the letter pointedly notes: “Billionaires much more frequently remain ​​residents of the localities in which they became successful. Unless Wall Street is transported to ​​Florida, then, such fears are unfounded.” This past week, in a surprise move, the state Assembly Speaker also voiced support for the first time for an end-of-year tax hike.

Immigration activists are responding by stepping up the pressure. On December 16, Make the Road NY co-organized a “Ten Tweets for $10 Billion” hourly twitter rally, from 10 am to 7 pm. The digital activism mobilized supporters to send a series of tweets urging lawmakers to immediately pass $10 billion in emergency aid. Organizers explained:

For nine months the drumbeat of need has been building in epicenter communities and the homes of families hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Today we echo that drumbeat and tell those families and neighbors that we commit to standing with them. Every hour on the hour we speak out on Twitter to build the drumbeat for the relief they deserve – 10 tweets for $10 billion in emergency cash and a down payment on the investment we will need to make in 2021 for the recovery of our communities. Join us.  –MTRNY email, Dec. 16, 2020

JHISN, together with over 140 organizations, is part of the Fund Excluded Workers campaign. Help us keep building a coalition of solidarity to #Tax the Rich and #Fund Excluded Workers.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

In solidarity and with collective care,

Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network

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