Category: Immigration

JHISN Newsletter 1/9/2021

Dear friends,

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

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

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

1. What Kind of Moratorium? 

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT CAN WE DO?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT CAN WE DO?

In solidarity and with collective care,

Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network

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

 

 

JHISN Newsletter 12/19/2020

Dear friends,

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

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

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

Newsletter Highlights:

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

1. The Struggle at the Bergen County Jail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT CAN WE DO?

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

2. Scrolling for Justice — Activist Art for Excluded Workers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT CAN WE DO?

In solidarity and with collective care,

Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network

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

 

 

JHISN Newsletter 12/05/2020

Photo: Barbara Mutnick

 

Dear friends,

December arrives with measured optimism that one of the most viciously anti-immigrant administrations in US history will soon be out of power. JHISN wants to take this moment to thank our newsletter readers for the encouraging responses we received in our recent reader survey. “Keep doing what you are doing” was one of your clear messages—and we will. Readers expressed most interest in locally-focused immigration news and the work of local immigrant justice groups, so you will find more of it here in our pages. Readers looking for practical actions that make a difference can find concrete ideas in our regular ‘WHAT CAN WE DO?’ sections.

For survey respondents who said they would like to volunteer with JHISN—helping out with social media, or joining a working group—our survey was anonymous, so we don’t know who you are! Please send us a follow-up email at info@jhimmigrantsolidarity.org with the subject line “I’d like to volunteer”.

We continue our ‘Neighborhood Emergency!’ fundraising campaign as winter arrives and food insecurity, housing, job loss, and health, remain intersecting crises for many immigrant households. Your donation goes directly to local immigrant-led community groups who are providing, under extraordinarily difficult conditions, emergency support throughout the pandemic. Gratitude to everyone who has already contributed to the campaign!

Newsletter highlights:

  1.   Local Activism Intensifies to Fund Excluded Workers
  2.   Mobilizing for a Moratorium on Deportations and Detentions

1. Local Activism: Tax the Rich! Fund Excluded Workers!

On November 24, 2020, two noteworthy events took place. First, local activists with the Fund Excluded Workers Coalition gathered in a mock breadline outside Governor Cuomo’s office to dramatize the unmet needs of immigrant New Yorkers during the pandemic. And second, the total wealth gain of US billionaires during the COVID-19 crisis surpassed $1 trillion by the close of the stock markets, a 34% increase since mid-March.

As we reported in a previous newsletter, the campaign to Fund Excluded Workers (FEW) brings together several local immigrant justice groups including Adhikaar, Make the Road, NICE, Street Vendor Project, DRUM, and Chhaya. Together, they are demanding emergency support for immigrant workers excluded from federal relief, funded through a New York State billionaires tax. Activists have marched in the summer Hamptons with protest signs and pitchforks, held a public sleep-over on the sidewalk outside Jeff Bezos’ Fifth Avenue penthouse, joined in a hunger fast in Madison Square Park, and used the historic symbolism of the breadline to dramatize the obscene mismatch between the surplus of the very wealthy and the stinging hardship of everyday workers during the pandemic.

Several Democrats who promised to tax the rich and build an economy to serve working people got elected in statewide contests on November 3, boosting the chances that this community-led struggle can be won. Grassroots groups immediately called on the post-election state legislature to raise taxes on the wealthiest New Yorkers. Immigrant justice groups and the FEW Coalition are potentially poised to wield increased power as new Democratic supermajorities in both the Senate and Assembly move New York’s state politics—and its coronavirus response—in more progressive directions. 

Undocumented workers, and immigrants in the informal economy (day laborers, vendors, sex workers, food delivery workers), have struggled to withstand the pandemic crisis with zero federal emergency relief. No stimulus check. No unemployment benefits. A recent report on “The Pandemic Recession” notes:

The overall unemployment rates are dramatic, and every group is deeply affected by the COVID-19 recession. But, immigrants and people of color are hit far harder by unemployment. And undocumented immigrants may be hit hardest of all, while also being left out of aid… Fiscal Policy Institute, November 2020

While there are few direct measures of unemployment among the estimated 490,000 undocumented workers in New York State, we do know that undocumented labor is concentrated in industries hit hardest by the crisis: hotels, restaurants, and food services. The nail salon industry in NY, which hums on undocumented women’s work, has seen a 50% drop in customers as of October. Here in Jackson Heights, we don’t need to look any further than the block-long lines at food banks to see that immigrant communities, and our undocumented neighbors, need immediate support—not systematic exclusion from emergency economic aid. Fund. Excluded. Workers. Now. 

WHAT CAN WE DO?

2. For Hope—and a Real Moratorium

In this election, Americans chose a new path forward. We will hold President-elect Biden accountable to the promise he made on the campaign trail to respect immigrant communities and fight hard so that we can remain with our families in this country. —Anu Joshi, NY Immigration Coalition, Brian Lehrer Show, WNYC, 9/10/20

This is a season of hope for immigrants and everyone who believes in immigrant justice. Donald Trump, the anti-immigrant terrorist-in-chief, is gradually being dragged out of the White House, kicking and screaming. Joe Biden, the President-elect, promises to undo many of Trump’s most destructive policies on immigration and claims to support substantial reforms. His campaign statement on immigration, clearly influenced by AOC and Bernie Sanders, was a noticeable improvement over decades of conservative Democratic Party policy. 

Nobody was particularly surprised when Biden pledged to reverse Trump’s Muslim Ban and family separation policies. Or when the candidate said he would restore TPS, DACA, and pre-existing asylum laws. Or when he proposed to reverse draconian “public charge” regulations, send humanitarian resources to the Mexican border, provide aid for Central American countries, and broaden visa programs. What was more encouraging, and more of a break with the past, was Biden’s full-throated cry for a “roadmap to citizenship” for 11 million long-term undocumented people: 

These are our mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters. They are our neighbors, co-workers, and members of our congregations and Little League teams. They contribute in countless ways to our communities, workforce, and economy.    —Biden campaign statement

Yes, there are reasons for hope. But hope is not enough.

We can never forget that Biden was part of the administration that deported more immigrants than any regime in US history. (He has at least admitted that this was “a mistake.”) Biden’s refusal to call for dismantling ICE or the Border Patrol signals the limits of his vision for immigrant justice. Trying to “reform” these cesspools of racism and anti-immigrant ideology can easily be dead-ended by resistance inside and outside the agencies.

Any meaningful immigration reform will require solid commitment from the new administration—and possibly a Senate majority

Untangling the human rights disaster at the southern border will also be extremely challenging. Tens of thousands of asylum-seekers are waiting in camps in Mexico; tens of thousands more wish to cross. Processing all these urgent applications, under changing regulations, with immigration agencies in turmoil, will take time and massive resources.

Similarly, many of Trump’s reactionary executive orders are “sticky”—they can’t be overturned immediately. Some of them overlap, requiring that they be reversed in a specific order. Biden’s reforms will have to be made according to complex legal procedures, and will provoke numerous court challenges.

Immigrants, under extreme pressure from ICE and DHS, and from Covid-19, cannot wait while government bureaucracies grind through years of debates and formalities, with no guarantees that this process will result in major improvements. That’s why, since long before the presidential race, JHISN has called for a complete moratorium on deportations and detentions until the broken, racist immigration system gets fixed. We think this is a key organizing focus: a way to keep up the pressure on politicians during the current emergency, and to prioritize the basic human rights of migrants.

To his credit, Joe Biden has promised a partial, conditional deportation freeze. During the primary debates in March, he “committed to halting deportations of nearly all immigrants in the country illegally…..He would place a moratorium on deportations in the first 100 days of his administration and then would only look to deport people convicted of felonies.” This freeze proposal has been repeated in various forms during the post-election period. 

Like much of the Biden program, this is a step in the right direction—but isn’t nearly enough. One hundred days is not enough time to reform the system. Also, most felonies—which include things like failure to appear in court or small-time drug possession—don’t deserve to be punished with the radical sentence of deportation, which separates families and ruins lives. Finally, we need to have a moratorium that includes immigration detentions, not just deportations.

In the coming months, JHISN will renew our call for a real moratorium, one that brings sustained relief for immigrants. The election has brought us some hope—but we need to keep organizing.

WHAT CAN WE DO?:

In solidarity and with collective care,

Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network

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

 

JHISN Newsletter 11/14/2020

Dear friends,

In the face of hatred, you came forward in the spirit of love and community. You put your time, your energy, your body and spirit on the line to stop the rise of fascism and increasingly virulent and visible racism. Now we must work to…go beyond undoing what has been done by the outgoing administration and remake the system in fundamental ways. The bonds that connect us, immigrants and citizens, individuals of all genders and ethnicities…have only been strengthened over the past four years.

New Sanctuary Coalition, 11/8/20

JHISN first came together as a neighborhood group in the wake of Trump’s election in 2016. So we look, with respect, toward older immigration groups like NYC-based New Sanctuary Coalition, as we navigate our own ‘transition’ to 2021 and beyond. We echo their words here, and want to share with our readers gratitude for your work, and great hope in the power of our collective care for each other. In solidarity, we remain committed to go beyond undoing what has been done by the outgoing administration and remake the system in fundamental ways.

In this short post-election newsletter, we want to offer a picture of the history of immigrant deportations by the US government, told through the infographic below designed by one of our JHISN members. The picture shows the stunning rise in deportations in the 21st century US, under both Republican and Democratic administrations. The picture shows that the immigration system that we must remake reaches across party lines, into embedded structures of exclusion and border policing.

While we rejoice at the news that stock prices for the private prison and detention industry dropped with the news of a Biden-Harris victory, while we are horrified by the news that the parents of 666 migrant children separated from their families by Trump’s  “zero tolerance” policies have not yet been located – we also know that our struggle is against an entire immigration system and not any single issue or political administration. The Trump regime tried to dismantle and reconstruct the system through interlocking changes, some dramatic and many technical and less visible, all geared toward making it hard to undo in the near future. Our task is to understand and transform in fundamental ways what has been put in place, including the foundations of colonialism, white supremacy, and racial capitalism that it was built upon. Knowing our history can only help.

With collective hope,

Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network

JHISN Newsletter 10/24/2020

Dear friends, 

Gratitude to all of our readers who have filled out our newsletter readership survey. If you have not yet responded, please fill out the brief survey today! It asks for your thoughts on our articles and gives you an opportunity to describe yourselves to us. We also continue our ‘Neighborhood Emergency!’ fundraising campaign, gathering direct donations to six local immigrant-led groups providing mutual aid, support, and solidarity during the pandemic. 

Please check out our fundraising webpage that links you directly to the donation page of each of the six organizations, and describes each group and the extraordinary work they are doing. To all of you who have already made donations, enormous thanks. Whatever you are able to afford can make a real, immediate difference to immigrant communities in Jackson Heights and beyond.

Two Focal Points for Immigrant Justice: Cancel Rent & Fund Excluded Workers

Immigrant rights groups in New York tend to be rooted in specific immigrant nationalities, which creates a diverse and complex web of activism in the city. Although they often work in coalition with others, these groups naturally concentrate on issues that impact their particular communities. 

But the pandemic has created an urgent common challenge: a struggle for basic survival that’s shared by all working-class immigrant communities. Some of the most immediate on-the-ground needs of individuals and families are being addressed by local groups through direct assistance and mutual aid. Meanwhile, on the level of city and state politics, the response by immigration activists to this common challenge seems to have converged around two key demands: a) rent cancelation, and b) a state fund to support immigrant workers who have been excluded from government coronavirus aid, financed by a tax on billionaires.

As newsletter readers are aware, the pandemic-induced housing emergency couldn’t be more dire. Rent was unaffordable before Covid-19. Things are much worse now. A recent study finds that 66% of renters in the US are concerned about being evicted and that over 20 million people are likely to have an eviction filing against them by January. An estimated 1.4 million renters in New York City are behind on their rent. Governor Cuomo keeps extending conditional, month by month moratoriums on evictions–the latest partial moratorium ends January 1. But back rent is piling up, creating impossible debt for working-class New Yorkers, most of whom are immigrants. Landlords are already filing for pre-pandemic and other types of evictions in Housing Court. Many are just waiting for the day the state moratorium ends to pounce on renters who fell behind during the pandemic.

Progressive lawmakers have tried to address the housing disaster. Federal legislation to cancel rent was proposed by Rep. Ilhan Omar. It was never taken up by the rest of Congress. In New York State, a proposed Rent and Mortgage Cancellation Act, introduced in July by Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou and Senator Julia Salazar, has gone nowhere. Another bill by NY Representative Michael Gianaris, sponsored by 21 state representatives, languished in the Judiciary Committee.

But the real pressure behind the demand for rent cancelation is coming from the grassroots. Notably, local immigrant justice groups have picked up and amplified the demand, including DRUM, Adhikaar, Make the Road New York,and Damayan. Chhaya, which is part of the United for Small Business NYC Coalition, advocates rent cancelation for small businesses. These organizations feature Cancel Rent in their demonstrations, social media, and publications. 

The Cancel Rent movement has generated street heat. On October 1, tenants and Cancel Rent activists dragged furniture onto Broadway, blocking the avenue near Park Place. And on October 16, the entrance to Brooklyn Housing Court was spray-foamed and barricaded with a bike lock. A communique, demanding “an immediate end to evictions and retroactive rent relief,” explained why:

New York City’s unhoused population has reached its highest level since the Great Depression…. However, eviction courts have been allowed to continue with proceedings….This is unconscionable and we demand that evictions end immediately. If our elected leaders won’t do it, then the People of New York will make sure it happens.

Back in April and May, there was a series of rent strikes in 57 New York buildings, demanding rent cancelation. Some of the strikes were in our neighborhood. Tenant activists are working hard to spread the word about rent strikes as a key tactic for keeping people in their homes. They argue that collective action by tenants is the only way to “force the establishment to capitulate.” NYCHA Rising is currently building a rent strike in public housing projects, focused mainly on the pain and suffering caused by unsafe and unhealthy conditions, made even worse by the pandemic. If the NY State eviction moratorium ends without rent cancelation, there will almost certainly be an increase in this kind of direct action by tenants.

A similar broad-based grassroots movement has gathered around the Fund Excluded Workers campaign. As with Cancel Rent, local immigrant rights organizations have converged around Fund Excluded Workers. Among the campaign endorsers are Adhikaar, Chhaya, DRUM, Make the Road, NICE, Street Vendor Project, the New York Taxi Worker Alliance–and JHISN. 

In Albany, Senator Jessica Ramos sponsored legislation for a tax on billionaires who have seen their wealth skyrocket during the pandemic. This tax money would be used to fund aid for essential workers and immigrants not included in federal relief programs. AOC and a whole list of other progressive politicians support this idea.

Governor Cuomo initially refused to consider a tax on billionaires, many of whom are his campaign contributors. But pressure is building, and he’s been forced to moderate his position, opening the door to the possibility of a tax on the wealthy. There have been loud demonstrations outside the governor’s residence–in one case, 150 New Yorkers formed a “bread line” in front of his mansion. Many other actions have been organized outside the offices of billionaires, and in other symbolic locations. A Fund Excluded Workers petition currently has 8,770 signatures, with a goal of 12,800.

At a time of emergency, with so many issues clamoring for attention, it’s noteworthy that these two campaigns–Cancel Rent and Fund Excluded Workers–have emerged as dual political focal points for several front line immigrant rights organizations in our neighborhood. As we evaluate where to put our support and energy in the middle of a difficult and complex political situation, following their lead may be just the right move. 

WHAT CAN WE DO?

In solidarity and with collective care,

Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network

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

 

 

JHISN Newsletter 10/10/2020

Dear friends,

This week we address two things close to JHISN’s collective heart, and our collective work during the pandemic. First, we focus on the newsletter itself. Below is a link to a brief survey that will give us a better sense of how folks are using the newsletter, and a deeper sense of who you, our readers, are. Second, we focus on our launch last week of the ‘Neighborhood Emergency!’ fundraising campaign. The campaign will continue throughout October, directing donations to six fierce, dedicated frontline immigrant justice groups doing emergency solidarity work.    

1. Please Take Our Brief Survey! 

Survey link: https://jhimmigrantsolidarity.org/surveys/index.php/956417?lang=en

This survey of newsletter readers takes less than three minutes to complete. For an archive of newsletters we have sent since the pandemic began, see here.  

2. Back on the Street

“I’m elated!” That was one JHISN member’s feeling after we returned to the street to launch our “Neighborhood Emergency!” fundraising campaign. Our first campaign activity–tabling and leafleting at the Farmers’ Market–met with lots of friendly interest. People seemed willing to contribute, and eager to learn more about local immigrant-led groups. It felt good to reach out to a wider community, to exercise our activist muscles, to function in some small way as a practical force for immigrant solidarity. 

We’re grateful that six incredible community organizations trusted us to use their names and logos on our fundraising materials, which directly link people to each group’s own donation page. A couple of them have told us that donations are starting to come in.

We’re also grateful to you, our newsletter readers. Your interest and support has sustained us during these long hard months. This newsletter anchored JHISN and kept us going even as Covid-19 limited our activities.

Now, as we get back out onto the street, we hope you’ll keep on supporting JHISN by participating fully in the “Neighborhood Emergency!” campaign. We know many of you have already donated. If you haven’t yet made a contribution, please visit the fundraising webpage here. Whatever you are able to afford will help! 

Just as important, you can also promote the campaign by spreading the word. Some of us are putting leaflets in our building lobbies. Others are sending out personal emails with campaign info to our friends and families, and re-posting the campaign on social media.

It does feel good to work on this campaign. But it’s also deadly serious for us. Jackson Heights was in the epicenter of the first wave of Covid-19. It’s still an epicenter of unemployment, hunger, housing insecurity, and crushing debt for immigrant families. We’re determined to support the deeply-rooted frontline groups who are aiding, rallying and mobilizing local immigrant communities.

In solidarity and with collective care,

Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network

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