Category: History

JHISN Newsletter 08/01/2020

Dear friends,

“We all must find a way to have the courage to get in trouble, to make good, necessary trouble,” John Lewis said. As we mourn his death this past week, we also bind his life and spirit to current struggles for racial justice. John Lewis faced down state violence and demanded voting rights for Black Americans. Today we honor his memory by collectively facing down state violence that is, again, armed and ready to make justice bleed. JHISN hopes that you might use the newsletter to make some good trouble this summer. Wherever you might be. Wherever it might be needed. 

Newsletter highlights:

  1. Border Patrol’s Long History of Violence
  2. Who Counts? Protecting the 2020 Census
  3. Community Art-Making as Activism

1. First They Came for the Migrants…

The brutality that Customs and Border Patrol paramilitaries have unleashed on protesters in Portland is shocking, but perhaps not entirely surprising.

As I see white mothers and mayors being teargassed on the streets Portland, Ore., one word keeps bubbling up from my bleeding heart: “Welcome.” Welcome to the world of secret police and nighttime raids. The world where you can be snatched by an unidentified officer in an unmarked van. The world where you get to see an attorney, maybe, after the government is done beating you. Welcome to the world as experienced by brown people with foreign-sounding names in this country.Elie Mystal (The Nation, July 2020)

CBP has made headlines in recent years for its openly racist brutality at the Mexican border; for casually separating children from their parents; for concentration camps where migrants are tortured in hieleras–“ice boxes”–and locked in cages filled with Covid-19. At least 111 people have died at the hands of the Border Patrol since 2010. But this is only the most recent chapter of a murderous history that goes back generations. 

Established in 1924, during an earlier period of xenophobic frenzy, CBP became part of the new, sprawling Department of Homeland Security in 2002. It is one of the largest enforcement agencies in the world, fielding some 20,000 agents, with a budget of around $5 billion. By design, CBP has a loosely-defined mandate, which allows it to be used however the federal regime wants, including as a political police force.

Since its founding in the early 20th century, the U.S. Border Patrol has operated with near-complete impunity, arguably serving as the most politicized and abusive branch of federal law enforcement — even more so than the FBI during J. Edgar Hoover’s directorship.Greg Grandin (The Intercept, January 2019) 

The Border Patrol operates outside clear borders, geographic or legal. Judges have affirmed that it can operate within 100 miles of any US border, including the coasts–a zone which encompasses 2 out of every 3 US residents. CBP has weaponized this bizarre definition of “the border” to establish intrusive checkpoints all over the country, to deploy “roving patrols” in sanctuary cities including New York, and to board trains and buses searching for people who “look undocumented.” (Protests by activists forced Greyhound Bus to deny CBP agents unrestricted access to the company’s buses last year.)

CBP’s mandate also has an international aspect. The Border Patrol Academy has trained counterinsurgency forces from a variety of overseas dictatorships. BORTAC, the paramilitary group leading the current repression in Portland, has been deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan, and throughout the Americas to carry out raids and beef up border forces.

Sometimes likened to an American SS, the Border Patrol has always welcomed white nationalists into its ranks, including Klansmen and neofascists. Beatings, rape, murder, racist abuse and sadistic torture have been common throughout Border Patrol history. In 2019, ProPublica exposed a secret Facebook group that had almost 9,500 Border Patrol members, including the current chief. Featuring endless racist jokes about migrant deaths, the group also mocked Democratic congresswomen–including AOC–who were investigating CBP abuses at the Mexican border. One poster encouraged agents to “throw a burrito at these bitches.” Thousands of abuse complaints have been lodged against CBP; these are routinely stonewalled and ignored

WHAT CAN WE DO?

2. 2020 Census and Trump’s Attempts at Immigrant Exclusion

Last weekend marked the 15th year since four immigrant women founded Adhikaar and began serving as social justice advocates for Nepali-speaking workers in our neighborhood. The organization has grown and thrived; Adhikaar currently provides direct relief for those impacted by COVID-19, promotes health justice, pushes for worker safety, and campaigns for a Billionaires’ Tax. All while encouraging immigrants to complete the 2020 census

Adhikaar has taken to the streets in Queens to educate the communities they serve about Congress’s constitutional responsibility to count all the people in the country every 10 years. To be counted is to take a stand against the fear-mongering used by Trump and his liegemen to dissuade people from participating in a process that determines congressional representation and appropriate distribution of federal resources. As Adhikaar, along with other local groups in the Queens Complete Count Committee, encourage immigrants to participate, the federal government is looking at other ways to discount them:

The Census Bureau has begun to examine and report on methodologies available to “provide information permitting the President…to carry out the policy” of “the exclusion of illegal aliens from the apportionment base”. Steven Dillingham, Director of the Census Bureau, July 29, 2020

The 14th Amendment corrected the intentional racism of the original census charge, which excluded indigenous Americans and counted only three-fifths of all persons who were “not freemen or bound to service”. Trump’s push to eliminate immigrants from the census count was a nod back to the original wording in the Constitution; designed to redefine who counts as a person. The failed attempt to add a citizenship question to the census exacerbated an existing problem: historically, our national population has been undercounted, even more so in minority communities. People who fear that responding to the census might bring ICE or Border Patrol to their door are disincentivized to participate, as are historically marginalized groups who feel they do not benefit from the representation the census promises. 

In September, the Census Bureau will send a seventh mailing, including a paper questionnaire, to people in the population tracts with the lowest response rates. There are many in Queens. Despite extending the census deadline due to the pandemic, we are not yet even close to the response rates in 2010. In 2010 the overall NYC response was 62%, a full 14 points below the national average. This year the national response rate is almost 63% while NYC is only at 54%. When we drill down into specific neighborhoods the differences are dramatic: East Elmhurst is only at 43%; in Corona, the majority of tracts are below 50% (and 10 tracts are under 40%), while in 2010 there were only 6 tracts which had responses under 50%.  Although the rectangle between Roosevelt and Northern, from 76th to 86th streets, has a 68%+ response, all other areas of Jackson Heights average below 50%.

JHISN celebrates Adhikaar’s 15th birthday and honors their social media and text-banking outreach campaigns that have so far assisted over 4,300 people to complete the 2020 census. In the face of adversity and targeted exclusions, Adhikaar shows how to stand up and be counted. 

WHAT CAN WE DO?

3. Art as Activism

Art with organizing is all about building people’s power and finding strength in our communities; and art has always existed in our communities…that’s where our power lies.”  —Mahira Raihan, Arts & Cultural Justice Organizer, DRUM

The power of art and the power of organizing are intimate allies. As hundreds of thousands of people in the US, night after night, filled neighborhood streets with cries for justice for George Floyd, new art-making also poured into our public spaces. From community murals and street art to the collective performance of thousands ‘taking a knee’ together, the mobilization of political power has been inseparable from an outpouring of creative work.

While the huge, bright yellow street paintings spelling out ‘Black Lives Matter’ in Washington DC, and in front of NYC’s Trump Tower, have received international attention, more community-driven BLM street paintings designed in lush colors by local artists have also proliferated in Jackson, MI, in Cincinnati, OH, in Charlotte, NC, and in Seattle, WA. Foley Square is the site of a gorgeous multicolored Black Lives Matter street painting collaboratively designed by multiple artists; the word ‘Black’ was designed by artist and immigrant Tijay Mohammed, using Ghanaian fabric motifs and imagery. In Harlem and Bed-Stuy, painting the street with Black Lives Matter was a community event, with hundreds of local residents participating.

Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM) here in Queens is currently running a two-month Art to Activism program, mobilizing South Asian and Indo-Caribbean working-class youth to collaborate on a community-based art project. Aimed at deepening understandings of both police brutality and anti-blackness in South Asian-American communities, the project uses art-making as a catalyst to social change. Art to Activism builds on DRUM’s earlier Moving Art—Making Art for Our Movements program which created collective art “grounded in our communities’ experiences and dreams of liberation.” Visual art, theater, ‘zine-making, and poetry are all a regular part of DRUM’s organizing and cultural work.   

WHAT CAN WE DO?

  • Support DRUM’s Building Power & Safety through Solidarity campaign.
  • Purchase a copy of DRUM’s ‘zine created collectively in the Moving Art program.
  • Visit the Black Lives Matter street art in Harlem, Bed-Stuy, and Foley Square!
  • Work and play with local artists, neighbors, kids, and friends to design street art for immigrant justice on 34th Ave Open Streets.

Gratitude for your collective care in this moment of sustained and multiplying crises. Together we will continue to take strength from our solidarities, and our histories of creative resistance.

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 07/18/2020

Dear Friends,

We hope this unexpected summer-in-pandemic-times might also bring you unexpected pleasures, including a deeper sense of community and neighborhood. Normally, this time of year, JHISN would be outside tabling on 37th Avenue. This summer, the newsletter is our digital ‘table.’ We are encouraged to know how many of you are reading it, via email and social media. Please share it, please let it feed your actions and political imagination. 

Newsletter Highlights:

  1. Funds for Excluded Workers: Hunger Fast & March On Billionaires in NYC
  2. History of Dominican Community @ Jackson Heights
  3. COVID-19’s impact on Black Immigrant Domestic Workers

1. Fasting for Justice—#FundExcludedWorkers

At noon on Thursday, July 16, amidst the lush mid-summer green of Madison Square Park, over one hundred excluded workers and their allies—immigrant day laborers, domestic workers, street vendors, nail salon workers, farmworkers, religious leaders, and elected officials—began a 24-hour hunger fast. Fasting activists in the park were surrounded by live performances and a #NamingTheLost memorial altar, honoring community members who have already died from COVID-19. The public fast shined light on the brutal fact that undocumented immigrant New Yorkers, many of them also essential workers, have been starved of government financial assistance during the public health crisis.

Facing food insecurity, job loss, and the threat of homelessness, these excluded and essential workers are at the heart of the #FundExcludedWorkers campaign. The campaign—endorsed by over 90 immigrant and social justice groups including DRUM, Adhikaar, Street Vendor Project, Make the Road NY, and JHISN—calls for a billionaire wealth tax in New York State to pay for emergency survival funds for immigrant workers and households. So … just across from the park where fasting protesters spent the night, dozens of immigrant New Yorkers on Thursday also held a sidewalk ‘sleep-in’ in front of the Fifth Avenue penthouse of Amazon founder and billionaire Jeff Bezos. Bezos is one of 118 billionaires living in New York State who have together increased their value by $45 billion since the start of the pandemic, and who now hold a breathtaking total of $556 billion in ‘billionaire wealth.’

In a broader study of the economic and political power of billionaires in the U.S., the Institute for Policy Studies reports that in the past 30 years, billionaire wealth has increased by a stunning 1,130 % (in 2020 dollars). In the same 3 decades the tax obligations of U.S. billionaires, measured as a percentage of their wealth, has decreased by 79%. Recent ‘pandemic profiteering’ allows billionaire wealth to soar even as tens of millions of households struggle to pay rent, buy groceries, and survive the crisis.  

The public fast and sleep-in culminated Friday morning with activists walking in a lively March on Billionaires from Madison Square Park to Cuomo’s office. A just recovery demands that the Governor implement the billionaire tax and support over 1 million workers in NY who have been excluded so far from any emergency financial relief. 

WHAT CAN WE DO?

2. History & Politics of Dominican Immigration

Dominicans are the largest Latinx nationality in New York City, numbering over 800,000 people. “Today, the pattern of Dominican immigrants tends to be a settlement in Washington Heights/Inwood followed by a move to another borough.” Dominicans have become the second-largest immigrant group in the Jackson Heights area.

Dominican migration has been heavily impacted by US imperialism. The US military invaded and occupied the Dominican Republic from 1916 until 1924. This period cemented the economic control of US-owned banks and sugar plantations, reinforced by white supremacy. 

After the occupation, the US Marine Corps groomed Dominican National Guard General Rafael Trujillo to take over, sponsoring his military coup in 1930. Trujillo, who ruled for 31 years, “was one of the most ruthless dictators in modern Latin American history. He was notorious for his torture chambers, his massacres of protesters, and his genocide of tens of thousands of ethnic Haitians. Trujillo accumulated billions of dollars through corruption. Under his rule, the Dominican Republic became a center for terrorism against progressive movements throughout the hemisphere.

After Trujillo’s assassination in 1961, there was a period of political upheaval. Juan Bosch, a progressive, was elected in 1963. But he was soon overthrown in yet another military coup, backed by 23,000 US troops. The new dictator was Joaquín Balaguer, a brutal, racist Trujillo protege. These events prompted the first major wave of Dominican migration to the US, which included both opponents of the regime and people simply fleeing social chaos.

Migration from the Dominican Republic accelerated in the 1980s. It was fueled by a huge Latin American economic crisis, often called the “Lost Decade.” As one historian puts it, “the debt crisis of the 1980s is the most traumatic economic event in Latin America’s economic history.” Those who fled to the US included a mix of very poor people, plus professionals and other middle-class Dominicans looking for economic opportunity.

Economic opportunity isn’t always easy to come by here, though. As of 2017, the median income for full-time Dominican workers in the US is $32,000; 21-23% of the Dominican population lives in poverty. As an Afro-Latinx people, Dominicans are often confronted with white racism and discrimination; many live in fear of ICE raids.

In recent years, the main route for Dominican migration to the US has been through reunification with family members who are already here. Trump’s new “public charge” regulations may have a significant effect on the ability of working-class Dominicans to acquire green cards in the future.

Dominicans in the US actively discuss the politics of anti-Blackness, prompted partly by the Black Lives Matter movement. Dominican student Roderich Martinez gives a personal point of view:

Throughout history, Dominicans have greatly acknowledged the Europeans who took over the island, Hispaniola, while at the same time minimizing the importance of the Africans who were slaves at the same time….There are places I go in New York City where people immediately assume that I am just black. The moment they hear me talk, I get a reaction like, OH MY GOD! I thought you were one of the black people. I am not going to lie, the uneducated me of three years ago would’ve answered: “Oh no, I’m just Dominican with dark skin.” Today, I would say, “Dominicans come in all different shapes and colors and I am black.”

WHAT CAN WE DO?

  • Make a digital visit to the Museo Memorial de la Resistencia Dominicana in Santo Domingo, featuring in-depth research on the long Dominican resistance to dictatorship and imperialism.
  • Fight to overturn “public charge” rules that could prevent working-class Dominicans from getting green cards; Support Congresswoman Grace Meng’s No Public Charge Deportation Act, endorsed by over 50 immigrant rights groups.

3. How COVID-19 Impacts Black Immigrant Domestic Workers

Just 10 years ago, the New York State Legislature passed the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. Remarkably, this was the first time that any state included domestic workers in the labor laws protecting other worker categories. Two Queens-based immigrant justice groups, Adhikaar and Damayan Migrant Workers Association, were part of the coalition that rallied and organized for six years to get the NYS legislation passed. A third of all non-citizen women in the U.S. were employed in domestic work in 2010, and over 90% of those workers were women of color.

Intersectional identities such as Black, immigrant, woman, and low-wage worker make these essential workers some of the most invisible and vulnerable workers in our country. Notes From the Storm (IPS, June 2020)

Domestic work reveals contradictions at the heart of the international migration of women workers: it propels women to migrate as entrepreneurial, risk-taking, decision-makers who became primary contributors to household incomes in their home country; and, at the same time, domestic work remains economically undervalued, stereotypically characterized by servility and subservience, and excluded from most formal global labor market reports.

For U.S. white women, between the Civil War and WWI, domestic work was often a transitional role between early adulthood and marriage. Throughout much of the 20th century, for U.S. black women, domestic work was an intergenerational, full-time occupation until the Civil Rights Act of 1964—when black women’s organizing resulted in a shift of this role to Filipino and Mexican immigrants

During May and June of 2020, over 800 black immigrant domestic workers in the U.S. were surveyed about how COVID-19 affected their lives. Workers interviewed were in New York City, Massachusetts, and Miami-Dade, Florida. Most respondents had more than one domestic job with different employers but each region identified its own dominant ‘type’ of worker. In NYC the majority of black immigrant domestic workers are nannies, providing private child care. In Miami-Dade they are housekeepers and cleaners, while in Massachusetts they are paid caregivers in the home. 

For black immigrant domestic workers in NYC, the findings are deeply disturbing:

  • Two-thirds of respondents either lost their jobs or have fewer hours and less pay since the pandemic.
  • Over 80% of undocumented domestic workers (and almost 30% of documented) have no health insurance; the same percentages of workers indicate they will not seek government support out of fear about their immigration status.
  • Over 75% who have jobs indicated their employers do not provide Personal Protective Equipment.
  • Two-thirds of undocumented domestic workers anticipate eviction or having utilities shut off in July, August, or September.

Over the next months, as domestic workers are called upon once more to take up work that is vital but historically undervalued, we must demand federal support for black domestic workers and their prioritization in the economic recovery efforts. Individual employers must take responsibility for protecting the health of workers they employ, providing the needed PPE, and avoiding convenient gig economy apps which will not direct money to the women they employ. 

WHAT CAN WE DO?

In collective struggle and mutual 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 07/02/2020

Dear friends,

Red, blue, and white are the proclaimed colors of this nation’s founding. The color of justice is yet to be invented — but it will always be indebted to black. As we approach a national and nationalist holiday this weekend, JHISN offers a newsletter in response to the nationwide demand for a profound reckoning with anti-Black racism and violence. We present three stories at the intersection of Black Lives Matter, the ongoing protests, struggles for immigrant justice, and policing. We ask that you put them to use! 

Newsletter highlights:

  • How Immigrant Politics Intersect with Black Lives Matter
  • “Defund the Police!” — More than a Rallying Cry
  • ICE/CBP/DHS Deployed Against Racial and Social Justice Movements 

1. Black Lives Matter and Immigrant Rights

Our call for Respect and Dignity doesn’t stop on immigrant issues…Now is the time to demand justice for all, but especially for Black lives…That means we must also work to check the anti-blackness within our own community, we must now all become actively anti-racist and ensure that our community stands in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. The Latinx community has benefitted from this long and generational fight for racial justice by our Black familia and we must acknowledge it and be thankful for their strength and courage through the centuries. —Make the Road Nevada

Immigrant rights groups were quick to join the Black Lives Matter uprising. Solidarity arises largely out of common experience with white supremacist oppression, enforced by violent policing and mass incarceration. For immigrant rights groups, the BLM rebellion also shines a spotlight once again on the political imperative of unity with the Black freedom movement–a movement which is leading the attack on the same racist, violent system that impacts working-class immigrants and immigrants of color. Such unity could not only help save Black lives, but also play a wider role in defeating white nationalism and building a coalition for broad progressive change.

There’s extensive overlap between the oppression of Black people and of working-class immigrants:

1. Many immigrants are Black. Black immigrants make up about 7.2% of the non-citizen population. In some cases, they faced anti-Black racism in their countries of origin. Now they face dual oppression in the US–as immigrants and as Black people. One organization in New York that fights for the rights of Black immigrants is African Communities Together, which wrote a moving facebook post embracing Black Lives Matter.

2. Immigrants and Black communities have common experiences with mass activism to resist police brutality and mass incarceration. For instance, Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), the powerful immigrant rights organization based in Jackson Heights, emerged originally out of the militant protests that followed the police murder of Guinean immigrant Amadou Diallo in 1999.

3. Many immigrants have already endured police violence in their countries of origin; many also have experienced racist brutality at the hands of the US military in their countries of origin. Damayan Migrant Workers Association, which fights for low-wage Filipino workers in New York, connects the dots:

As Filipinos, we continue to suffer the long term consequences of colonization and plunder of our country by US corporations and its military-industrial complex that continues to fund the Duterte regime back home.

Where there is oppression, there will always be resistance and Black liberation movements have always stood alongside Filipinos in our shared anti-imperialist struggle. Damayan supports Black worker led movements and organizations in their calls to defund the police and end structural anti-Blackness and racism. We urge Filipinos to join the uprisings and be part of the historic moment for systemic change.  

4. Immigration police are being used to attack Black Lives Matter. At the same time, state and local police are repressing immigrants and collaborating with Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and ICE. (See related article below.)

Unity between immigrants and the Black movement isn’t automatic. Although white citizens are overwhelmingly responsible for structural racism in the US, some immigrants have also participated in anti-Black attacks. And some African Americans have adopted anti-immigrant positions. The Trump regime has certainly tried its best to turn African Americans and Latinx immigrants against each other.

But there are many factors favoring unity. Polls show that most Black people in the US have positive attitudes towards immigrants. Meanwhile, second-generation immigrants are actively combating anti-Black racism in their communities. Most immigrant rights forces are giving enthusiastic support to BLM. BLM even inspired a remarkable hunger strike in solidarity with BLM at an immigrant detention center in California.

Adhikaar, the local social justice organization based in the Nepali-speaking community, describes the necessity for unity in blunt terms: 

We call on our Nepali-speaking community to open our eyes to George Floyd’s death. In the same way an Asian police officer stood by and did nothing as George Floyd was killed, we too, must not remain silent and do nothing. Let’s remind ourselves that our struggle for human rights, as working-class immigrants, is directly tied to the struggle for Black liberation. It is more important than ever now that our communities speak up and take action.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

2. No Justice, No Peace // De-fund-the-Po-lice

“La policía y la migra
son la misma porquería!”
–street chant, everywhere

As we finish writing this newsletter, hundreds of New Yorkers will again sleep outside under the banner Occupy City Hall, an autonomous encampment in Lower Manhattan where thousands have gathered for more than a week to demand the Mayor and City Council defund the police. Mobilized by nationwide popular uprisings for Black Lives Matter and justice for George Floyd, Occupy City Hall calls for a $1 billion cut in a $6 billion NYPD budget. Activists demand that money be reallocated to support education, housing, mental health services, and community programs that serve black and brown communities across NYC. The City Council on July 1 approved a budget with a fake $1 billion ‘cut’, and protesters have refused to end the encampment.

Activist demands to defund the police—a rallying cry that has reached a national audience this summer—are not new. Collective movements to radically re-conceive and re-structure policing, and the very meaning of community safety, have been around for decades. Organized work to disband, demilitarize, abolish, or defund the police share one goal: a structural, permanent transformation in policing that goes far beyond reform or police re-training. 

Local immigrant justice groups from DRUM and Queens Neighborhood United (QNU) to Make the Road NY publicly support defunding the NYPD. Queens-based immigrant-led groups have long mobilized for de-carceral, de-criminalized approaches to community safety. DRUM led a campaign to close Rikers and defund local jails. For QNU, organizing against policing and the criminalization of immigrant communities is central to their founding mission.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

3. Homeland Security or Racist Persecution?

The actions of CBP and ICE-HSI may violate the Privacy Act of 1974 and threaten the exercise of First Amendment-protected activities including freedom of speech and association …ICE’s surveillance activity does not appear to be predicated upon any suspected violation of a law ICE enforces.

Center for Democracy and Technology, letter to DHS, May 2019

Last month New York State passed the Public Oversight of Surveillance Technology (POST) Act, to ensure that state officials know the types of surveillance conducted on New Yorkers, and how that information is protected from federal agencies, including ICE. The POST Act was passed after reports of ICE working with the NYPD despite the city’s public stance of non-cooperation, and after the Department of Justice allowed the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to conduct covert surveillance of protests against the police murder of George Floyd. 

The DEA, Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are all agencies within the sprawling Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with its $51 billion annual budget. In June, Black Lives Matter protests in 15 U.S. cities came under DHS surveillance, including the use of CBP drone technology, despite the protests having nothing to do with drug law enforcement or border ‘control.’  

The House Oversight Committee has demanded an explanation from DHS for the use of Homeland Security resources to intimidate and surveil peaceful U.S. protests. The committee also recently investigated “racist, sexist, and xenophobic comments made by CBP employees in secret Facebook groups” over the last year. Local groups like DRUM have called out, as far back as 2012, the widespread racial profiling and surveillance of working-class immigrants by DHS and other federal and local law enforcement agencies.

During the recent nationwide uprisings against anti-Black violence, the use of fusion centers–established after 9/11 to share ‘intelligence’ between local, state, tribal, territorial, and federal agencies–has been questioned as the DHS has treated peaceful protests as a potential national security threat. DHS has deployed “fusion” surveillance technologies for years to target social justice activist groups, lawyers, and journalists. Fortunately, many organizations filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, bringing attention to these unconstitutional practices:

  • The ACLU found that DHS targeted lawful protests and peaceful political groups from 2006-2009. 
  • In 2011, The Partnership for Civil Justice uncovered DHS surveillance of the Occupy movement. 
  • The Center for Constitutional Rights revealed that DHS monitored the Movement for Black Lives in July 2016
  • In June 2018, The Intercept established that DHS worked with a private security firm to monitor nearly 600 groups protesting against immigrant families separated while in DHS custody.

In June 2019, 100 organizations joined forces and wrote a letter to oppose DHS surveillance of activists, journalists, and lawyers “based on their association with migrants seeking asylum.” Their letter also noted that ICE and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) had created a spreadsheet of ‘anti-Trump’ protests in NYC during the summer of 2018, as the ‘Abolish ICE’ campaign gained visibility and the Trump regime continued its family separations at the southern border. Five days later Oregon Senator Josh Wyden sent a letter to Acting DHS Secretary McAleenan demanding confirmation about DHS activity and clarity on what was done with the information gathered.

The last decade reveals that challenges coming from both government and progressive groups to DHS’s unconstitutional overreach have not changed its behavior. The DHS was built from the same cultural perspectives as the existing police system which persecutes people of color and anti-racist mobilizations as potential threats. DHS should meet the same challenge for defunding and radical restructuring.   

WHAT CAN WE DO?

  • When protesting, follow the guidance in the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project’s Protest Toolkit.
  • Donate to the Center for Constitutional Rights and subscribe to their “Activist Files” podcast.
  • Read an in-depth analysis of government surveillance in the Emory Law Journal.
  • Read the Brennan Center’s report on the consequences of allowing surveillance programs to go unchecked.
  • Sign the ACLU petition demanding Amazon not use its facial recognition tools for government surveillance.

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 06/20/2020

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 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 05/09/2020

Dear friends,

Warm greetings to each of you, as Spring arrives in full force during the ongoing pandemic. In this strange mix of blooming flowers, economic anxiety, lush green trees, and local grief, we hope you are finding ways to be safe and to feel connected. 

To celebrate the return of light and warmth, we want to share with you a public art project that one of our newsletter readers just shared with us. ‘Queensbound’ is “poetry for the people online,” a collaborative digital project that brings together recordings of poetry by Queens writers, many of them first or second-generation immigrants. One poem is selected for each subway stop in Queens–click on the green dot for ‘Jackson Heights/Roosevelt Ave’ stop and you will hear Meera Nair, local writer and community activist, reading her wonderful poem “In These Streets”. 

Newsletter highlights:

  1. How to practice Mutual Aid 
  2. New York Taxi Workers Alliance: Essential Workers
  3. Local small businesses in danger as federal programs offer little relief

1. ‘Solidarity not Charity’ — Practicing Mutual Aid

Mutual aid is a form of political participation in which people take responsibility for caring for one another and changing political conditions … by actually building new social relations that are more survivable. There is nothing new about mutual aid—people have worked together to survive for all of human history. “Solidarity Not Charity…” March 2020  

Many of us first heard the phrase ‘mutual aid’ in the early weeks of the pandemic, as neighbors in Jackson Heights quickly mobilized in the face of a frightening threat. Working at the local level, often through all-volunteer actions, mutual aid starts by respecting and nourishing our basic interdependence—the deeply ‘mutual’ ways in which we rely on, care for, and shape each others’ everyday lives. 

The origins of mutual aid are many. Some would remind us that thousands of years of communal ownership and collective action among indigenous communities embody the core values of mutual aid. Some would point to the Black Panther Party’s free breakfast program for children, free health clinics, free ambulance services, and transportation programs for elderly folks in the community. Some of us remember how here in NYC, after the devastating hurricane of 2012,  Occupy Sandy organized emergency relief, food and essential supplies delivery, clean-up crews, and house rebuilding that exceeded what Bloomberg’s municipal government was willing or able to provide. 

Mutual aid steps in to say that we can’t wait for government or philanthropy or power elites to meet our needs—especially in disaster or crisis situations. Mutual aid says that we will cooperate and work together for the sake of our common good, our shared and very ‘public’ health, our interdependent economic lives, our cultural survival. Mutual aid knows that the new social relations that we create through intimate material support for each other can be a building block for sustained social movements and political change. 

Locally and globally right now, there are countless mutual aid projects taking place, sharing resources and power, redistributing money and the tools for protection in a pandemic. Many of them don’t call themselves ‘mutual aid’; nor do they need to. Here in Jackson Heights, immigrant-led and frontline community groups are organizing essential workers, delivering food and needed supplies, mobilizing rent strikes, strategizing small business survival, sharing public health information, providing burial assistance, and collectively mourning community members lost to COVID-19. All of this and more is mutual aid.

We invite you to explore some of the mutual aid projects taking place in our neighborhoods (see below), and consider how you might participate. Mutual aid requires us to move beyond the language of gifting or donating or helping those in need, by recognizing that the people you are ‘aiding’ have already aided you, and will aid you again. It is, profoundly, mutual. As those of us with food security think about how to participate in food assistance for community members threatened with hunger and food insecurity, we can remember how important immigrant, and often undocumented, labor is at supplying us with access to food. Those of us who can redirect some or all of a stimulus check to local immigrant-led groups can reflect on how the money can be more ‘mutually’ distributed in the face of a federal government that systematically excludes many immigrants, and all undocumented households, from emergency federal relief. 

WHAT YOU CAN DO

2. NYC Taxi Drivers — Essential Workers Fighting for Essential Rights

The Queens-based New York Taxi Workers Alliance (NYTWA) was featured in 2020 Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporting detailing the predatory loans that have crushed the NYC taxi industry. In August 2019 the NYTWA successfully lobbied to ensure that a cap was extended on the number of for-hire vehicles in NYC, and was taking the next steps to demand guarantees for a living wage, job security for app drivers, and a raise for all drivers. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. 

The NYTWA was forced to shift priorities. They are now focused on advising their nearly 20,000 members–almost all immigrants, from over 100 countries–on ways to deal with the ongoing health and economic crisis. The NYTWA’s comprehensive guide to help drivers and their families get through the pandemic covers the full range of needs: from unemployment advice to burial assistance, stimulus checks and medallion loans, business loans, and food access. 

The group’s activist work also continues. NYTWA is gathering signatures for a petition against Uber’s employment practices, including the company’s misinformation about drivers’ eligibility for unemployment benefits. They are using Twitter to report on the large number of food deliveries by NYTWA members, and to share the announcement that TLC drivers will now be paid $53 per route by the city, rather than an hourly fee for these food runs.

NYTWA also announced recently the good news that the MTA will pay for taxis for essential workers during subway shutdowns. Between 1 am and 5 am, trips will be dispatched via Curb, Arro, and other apps that are now contracted for Access A Ride taxi trips. The Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network values the services that taxi drivers provide throughout our city and applauds the work that NYTWA is doing to ensure they are recognized and rewarded for their essential work.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

  • Add your support to the petition calling on Uber to stop misleading drivers about their employment rights
  • Listen in to the special community radio program held every Sunday night at 9 pm by dialing in to Radio Samatiguila at 712-770-5345; Code 123843#

3. How the PPP has Failed Small Businesses

The vibrant street-level commerce of our local neighborhoods has been transformed into stretches of urban desert, as small business after small business stands empty, indefinitely closed during the pandemic. The Queens Chamber of Commerce recently warned that up to 50% of Queens restaurants and bars may not reopen. The emergency federal Payroll Protection Program (PPP), hailed as offering stimulus money to aid small businesses,  ”has been a disaster” for Queens businesses, according to CoC President Tom Grech. Many immigrant-run small businesses, the cultural and commercial backbone of Jackson Heights, face a precarious future as federal relief remains out of reach.

The PPP was initially funded by Congress with $349 billion. The idea was to generate forgivable loans to small businesses so they could pay current employee wages, plus rent, utilities, and mortgage interest. However, the way the program was structured and implemented turned it into a bitter farce. 

The PPP plan had two critical problems. First of all, the definition of “small” business, as crafted by lobbyists, was ridiculously broad. Loans of up to $10 million were available, offered to businesses with up to 500 employees. PPP eligibility regulations were riddled with giant loopholes. For instance, wealthy owners of large hotel or restaurant chains were allowed to qualify for PPP loans if each of their franchises or outlets had fewer than 500 employees. One absurd example was Ashford, Inc. Made up of several subsidiaries owning or operating 130 hotels, it received $126 million. Shake Shack, a parent company with many different stores, also received a multi-million dollar loan.

The second major problem was that PPP loans had to go through a complicated application process at private banks before being forwarded to the Small Business Administration (SBA) for approval. Banks favored their long-time customers–usually what we would consider mid-sized businesses with access to accountants and lawyers. This favoritism effectively put true small businesses at the end of the line. Many ended up on long waiting lists, and couldn’t even get their loan applications reviewed by the banks.

With funding quickly running out, and millions of small businesses facing disaster, there was a huge outcry about the unfairness of the PPP. As a result of public pressure, the regulations were tightened; many big companies “voluntarily” returned their loans. On April 29, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin said that large public companies would have to prove they met the revised criteria or face criminal liability. He promised to audit any company that received more than $2 million. More than 100 companies have disclosed loans of $2 million or more; as of April 30, about 20 will return the money.

All $359 billion of the original PPP funding is gone. It wasn’t enough, and it wasn’t distributed fairly. Look around your neighborhood. Don’t you think the shuttered small businesses you see are the ones Congress should be helping? The SBA says it approved 2 million loans. They say that the loans they did make averaged around $206,000 each–far more than most local mom and pop businesses were asking for. One-quarter of all the PPP money went for loans of more than $2 million. If the PPP money was spread around, almost 7 million small businesses could have gotten a $50,000 loan. Instead, small local businesses in our neighborhoods–many of them immigrant-owned–are struggling to survive, their viability undermined by favoritism, bureaucracy and corporate greed.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

Thank you for supporting the many forms of collective care and political power that our communities so deeply need right now. We wish you well-being and spring breezes.  

In solidarity,

Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network

Please share this newsletter with friends, families, neighbors, networks, and colleagues so they can subscribe and receive news from JHISN.