Category: Campaign

JHISN Newsletter 06/20/2020

Dear friends, 

In a time of so much loss and uncertainty, we find strength in whatever victories come our way. This past week, the Supreme Court stopped the Trump regime from deporting hundreds of thousands of young DACA immigrants–many of whom are healthcare workers fighting on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic. Relief is only temporary: the Court says Trump can end DACA, he just needs to do it the “right” way. But the delay will take us past the presidential election in November. The struggle continues….

Newsletter highlights:

  1. Immigrant Voting Not a Dream
  2. Essential Immigrants @ Queens Museum Mural
  3. New Public Charge Rules: Working-class Immigrants Need Not Apply (Part 3 of 3)

1. VOTING  – A POLITICAL PRIMER

As the NY State primary approaches on Tuesday, June 23, and as unprecedented numbers of New Yorkers vote for the first time via absentee ballot or early voting, JHISN offers a brief window onto what has been, what could be, and what is, in terms of voting and the politics of power in the U.S. Historically, women of all races and ethnicities were denied voting rights in the U.S. until 1920 when, for the first time, voting by women was decriminalized. Voting rights for indigenous americans in all 50 states was not achieved until 1962. The violent and systematic suppression of Black voting in the U.S. was targeted by the 1965 Voting Rights Act—and then gutted seven years ago by a Republican-leaning Supreme Court. As of 2020, millions of US citizens in the colonial territories of Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and American Samoa are denied a vote in US presidential elections. 

If voting is a “right” in the United States it has been won by struggle, denied by force, and shot through until this day with colonial, racist, patriarchal, and imperial power relations.

Establishing municipal voting rights in NYC for immigrants—legal permanent residents and those with work authorizations—is a vision and a struggle gathering force today. A coalition of over 50 organizations has called for the enfranchisement of immigrants in NYC elections for mayor, city council, and borough president. Adhikaar, African Communities Together, Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), New Sanctuary Coalition, and Street Vendor Project are some of the local immigrant justice groups joining the fight. In January 2020, City Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez introduced a bill to enfranchise immigrant New Yorkers and secure their electoral power.

Immigrant voting is not a pipe dream; it is a historical precedent. Before WWI, immigrant men in some US states were able to vote in municipal, state, and even Congressional elections. Several cities in Maryland have expanded voting rights to noncitizens, including undocumented immigrants. San Francisco, Portland, Chicago, Washington DC, the states of Massachusetts and Maine have all passed or proposed legislation to enfranchise immigrant voters.

On the ground in Queens, for those of you voting in the June 23 primary, a few facts: Absentee ballots needed to be requested by June 16; absentee ballots must be sent in by election day. If you requested but do not receive an absentee ballot you are still eligible to vote in-person on June 23. Early voting runs June 13 – 21 and reports so far suggest that early voting is quick and easy, especially if you go early in the morning. 

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

2. “Somos La Luz” (“We are the Light”) – Murals and Memory

In the early 20th century, Mexico’s vibrant Muralist art movement brought leftist images and politics to the walls of public buildings. Mural artists recognized workers as central figures in the country’s developing political and cultural identity. Here in Queens, in the early 21st century, Cuban-American artist Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada recently completed a mural that recognizes the essential immigrant healthcare workers who are giving their labor and, too often, their own lives to treat those suffering from COVID-19. Nationally, almost 27,000 of our essential health care workers are DACA recipients who experienced a small sigh of relief this week when the Supreme Court ruled the Trump administration could not simply end the DACA program. 

Gerada’s enormous mural, painted on the Queens Museum parking lot in Flushing Meadows Park, works on two levels. The first celebrates and gives thanks to workers on the pandemic front lines, while a deeper level conjures the social and political challenges that immigrants are forced to navigate. Supported by the NYC Parks Department, the Queens Museum, the SOMOS Community Care Network, and Make the Road New York, Gerada explains:

This project is an homage to Hispanic caregivers that risk their lives to save others. It highlights their contribution while at the same time calling for action. These are the people that make our city move, the people that care for us, these are the people that contribute socially, culturally and economically to the nation…how it is that minorities today still have to suffer the same injustices of the minorities of the past.

Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada – Artist

The mural’s face can only be seen from the heavens, where the compassion of the healthcare provider is apparent, and most people will only know it from those aerial photographs. Gerada tells us that the eyes belong to a particular SOMOS doctor, Dr. Ydelfonso Decoo, but the rest of the mask-covered face could be anyone—any of the unknown faces protecting our neighborhoods and our lives.

The mural’s deeper level of meaning, the challenges of being an immigrant, can only be experienced in person. The mural introduces uncertainty: it is not immediately apparent that you are driving onto a work of art. Parking space markings are obscured by the giant painting and, while you know the marks should be there, you can’t find them. No vantage point provides a clear picture. You could attempt the risk-taking enterprise of climbing a nearby tree where you might finally see both eyes together, but they are not looking at you. Their kindness is not directed to the person on the ground. The eyes look skyward, seen through the screens of people who are remote and, mostly, working safely from home, while the essential immigrant workers remain outside.

Already, a short week after the mural was completed, there are scars where possibly a motorcycle has done a wheel spin on the face mask. People have paid homage. Given recognition. But they are starting to move on. Soon, parked cars will cover the mural face as practical needs become more important than seeing the bigger picture.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

3. New Public Charge Rules (Part 3 of 3) 

In the final part of this series (see Part 1 and Part 2), we discuss the most damaging aspect of the new public charge rules that aim to systematically alter the demographics of immigration.

A battery of expanded financial tests is now being applied to most people seeking to live in the US, whether temporarily or permanently. The new public charge tests are applied even to non-immigrant visa holders when they apply to extend or modify their visa–for instance, if they want to change an education visa to a work visa. But the biggest impact of the new regulations is on people with modest incomes who are trying to get a green card in order to live permanently in the US with their spouse or their family. These applicants are affected by public charge whether they are applying from inside or outside the country.

We noted in Part 2 that most green card applicants are ineligible to actually participate in any of the newly-listed public charge benefits that cause disqualification. Unfortunately, that doesn’t necessarily give them protection from the new public charge process. Officials reviewing green card applications are also now instructed to decide, based on an Orwellian scoring system, if an immigrant is likely to use one of the designated public charge benefits in the future, after they get a green card. Department of Homeland Security or Department of State officials scrutinize an applicant’s income, age, health, “insurability,” education, family size, family income, employment status and history, skills, credit score, English proficiency, disability status, sponsor support, etc. Is the applicant likely to ever use food stamps, or welfare, or Section 8 housing vouchers, other listed benefits, in the future? If an official thinks so, based on the “totality of circumstances,” the application is denied.

This is a process expressly designed to discriminate against low-income households. And it will affect a large proportion of green card applicants. The Migration Policy Institute explains the long-term significance:

This forward-looking test will likely have an enormous impact on future green-card grants and has the potential to reshape U.S. immigration by lowering levels of permanent immigration and tilting admissions toward those with more wealth and education. Using data on recent green-card holders, MPI determined that 69 percent have at least one factor that would be considered negative under the test, 43 percent have at least two factors, and 17 percent have at least three. In short, the public-charge rule’s primary immigration impact will be through its test of the likelihood of future benefits use.

A lot is riding on advocacy, activism, litigation, and legislation to reverse these damaging public charge regulations. In the meantime, how can immigrants weigh the risks? Like public charge itself, the answer is complicated. Every individual needs a strategy for making it past the public charge barrier. And so the last word of this series goes to Hasan Shafiqullah, Attorney-in-Charge of the Legal Aid Society’s Immigration Law Unit:

If there’s one message to leave people with: do not stop your benefits without speaking to an immigration expert, because it’s possible that the benefits you are getting are totally fine.

WHAT CAN YOU 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 06/13/2020

Dear Friends,

As NYC takes the first official steps towards a wider reopening, and as we move out from under an unprecedented 6-night citywide curfew, JHISN–like you–is in transition. The local landscape feels a bit more familiar as shops and activity come back to life. Nationwide uprisings in the name of Black Lives Matter demand real structural change in how we fund, and how we imagine, policing. The pandemic continues to burn steadily, with the U.S. death count hovering around 1,000 people each day. We hope the newsletter can help us orient in these disorienting times, as immigrant justice and empowerment converge with dreams for freedom, and demands for lasting change. 

Newsletter highlights:

  1. Public Charge: Who is Hurt by New Regulations?  (Part 2 of 3)
  2. Crisis and Radical Imagination 

1. Public Charge (Part 2 of 3)

In Part 1, we discussed the history of public charge regulations. We saw that the Trump administration has radically expanded those regulations in an attempt to systematically discriminate against working-class immigrants of color. In this part, we consider which categories of immigrants are directly affected, and how.

Given the clear exclusionary intent of the new public charge rules, it’s no wonder that many immigrants are concerned.

One in seven adults in immigrant families reported that they or a family member did not participate in a non cash benefit program (assistance with health care, housing, food, etc.) in 2018, out of fear of risking future green card status. This has also created a ripple effect. Even individuals who already have legal status, including permanent residents, are forgoing these benefits out of fear of risking the status of a relative. The Trump administration is weaponizing the public charge rule, which is essentially a “wealth test” to hurt families, and limit them from accessing critical safety net programs. (US Rep. Grace Meng)

Responding to the widespread anxiety about the public charge rules, advocates have been quick to point out that most immigrants are not directly affected right now. For example, it’s unlikely that public charge will be an obstacle to citizenship for people who already have a green card, even if they use the listed benefits. Several other large categories of migrants are completely exempt from public charge tests, including refugees and migrant survivors of violence against women. 

Many kinds of benefits are also currently exempt from public charge determinations. For instance, most programs for children, emergency medical assistance, and student loans will not be considered; neither will most state assistance programs. The US has promised that Covid-19 testing and medical care will not count as part of public charge.

Ironically, most current green card applicants aren’t even eligible for the federal benefits listed in the public charge regulations. These federal programs are generally reserved for citizens and permanent residents.

On the other hand, a subset of green-card applicants do receive potentially disqualifying “public charge” benefits. The Migration Policy Institute estimates that about 167,000 green card applicants, in certain specific categories, could potentially be rejected for a green card because of participation in the newly-listed public charge programs. This may be a tiny percentage of potential green card applicants, but it’s still a lot of people (and their families) that might be in jeopardy. 

And it turns out that, despite all the apparent loopholes and exemptions in the regulations, immigrants and their supporters have reason to be very concerned about the trajectory of public charge. The new rules, if left in place, will eventually affect millions of green card applicants. The reason is both simple and deeply disturbing: immigration officials aren’t just looking at past or present benefit use. They are now mandated to judge how likely an applicant is to ever use the listed public charge benefits in the future. That is where the new public charge regulations are expected to do the most damage. 

In Part 3, we’ll talk about why.

WHAT CAN YOU DO? 

2. Re-Imagining the Future as Ours

In response to the crisis, ideas that were previously impossible in American society, are now being considered …. These kinds of crises are transformative of society and things will never return back to the way they were…  (DRUM, Desis Rising Up and Moving, April 2020)

The Minneapolis City Council declares it will dismantle the city’s police department. Cries for “Defund Police! Decolonize the Schools!” ring down 34th Avenue on a bright June day in Jackson Heights. Mayors from New York City to L.A. announce they will cut budgets for policing and redistribute funding to community and health services. Confederate statues are toppled to the ground, with joyous collective whoops. The swell of protests in the name of Black Lives Matter and justice for George Floyd has surged into something almost unimaginable a few months ago: big, new cracks in historical structures of white supremacy.

‘Something almost unimaginable a few months ago’? Within weeks of the unfolding of the pandemic in the U.S., voices reminded us that crisis has long been the author of previously ‘unimaginable’ transformations. Could the pandemic usher in newly imaginable alternatives to predatory, dying neoliberalism? Could the wildcat strikes, the union walkouts, the courage of immigrant farmworkers shutting down fruit-packing plants across Washington State, and the militant organizing campaigns by workers at Amazon, Target, and Whole Foods, signal a fierce renewal of working-class power? Will the ongoing dance with pandemic death create deeper openings for indigenous people’s post-apocalyptic knowledge of how to survive and still dream

“There are no simple rules for when disaster becomes insurrection,” writes Rebecca Solnit just weeks before the police murder of George Floyd launched a popular insurrection against systemic racism that is not yet over.

Here in Queens, DRUM (Desis Rising Up and Moving) organized a new Building Power & Safety through Solidarity campaign in April, as the pandemic ravaged New York City and the working class, immigrant, undocumented workers and families at the core of DRUM’s community. Calling up “previously impossible” ideas like a universal basic income, DRUM mobilized to address the entwined health crisis (demanding wholistic community care), the systemic crisis (demanding new structures that serve human needs before corporate profit), and the social crisis (demanding new cultures of mutuality and solidarity). This is not an impossible dream. DRUM began during quarantine, patiently building a base for radical social change phone call by phone call. The campaign remains vibrant and ongoing.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

 

Yours in struggle and 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 05/30/2020

Dear Friends, 

As the national count of coronavirus victims reaches more than 100,000, as Corona and Elmhurst continue to experience some of the highest hospitalization rates in NYC, we wonder when grief will have an end. With corporate media focused on ‘reopenings’ and the ‘mask wars,’ we want to use the newsletter to keep our focus on the local, the possible, and the unfolding realities around us. Both the grim and the hopeful.

A reminder that on June 1, Art from the Epicenter, a Jackson Heights-based artists’ initiative to raise money for local mutual aid groups, begins its Instagram auction of donated artworks. The auction runs June 1-10, and we encourage all of you who are financially able to participate!

Newsletter highlights:

  1. Public Charge, Part 1: Intended to Exclude
  2. Protesting during a Pandemic
  3. New Report on COVID-19 Crisis among Immigrant New Yorkers

 

1. Public Charge (Part 1 of 3)

The public charge rule was designed on purpose to be confusing, complicated, and scary. You have rights in this country no matter where you were born. The more we know about our rights, the harder it is for the Trump administration to scare us. We encourage you to learn more about your situation before making decisions that may harm you or your family. (National Immigrant Law Center)

One of the ugliest attacks the Trump regime has launched against immigrants is a set of new “public charge” regulations. The new rules are meant to keep poor, mainly non-white immigrants out of the US, and to sow fear and confusion among those who are already here, discouraging people from getting permanent residency as well as the social benefits they are entitled to. The long-term goal of the administration is nothing less than a massive distortion of the US immigration system, skewing it to welcome the wealthy and exclude the working class.

“Public charge” first became law as part of the Immigration Act of 1882. The Act mandated the exclusion of any immigrant “unable to take care of him or herself.” The government’s interpretation of this vague phrase has evolved, often reflecting waves of racial and class chauvinism. In the twentieth century, public charge rules were used “first to keep out poor Asian Indians and Mexicans and then to keep out poor people generally.” (Daniels and Graham, 2001) In the 1930’s Jews fleeing Nazi Germany were kept out of the US by public charge tests.

Public charge regulation is rooted in a xenophobic narrative that portrays immigrants as a drain on the economy. This has been widely debunked. Study after study shows that immigrants provide an overall boost to the economy. They pay billions in taxes, have enormous spending power, and “end up contributing more money into the economy than they take out in public services” (“US Immigrants Pay Billions..” Quartz)

In recent decades, the US generally raised public charge issues only against immigrants who were completely reliant on government aid to survive. This included small numbers of people on welfare or in government-run nursing homes. But that has changed. As of February 24, 2020, under Trump’s new regulations, public charge rules penalize many immigrants who use–or may someday use–a whole list of benefits, including federal Medicaid, welfare, food stamps, and federal housing subsidies.

Not surprisingly, the Trump regulations were challenged in court as soon as they were announced. Some of the pivotal lawsuits were initiated by Make the Road New York, working with other advocacy groups. However, in January 2020 the Supreme Court refused to stop implementation of the Trump rules while the challenges work their way through lower courts. In April, the Court turned down a request to freeze public charge regulations during the pandemic. The legal battle continues.

Unless the new regulations are overturned, they will disqualify large numbers of people from getting green cards and protected legal status. Relatives will be prevented from joining their families in the US. There will be additional deportations. Immigrants will not access needed social assistance programs–even those they might still be eligible for. 

All the while, millions of immigrants are left trying to figure out exactly how public charge rules are being enforced, and how their families might be affected later.

In Part 2 next week, we will look at who is not directly affected by the rule change, who is, and how.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

 

2. The Perception of Protests in Pandemic Times

Anti-Trump protests with far more attendees in a single day than all of April and early May’s #ReOpen events … passed with far less attention in the national press. (Vox)

Protests aim to bring attention to an issue so that attention can bring about social change. When the new Trump administration announced its first travel ban against Muslims in January 2017, thousands of protestors rapidly gathered at NYC airports, drawing critical public attention to the issue. Within 24 hours, a federal judge in NY issued a temporary injunction and the ban was lifted.

Naomi Wolf notes that an effective protest disrupts business as usual — so how does protesting change when the entire planet is disrupted? When there is no business as usual?

Immigrant rights groups in New York and New Jersey have taken to their cars in “driving protests” with hand-written signs in every window, driving slowly in caravans, honking horns, and flashing lights, to draw attention to immigrant detainees locked in detention centers during the pandemic. Cosecha organized a month of #FreeThemAllFridays with bike and car rallies to demand people’s release from ICE detention. Immigration activists gathered at an elevated station on the 7 train in Queens to unfurl banners– “Fund Excluded Workers”, “ Cancel Rent Now”, and “Free Them All”. On May Day, the Laundry Workers Center coordinated with nail salon workers, street vendors, domestic workers, cab drivers, and other workers for an hour of storytelling streamed live with Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Make the Road and NICE have also held COVID vigils for #NamingTheLost, remembering those who are lost to us by projecting their names on the side of a building.

During the past month of stay-at-home orders, national media has paid far more attention to small numbers of white protestors with assault weapons–many purposefully not wearing protective face masks, screaming at police and public officials–than they ever paid to large immigrants rights protests over the last year organized by groups like “Lights for Liberty” and “Families Belong Together”. One of Trump’s advisors, Stephen Moore, actually celebrated ‘anti-lockdown’ protestors, which include white nationalist militia members, by trying to associate them with the historic action of Rosa Parks.

For the first time since stay-at-home orders launched in New York in late March, up to ten people may now join for “non-essential gatherings.” While Governor Cuomo initially excluded protesters from his May 21st executive order, he reversed course under threat of a lawsuit by the New York Civil Liberties Union. Up to ten socially-distanced protesters may now gather … JHISN asks our readers to share with us on facebook and twitter the creative forms of protest-in-a-pandemic they are seeing locally.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

  • Use social media or contact the editors of your favorite newspaper to generate better coverage of immigrant justice protests.
  • Find where your skills are in this set of strategies for sustainable protest, then offer your skills for free to an activist group.

 

3. “In Their Own Words”– Latinx Immigrant New Yorkers and the Impact of COVID-19

Make the Road NY’s recently-released survey, Excluded in the Epicenter: Impacts of the Covid Crisis on Working-Class Immigrant, Black, and Brown New Yorkers, offers an invaluable and devastating picture of local communities reeling from the pandemic. Based on 244 phone interviews with mostly Latinx immigrants in and around NYC, the report reveals in careful empirical detail the intersecting crises faced by respondents: of work and income, housing, illness and death, education, and emotional health. 

Mapped out in charts, graphs, interview excerpts, and biographical stories, the unmet needs of immigrant New Yorkers are staggering. While one in six respondents have already lost a family member to COVID-19, and four in ten report family members with COVID-19, less than half believe they have received the medical attention that they or their loved ones need. With 92% of respondents living in households where at least one earner has lost a job due to the crisis, only 5% have received unemployment benefits in the past month. Among the two-thirds of respondents experiencing depression and anxiety, nearly half do not know where to go for help. With 89% of respondents worried about how they will pay their rent, only 15% have received any form of government assistance.

“If we don’t die from the virus,” said one member, “it will be from hunger.”

The report also spotlights the experiences of youth—one-third of respondents were 24 years old and under—almost all of whom spoke of the toll the crisis is taking on their mental health:

It’s been hard! My brother and I are in college and my younger brother and cousin are in high school and elementary school. It’s very stressful. All of us are at home so it’s packed and it’s hard to concentrate. A sleep schedule has been hard to maintain. Dad and Grandma tested positive for COVID-19 and there are people in the house that are not obeying the social distance norms. Mental health issues as a student have been hard for me to deal with and getting help has been difficult because it’s not something I’ve navigated before.

Nearly one-quarter of young people reported that their experience with remote learning was “poor” or “very poor,” due to barriers including internet access (38%), no devices (42%), lack of school support (34%), or parents working (18%).

What would a ‘true recovery’ from this crisis look like? Excluded in the Epicenter ends with concrete policy recommendations and political demands that would help build a just society in which immigrant communities are, always, essential and empowered. 

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

We wish you health, strength, and care as the crisis transforms and continues. The rich, complex fabric of our neighborhood has been torn. We hope that solidarity is one means of repair, together with new forms of connection.

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 05/23/2020

Dear Friends,

Greetings to you as spring returns to warm us all again. We are learning how to change seasons in a pandemic. How to celebrate the holy month of Ramadan while physically distancing. How to have birthdays while staying-at-home.

We will mark Memorial Day in the shadow of over 6000 coronavirus deaths in the borough of Queens; 1200 deaths in Jackson Heights and neighboring areas. With terrible clarity, we know that people are dying more often in immigrant communities, working class neighborhoods, and communities of color throughout New York City. How can we memorialize this almost unimaginable loss? How do we struggle together locally for immigrant rights, and economic and racial justice, so that we are all protected equally from the ravages of a global pandemic?

Newsletter highlights:

  1. Urgent Need for Deportation Moratorium
  2. NICE Fights for Recently-Arrived Immigrants and Leads in Local Food Support
  3. Food Politics are Immigration Politics

1.  End Covid Cruelty — Stop Deportations Now

Our newsletter readers are aware that immigrants have been subjected to staggering forms of discrimination and abuse during the Covid-19 epidemic. Immigrants face higher rates of infection, hell-hole conditions in detention centers, racist attacks in public, denial of unemployment benefits and urgently-needed aid for immigrant households, small businesses and undocumented people—the list goes on and on. What’s also become clear is that the Trump regime is using the coronavirus as a pretext for achieving what it always wanted: to exclude and deport as many immigrants as possible.

The Trump administration now denies entry to virtually all refugees, supposedly because of the pandemic. But this is only their latest attempt to manipulate “public health” issues to seal US borders. In 2018, the architect of Trump’s most vicious anti-immigrant policies, Stephen Miller, used an outbreak of illnesses and deaths in unhealthy detention centers to attack immigrants. In 2019, he again highlighted “health concerns” with immigrants when mumps broke out among detainees. Later that year, he politicized a flu outbreak at Border Patrol stations. In each case, Miller hoped to leverage the extraordinary powers given to the president in times of public health emergencies. With COVID-19, he and Trump have hit the jackpot:

The administration has weaponized an arcane provision of a quarantine law first enacted in 1893 and revised in 1944 to order the blanket deportation of asylum-seekers and unaccompanied minors at the Mexican border without any testing or finding of disease or contagion. Legal rights to hearings, appeals, asylum screening and the child-specific procedures are all ignored.

More than 20,000 people have been deported under the order, including at least 400 children in just the first few weeks, according to the administration and news reports. Though the order was justified as a short-term emergency measure, the indiscriminate deportations continue unchecked and the authorization has been extended and is subject to continued renewal. (NYTimes, May 11, 2020)

Meanwhile, green card applications for 358,000 people trying to join their loved ones in the US have been frozen. In a private phone call, Miller clued in his supporters that this “temporary” Covid-19 order is part of a larger strategy to reduce overall immigration.

Despite obvious health dangers, deportation from ICE detention facilities grinds on in the form of dozens of flights to Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico. Many deported immigrants are Covid-positive, meaning that the US is effectively exporting the virus. This exposes the ultimate in hypocrisy: a regime claiming to act because of a health emergency is causing the pandemic to spread around the world. In a bitter rebuke, the Health Minister of Guatemala has labelled the US “the Wuhan of the Americas.”

The United Nations Network on Migration has called for the suspension of migrant deportations during the pandemic. Doctors Without Borders insists that the US halt deportations to Latin America and the Caribbean. And a coalition of more than 100 groups has demanded that Trump stop deportations to Haiti. JHISN has long called for a moratorium on all deportations and migrant detentions. Today this call is more critical than ever.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

 2.  NICE: Fighting for Low-Wage Immigrant Workers

Several weeks ago, the New York Times reported on Manuel Castro’s dilemma with food distribution. Castro, the executive director of NICE (New Immigrant Community Empowerment), had secured 100 boxes of food to distribute to the immigrant day laborers and domestic workers the group supports. But who should get it? His method of selection was randomly fair, and by no means preferential. Names were pulled from a hat.

One month later, the Jackson Heights-based NICE is still working on food distribution to thousands of Queens residents excluded from COVID-19 federal stimulus, unemployment, and other supports because of their immigration status. This time the NICE4workers team are working alongside local street food vendors, labor unions, and State Senator Jessica Ramos, giving out free fresh food secured from New York state farms. NICE also partners with the NGO Khalsa Aid USA–founded on the Sikh principle to “Recognise the whole human race as one”–bringing healthy grains, lentils, beans, vegetables, fruits, and rice (in a reusable canvas tote!) to undocumented families in Jackson Heights.

Somehow, NICE also finds time to actively protest wage theft and exploitation of immigrant workers with their #TakeItBack campaigns. With a membership composed largely of newly-arrived immigrants, and undocumented immigrants in the construction and landscaping industries (including a growing number of women transitioning to construction work), NICE organizes some of the most vulnerable and precarious workers in NYC.

No one was truly prepared for this pandemic. But NICE was ready to take action, with its founding purpose to “prioritize the leadership and voices of low-wage undocumented immigrant workers who are often excluded and/or marginalized from other spaces.” Low-wage undocumented workers have been multiply marginalized during the pandemic crisis, receiving no federal support (even when deemed ‘essential’ workers), and having to fight for resources from state and city agencies–all while continuing to risk hard physical labor when other New Yorkers have the luxury of working remotely and remaining physically isolated.

NICE promotes the welfare of their members with regular Occupational Safety and Health training programs, focussing attention on employees’ legal rights in the workplace. NICE also provides job training videos on subjects like plumbing, painting and English-language wording commonly used in the construction industry. They have ensured that COVID-19 information is available to workers in their own language. 

NICE recently supported the May 20 Town Hall demanding an Excluded Workers Fund in New York State. Working with a coalition including New York Communities for Change and Make the Road NY, NICE is calling for a $3.5 billion state relief program, funded by taxing billionaires and corporations, to support immigrants who have been systematically excluded from government assistance legislation. Meanwhile, one of the founding members of NICE, Jessica González-Rojas, is running for State Assembly District 34.

On May 19, NICE announced that almost $4,500 was raised from 64 donors to fund NICE’s front-line community support efforts. JHISN applauds the sustained efforts by NICE to support, train, advocate for and provide services to our immigrant workers, fighting for an economy that works for everybody.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

3.  Food, Immigrant Labor, and the Politics of Hunger

The signs are clear: lines for local food banks in Queens stretching for blocks, reports that one in four New Yorkers now lacks adequate food, higher food prices just as more people have less money to spend. Hunger and food insecurity are not new in our city, but the pandemic and its economic fallout have placed an estimated 2 million New Yorkers at risk of not having enough to eat. In Jackson Heights, mutual aid work by immigrant-led community groups is focused increasingly on food assistance.

While the city promises to increase its pre-made meal distribution program to 1.5 million meals each day, mutual aid groups in Jackson Heights note that most immigrant households need groceries and staples for cooking—not pre-made meals. Nourish New York, a $25 million state initiative drawing from public health emergency funds, allows local food banks across NY to purchase agricultural products from upstate farms that were being ‘dumped’ by desperate farmers. In central Queens, over 30,000 pounds of upstate farm food is being distributed weekly in food bank and hot meal programs organized by State Senator Jessica Ramos’s office.

While food insecurity in NYC is certainly not limited to immigrant communities, there are deep challenges immigrant households face as hunger threatens more of us, including accessing resources and provision of culturally-appropriate food. Even before the coronavirus crisis, the number of low-income immigrants nationwide signing up for food benefits was dropping, as recent changes to the ‘public charge’ rules governing legal status for immigrants threaten to disqualify those who access public benefits. Fear is spreading among immigrant communities that any kind of government assistance—even food aid during the pandemic—can block their path to legal status. The anti-immigrant policies and rhetoric of the Trump regime feed that fear, even as immigrant households grow hungrier.

At the other end of the food supply chain—food production—immigrant workers face a new set of dangers during the crisis. With immigrants supplying 30-50% of the labor in the U.S. meat processing industry, Trump’s designation of the meat industry as ‘critical infrastructure’ during the pandemic means that his violently anti-immigrant regime has just acknowledged that thousands of immigrant workers are in fact “essential” workers. Since up to 50% of immigrant laborers in the meatpacking industry are undocumented, Trump’s pronouncement also acknowledges the critical, essential nature of undocumented labor in the U.S. (Note that a mere nine months ago, ICE conducted one of the largest workplace immigration raids in U.S. history at seven poultry plants in Mississippi, arresting nearly 700 hundred immigrant workers.)

Being designated an essential worker during this pandemic is hardly a blessing, despite popular celebrations of their “heroism.” For workers in the pork, beef, and poultry processing industries, becoming ‘essential’ often simply means that corporate employers can make more demands with fewer restrictions or protections. And when an essential workforce includes many undocumented workers, we have “created a workforce largely made up of people who aren’t legally allowed to work and also, now, not permitted to stop” (“The Workers are Being Sacrificed…” Mother Jones, May 1, 2020).

As meatpacking plants across the Midwest and South become hotspots for coronavirus infections, with confirmed cases at 214 plants, thousands of workers testing positive, and at least 59 workers dead, ’essential’ workers are revealed as ‘expendable’ workers. Many plants employ a wide diversity of immigrant workers from Mexico and Central America, Somalia, Sudan, and Burma. With the federal government demanding no interruption to the nation’s meat supply, and employers determined to keep their profits flowing, meatpacking plants are forcing their workforce to stay at grueling jobs, despite anxiety, shortages of PPE, illness and death. Refuse, and face losing both your job and unemployment benefits. 

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

Gratitude for your collective care in this ongoing moment of crisis and radical uncertainty. Together we will continue to build forms of solidarity and community action, as we fight for a future that embraces us all. 

Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network

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Petition for Ferdoushi Sharif

Ferdoushi Sharif is a Jackson Heights resident and the mother of two daughters, both US citizens. In 2017, the family suffered great trauma when Ferdoushi's husband Bablu Sharif reported for his annual check-in with ICE but was taken into custody, sent to the Hudson County, N.J.  detention facility, transferred to Louisiana and then to Arizona, and finally deported to Bangladesh. Now Ferdoushi is also threatened with deportation.

Bablu had resided in the U.S. for almost 25 years, as a hard-working, devoted husband and father who was the main supporter of his family. Since 2017, Bablu’s family has been without their primary breadwinner.

Ferdoushi’s teenage daughters are neither old enough nor developmentally prepared to fend for themselves, and there are no relatives in the U.S. to substitute for their mother.

Join with others who are defending Ferdoushi Sharif’s right to remain in the U.S. with her daughters. You can help her pursue her case for permanent residency and citizenship in the U.S.

Download the Fact Sheet here.

Please sign our petition below. You will receive a confirmation email. You MUST click the link in the email to confirm your signature on the petition.

Ferdoushi Sharif Petition

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Proposed Changes to Public Housing Aid

Submit a comment electronically before July 9, 2019. Go to:
 https://www.regulations.gov/comment?D=HUD-2019-0044-0001

Proposed Changes to Remove Mixed Status Families from Public Housing Aid

Proposal by HUD to change Housing and Community Development Act of 1980: Verification of Eligible Status

Announced May 10, 2019.  Comment period ends July 9, 2019.

HUD strongly encourages commenters to submit comments electronically.

Current Rules: (1) Undocumented immigrants do not receive Federal housing subsidies.  (2) Families of mixed-immigration status can receive aid as long as at least one person is eligible (for example, a US-born child, a citizen spouse, a green card holder, someone under 62).  (3) Subsidies are prorated to cover only the eligible residents.

New rules are still in the proposal and public comment stage.

It has not been enacted yet.

Proposed New Rules: (1) Every member of a household under 62 must be of “eligible immigration status.”  (2) Undocumented immigrants may no longer sign leases for subsidized housing even if their children are entitled to prorated benefits.

Consequences: (1) Families of mixed status would no longer be permitted to live in public housing.  Members with legal status would be permitted to stay, however, others cannot.  (2) Fear of family separation would likely drive out the whole family, including US-born children.  (3) HUD estimates 55,000 children in New York, California, and Texas will be affected.  (4) An increase in homeless people is likely because of the lack of affordable housing.


Submit a comment electronically before July 9, 2019

Go to https://www.regulations.gov/comment?D=HUD-2019-0044-0001


Information from Federal Register; www.washingtonpost.com/business/2019/05/10; and www.nytimes.com