Category: Immigration

JHISN Newsletter 05/23/2020

Dear Friends,

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

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

Newsletter highlights:

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

1.  End Covid Cruelty — Stop Deportations Now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

 2.  NICE: Fighting for Low-Wage Immigrant Workers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

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

Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network

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JHISN Newsletter 05/16/2020

Dear Friends,

Greetings to you, as we enter the third month of stay-at-home restrictions in New York City. We continue to use our e-newsletter as a collective ‘public space’ during the pandemic, sharing news with a local focus on immigrant politics and solidarity. We are grateful for your encouraging responses! Please continue to send us ideas for future newsletter items, and feedback on how to make the newsletter most useful to you at info@jhimmigrantsolidarity.org

We are also now sharing the newsletter on social media. We invite you to follow @JHSolidarity on twitter and facebook, and to circulate newsletter items to folks who might be interested.  

Newsletter highlights: 

  1. Immigrants Excluded from Rent Relief — update on #CancelRent and Legislative Proposals
  2. Activist Art Traditions Continue during a Pandemic 
  3. Immigrant Students Struggle for Educational Access 

1) Still No Rent Relief for Immigrants

Widespread inability to pay rent during the Covid-19 catastrophe continues to threaten the housing security of millions of immigrants left out of federal and state assistance programs. About 20% of tenants in the US failed to pay any part of their rent on May 1. This figure actually represents a drop from April 1. Analysts believe that increased rent payments were made possible by stimulus or unemployment money. Neither of these is available to roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants, as well as many others in their households.

#CancelRent says that there were 190,000 rent and mortgage strikes nationally. In New York, there were about 14,000 strikers, mostly in 57 large buildings. Many immigrants participated. This is probably not the massive response that organizers had hoped for, but it’s a solid beginning for a movement that seems likely to grow as the rent crisis deepens. As activists say, “We can’t pay, so we won’t pay…together.”

Proposals in the US Congress for emergency rent suspension or rental assistance, including initiatives by Ilhan Omar, Sherrod Brown, and a group of Queens Congress members, seem unlikely to go anywhere right now because of Republican opposition. At the state level, Governor Cuomo has made it clear that he does not support aid of any sort for undocumented immigrants. The current legislative effort with the best prospects may be the bill proposed by Michael Gianaris in the State Senate, calling for a 90-day suspension of rent and mortgages for anyone economically impacted by Covid-19. Notably, it has attracted support from some commercial tenants, individual homeowners, and even landlords, because it would provide for broad mortgage forgiveness as well as rent relief.

Currently, there is a NY State freeze on evictions, which has been extended through August 20. Tenant advocates expect a wave of eviction proceedings once the freeze ends, since all back rent will be due at that time. Also, a new provision added to the freeze puts the burden on tenants to prove that they can’t pay their rent specifically as a result of Covid-19. This raises the prospect of grueling eviction hearings, initiated by landlords challenging the rent freeze for individual tenants. “Landlords will bring tenants to court, who will then have to demonstrate to landlords…that they were impacted, and the court will either find [tenants] credible or not,” said Ellen Davidson, a staff attorney at Legal Aid Society. “In a city where landlords have called ICE on their tenants, people will have to choose whether or not to tell their landlords about their immigration status.”

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

2) Making Art and Public Memory in Pandemic Times

In times of uncertainty, art is more than beauty or decoration — it’s a tool. Art can heal, art can save lives, art can bring us together — even when we’re apart. Aaron Huey, “Artists Paint a Portrait of a Pandemic”  

She has purple and white wings, pink-red boxing gloves, a blue cap, a white mask. Painted on the side of an abandoned building in Denver by mural artist Austin Zucchini-Fowler, Healthcare Hero is one of countless works of public art blooming across cities and towns in response to the pandemic. In New York City, she is four stories tall, a nurse in white and blue, palms pressed together like buddha, and E-S-S-E-N-T-I-A-L spelled out in bright red letters above her head—a poster designed by the Hawaiian artist Marvin Madariaga and projected on the side of an NYC hospital.  

Public art has a long, activist history of escaping the museum and the gallery to directly engage people in our everyday lives. In the current crisis, institutions ranging from the United Nations to the social change organization Amplifier are holding international contests for artists to contribute their work in the service of popular education and collective well-being during the pandemic.  

Here in Queens, a call for “Art from the Epicenter” is circulating right now for artists in Jackson Heights and neighboring areas to donate their artwork to support local organizations, including Covid Care Neighbor Network, Make the Road NY, and Meals for Elmhurst Hospital. Artists’ donated work will be sold in an online exhibition/auction, with all monies going to local groups providing mutual aid to immigrant communities and those hit hardest by the crisis.

The Queens Public Library and Queens College have also launched the Queens Memory COVID-19 Project, a public art initiative gathering stories of how we are struggling, surviving, and coming together during the crisis. Part of the larger Queens Memory Project–a community archive narrating everyday life in “The World’s Borough”–The COVID-19 Project belongs to us. As an intimate collection of oral histories, images, and experiences, the project will become a form of public memory for a moment which, for many of us right now, is filled with silence and loss.

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

3) Immigrant Students Can’t Count on Billionaires for Equal Access to Education

Before the pandemic, the Education Justice Project of Make The Road New York, an immigrant-led justice organization, worked with public school parent committees and youth leaders to end ineffective punitive policies, and challenge the management of overcrowded and underfunded neighborhood schools. With a stunning 85% of youth participating in their Student Success Centers accepted to college, MTRNY’s model was replicated across all five NYC boroughs, serving over 17,000 students in 34 schools.

After the pandemic hit and the schools closed, education for the children of immigrants has been disproportionately disrupted. The Mayor’s office gave lip service to supporting immigrant families left out of federal funding and lacking access to educational technology. It was unclear how the city’s approach would be funded, until the announcement that the Open Society Foundations, run by liberal philanthropist George Soros, earmarked $15 million to fund the Department of Education’s remote learning program. 

Educational technology is often a problem area, especially for immigrant and low-income families. 15% of US households with children lack high-speed internet at home. One in three households that make below $30,000 a year lacks any internet. When parents live apart, or are in quarantine, internet learning can easily be disrupted. In New York, the Department of Education is supplying large numbers of internet-connected tablets, but some students still fall through the gaps. In one family we know, the children are doing their homework on their parent’s mobile phone.

A JHISN newsletter reader, embracing Mutual Aid, asked us if there were organizations that were funding immigrant children who lack the devices and other technology necessary to participate in the remote learning program. They were looking to make a contribution to a local organization that specifically supports children’s edtech needs. Please let us know if you are aware of any in our neighborhood?

Governor Cuomo took the idea of billionaires funding education even further by recently inviting Bill Gates to advise a council to ‘Reimagine Education’. The council met without the input of any educators from New York City, or any grassroots experts like the New York Immigration Coalition’s Education Collaborative. As Forbes magazine reports, The Gates Foundation has been involved in several education projects that have ended badly. This includes the 2011 InBloom initiative, which Gates simply walked away from after $100 million had been wasted.

Over 150 years ago an immigrant industrialist, Peter Cooper, founded Cooper Union on the Lower East Side to provide free education to the working class, women, and people of color. He aimed to promote civic virtue and harmony. Today we have racist millionaires in the White House who are “prompting immigrant families to forgo services that they fear could land them on Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s radar or jeopardize their path to citizenship.” Although right now we find ourselves a long way from civic harmony, perhaps we can at least provide all students access to the necessary resources they need to pursue the education they deserve. 

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

With gratitude for collective care and mutual aid in these staggering times, 

Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network

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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.

JHISN Newsletter 04/25/2020

Dear friends,

Greetings in this ongoing moment of crisis. And gratitude for continuing to help JHISN and Queens-based immigrant groups mobilize local solidarity during a global pandemic. We hope that our newsletter can be one small route to connecting, organizing, and providing mutual aid in our community, one of the hardest-hit areas in New York City and the nation.  

Newsletter highlights:

  1. How to donate “stimulus” money in solidarity with local immigrants
  2. Damayan, local Filipino workers rights organization, responds to the emergency
  3. Fighting for rent and mortgage cancellation as May 1 looms

1. Getting “stimulus” money to immigrants abandoned by the government

Last week we discussed how millions of immigrants—including those who need it most—are excluded from getting COVID-19 stimulus checks. Grassroots immigrant rights groups in Queens are providing ways, for those of us who can afford it, to redirect all or part of our stimulus checks to our neighbors who are abandoned by the federal government, who are facing job loss, hunger, and the inability to pay essential bills, including burial costs.

What can you do?

The following six trusted frontline organizations are mobilizing aid to our local immigrant neighbors during this pandemic crisis, especially undocumented people cut off from receiving other forms of assistance. We encourage donations to one or more of them. If you are able to donate stimulus money to these groups, please consider doing so in the name of the Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network.

  1. New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE)
    Donate to: www.nynice.org/donors
    NICE is a non-profit that focuses on assisting vulnerable and precarious workers, especially day laborers, domestic workers, and newly arrived immigrants.
  2. Queens Neighborhoods United (QNU)
    Donate to:  paypal.me/qnu
    QNU is an all-volunteer community-based group that battles gentrification and police abuse. Its Facebook page is now a hub for donations to local families who have lost a loved one to coronavirus. QNU also works with Centro Corona as they build out a mutual aid network, based among immigrant families, including direct food delivery.
  3. Damayan
    Donate to: bit.ly/STPCampaign
    Damayan Migrant Workers Association organizes low-wage Filipino workers, including undocumented workers who have no safety net. They are providing direct COVID-19 support to the ill, the elderly, the unemployed, and families with small children.
  4. Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM)
    Donate to:  drum.ourpowerbase.net/civicrm/contribute/transact
  5. DRUM has been building the power of South Asian and Indo-Caribbean low wage immigrant workers, youth and families since 2000. In the face of the pandemic, they are initiating a multifaceted campaign called Building Power and Safety Through Solidarity.
  6. Adhikaar
    – Donate to: www.mightycause.com/organization/Adhikaar
    Adhikaar is a social justice, legal advocacy, and workers rights organization serving the Nepali community. Their emergency work includes virtual unemployment clinics and supply networks to deliver food and necessities.
  7. Make the Road New York
    – Donate to:   connect.clickandpledge.com/w/Form/9a139c0d-d9fb-418e-8e96-117f0e0c841c   
    Make the Road carries out extensive organizing to empower local immigrant communities. The linked fund is for direct coronavirus support to vulnerable workers, undocumented households, and low-income immigrant families.

2. Damayan Migrant Workers Association: “The real heroes of this pandemic …”

Damayan is a non-profit with strong roots in Queens among immigrant Filipino low-wage workers, including domestic workers. Domestic work is essential work, Damayan’s lead organizer Riya Ortiz explains, “Filipino domestic workers–babysitters, elder caregivers and housekeepers … care for the elderly and children, the most vulnerable during the pandemic, in the homes of their employers … Domestic work makes all work possible.” Damayan also fights labor trafficking, recovers wages from exploitative employers, and participates in a range of campaigns promoting health, labor, gender, and immigrant rights. 

Many local Filipino workers are undocumented, living in crowded housing with no health insurance. COVID-19 has hit this community hard, taking its toll on the families of unemployed and essential workers alike. Concerned about the prospect of mass casualties in the community, Damayan swung into action, providing direct material support to their members.

In recognition of the response, Ortiz was recently praised as a “Hero of the Pandemic” by Newsweek. A queer immigrant daughter of a domestic worker, Ortiz prefers to put the spotlight on her community:

While I see this as an honor to be recognized for the work that I/we do in Damayan, in our eyes, the real heroes of this pandemic are the Filipino migrant worker members, the lifeline of our organization. They—the infected, elderly, sick, women, children, unemployed and underemployed, undocumented, and trafficked—are the ones who are the most scarred, marginalized and abused, and are deemed as disposable in this society. Despite their difficult circumstances, they have been fighting not just for their right to live with dignity but also their community’s. We continue to honor and serve them through our organization and our work.

The goal of Damayan’s emergency fundraiser (noted in our Share the Stimulus article) is to raise $20,000 in tax-deductible donations. Damayan will prioritize assistance to those already sick, the elderly, the unemployed, the underemployed, and those with small children at home. Besides basic food and housing needs, Damayan is gathering laptops and distributing wifi hotspots to workers with no internet access. 

What can you do?

3. Growing outcry for rent and mortgage cancellation

The banks who caused the 2008 financial crisis were bailed out by the federal government, despite their risky and often fraudulent lending practices. The result: giant banks remained obscenely profitable while ordinary people had their homes taken away through foreclosure. Renters got no assistance. In the current crisis, history threatens to repeat itself. The Trump Administration and Congress have given trillions of “relief” dollars to banks and major corporations, while offering extremely limited help for renters and homeowners: a short-term and short-sighted 60-day moratorium on foreclosure and eviction. 

Taking another path, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is co-sponsoring a bill to cancel rent and mortgage payments for the duration of the pandemic. The bill’s main sponsor, Rep. Ilhan Omar, notes, “This time, it’s time to bail out the American people who are suffering.” The proposed legislation aims to help renters and landlords, not just mortgage lenders and banks. 

The bill would constitute a full payment forgiveness, with no accumulation of debt for renters or homeowners and no negative impact on their credit rating or rental history. The legislation will establish a relief fund for landlords and mortgage holders to cover losses from the cancelled payments and create an optional fund to fully finance the purchase of private rental properties by non-profits, public housing authorities, cooperatives, community land trusts, and states or local governments—in order to increase the availability of affordable housing during this downturn.   Source:  Rep. Ilhan Omar website

Local neighborhood immigrant activist groups such as DRUM and Adhikaar are gearing up to defend besieged renters in our community. Both organizations promote the May Day: Can’t Pay! campaign, which demands that Governor Cuomo:

  • Cancel rent for four months, or for the duration of the public health crisis – whichever is longer.
  • Freeze rents and offer every tenant in New York the right to renew their lease. No one’s rent should go up during this epidemic.
  • Urgently and permanently re-house all New Yorkers experiencing homelessness and invest in public and social housing across our state.

There’s growing sentiment–locally and nationally–for massive, targeted rent strikes to back up tenant demands. As the May Day: Can’t Pay campaign puts it, “On May 1, unless our demands are met, many of us can’t pay. So if we can’t pay, let’s not pay, together!” Make the Road is also discussing rent strikes with their members and supporters.

Ivan Contreras, an organizer with Woodside On the Move, says he is organizing a rent strike in 10 buildings with more than 5,000 tenants.

Basically, my tenants do not have the money to pay rent. Some of them don’t have an immigration status…so it’s been hard for them. The jobs they do to survive are basically jobs they cannot do from home. They are being laid off, but some of them are still working and risking their lives by going outside.

New York landlord groups are reacting with fury to the prospect of organized tenant militancy. “It’s kind of disgusting, “ says one landlord spokesperson. “It seems as if they are trying to use this crisis to further their political agenda.” Actually, May Day: Can’t Pay and many other groups considering a rent strike also support government relief for landlords who need it. But progressive activists are convinced that tenants will continue to be pushed aside by well-funded real estate interests unless they exert their collective power.

Undocumented immigrants, in particular, will have a hard time making up missed rent payments and may face a massive wave of evictions after restrictions are lifted, said Lena Melendez, an activist who said her building was going on rent strike. Landlords “have gotten looked after,” Melendez said. “They have gotten tax abatements and deferments on their mortgages. And tenants have just gotten a temporary freeze, a pause, on evictions.”

What can you do?

In solidarity, with collective care,

Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network

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JHISN Newsletter 04/18/2020

Dear Friends,

We hope this finds you safe and well, surrounded by things that can offer solace and a sense of community. 

As the health emergency continues in Jackson Heights and far beyond, JHISN wants to recognize the incredible emergency work being done by community-based immigrant rights and advocacy groups. In Queens, immigrant-led groups are right now organizing virtual unemployment clinics; home food delivery; quarantine facilities for people with COVID-19; support to renters, small homeowners, and small businesses who need rent and mortgage relief; burial assistance and bereavement support; digital literacy classes; census work via phone banks and texting; and political pressure on electeds for adequate relief aid, including to undocumented and mixed-status immigrant households.   

With media focused on the ravages and vulnerabilities in low-income and immigrant communities, this less visible labor of community care and material support by immigrant-led groups is life-nourishing. We honor their work.

Newsletter highlights:

  1. Supporting immigrants excluded from federal stimulus relief under the CARES Act 
  2. The COVID-19 crisis in US detention centers
  3. Delivering food justice and food solidarity during the pandemic

1. “Stimulus” Discrimination: Another Blow to Immigrants

Excluding undocumented workers in this relief package is a grave mistake, one that will lead to great suffering in our communities, and likely the loss of life. — Manuel Castro, New Immigrant Community Empowerment

Some Jackson Heights residents are already starting to receive thousands of dollars in “stimulus” checks (or electronic deposits) mandated by Congress. But millions of immigrants who desperately need financial help during the pandemic won’t get a penny

The government’s action to exclude many of our neighbors from receiving needed stimulus relief money reveals an inhumane commitment to anti-immigrant policies, even during a deadly pandemic. 

On April 16 the Mayor of New York City announced a $20 million relief program, developed with the Open Society Foundations, specifically to provide emergency monetary relief to immigrant workers, including undocumented workers and their families. While this philanthropy will provide much-needed relief for up to 20,000 undocumented workers facing financial distress because of  COVID-19, it is important to note that there are 360,000 undocumented workers and 48,000 undocumented business owners in this city, none of whom will be receiving federal government support.

Responding to the discriminatory federal aid program, teachers in Oakland, CA have pledged to give their own stimulus money to undocumented families of the children they teach, adding momentum to a growing effort to re-distribute the stimulus money through voluntary actions. Nationally, the prominent immigrant justice group Cosecha is mobilizing a #ShareMyCheck campaign. JHISN is exploring local ways that those of us who are able can share some or all of our stimulus money with immigrants excluded from the stimulus program. Stay tuned for details next week. Together we can make a difference.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

  • Discuss the inequities in the stimulus package with neighbors and friends.  
  • If you are getting the stimulus payment, and don’t need some or any of it right now, consider gifting it to aid immigrant communities in our neighborhoods. Our next newsletter will offer suggestions for making your donation count locally.

2. #FreeThemAll: Release Detainees and Prisoners At Risk

In New York State, infection rates on Rikers Island have reportedly soared to seven times the rates in New York City as a whole. As of April 16, coronavirus infections in NYC jails have already reached a catastrophic 8.5%. The Legal Aid Society warns:

COVID-19 is spreading rapidly at Rikers Island and other local jails, endangering our clients, correction staff and all of New York City …. New York City jails have become the epicenter of COVID-19. It is imperative that Albany, City Hall, our local District Attorneys and the NYPD take swift and bold action. Source: Legal Aid Society, April 16, 2020

Meanwhile, Governor Cuomo has largely ignored calls for clemency for elderly inmates and others at high risk of infection among the 42,000 inmates at NY state prisons–even though at least 700 staff and inmates have tested positive. 

The Thirteenth Amendment kept slavery alive by constitutionalizing involuntary servitude as a punishment for those convicted of a crime. This is what allows inmates to be paid $0.62 per hour to make hand sanitizer while being charged $5.30 to buy toilet paper. Now we have Rikers inmates ‘volunteering’ to don personal protective equipment to dig mass graves for those who died from COVID-19–for $6.00 an hour. The pandemic has exacerbated the human rights issues in the USA’s incarceration industry since physical distancing is not an option for either the jailed or their jailers. 

When it comes to immigrants detained by ICE and CBP–two rogue agencies ignoring Congressional oversight and enforcement–the demand to “Free Them All” makes urgent sense. “ICE has sweeping discretion to release the people in its custody for civil immigration violations at any time.” As we write, over 4,000 doctors have signed an open letter to ICE calling on the agency to release individuals in immigrant detention in order to save lives. Responding to widespread outrage, ICE has recently released several hundred detainees, fitting many with tracking ankle bracelets. But tens of thousands remain locked up in ICE detention, facing imminent threat of infection by COVID-19.

At a privately-owned detention center near San Diego, at least 17 immigrant detainees have tested positive for COVID-19. In Tacoma, Washington, immigrants at the Northwest Detention Center held a protest on April 15 by forming the letters SOS with their bodies in the center’s yard, and launching their third hunger strike in three weeks, as they continue to demand release. At a Chicago shelter for immigrant youth,19 children and two staff members have been diagnosed this past week with COVID-19. 

The brutal consequences of unjust incarceration combined with the deadly pandemic extend beyond the United States. Migrants, refugees and asylum seekers across the globe confront national lock-downs and border closures, trapping them in crowded encampments or carceral detention facilities. The Global Detention Project gathers updated information about what different countries are doing to protect–or not–vulnerable migrant populations: “Growing numbers of medical practitioners, NGOs, and international organisations have urged governments to release detainees and provide them with support as they navigate complex and perilous public spaces. While authorities in some countries have released detainees, many others have refused to do so.” 

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

  1. Food Justice during a Pandemic

Food radically connects humans to each other. The spread of coronavirus vividly exposes the global and local realities of interdependent food supply chains, as well as the power hierarchies that determine who farms and delivers food, who enjoys ‘food security’ and who does not. Today we should all take notice that many food supply chains in the US begin with farmworkers and people who labor in food processing plants. These workers are disproportionately immigrants of color, often undocumented. We are learning, too, that the lack of workplace protections, access to health care, adequate housing and hygiene have made these workforces dramatically vulnerable to the threat of COVID-19 outbreaks.

In southwest Florida, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) is calling for immediate protections for farmworker communities—over 2 million workers nationwide—living in dense housing conditions and traveling to work in crowded buses. Farmworkers are laboring without protective gear, hand sanitizer, or access to COVID-19 testing. Farmworkers are clearly “essential workers” although often they have not been recognized as such: without their work, many grocery store shelves would be empty of familiar goods and produce.  

This week, the biggest coronavirus hot spot in the United States emerged in a pork processing plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where a staggering 598 employees are now infected with COVID-19, among a largely immigrant workforce of 4,000 people. Meat processing plants across the country are starting to close due to the existence or the imminent threat of COVID-19 outbreaks. 

Here in central Queens, food insecurity is causing anxiety for more and more households. Local immigration groups reported last week that some of us are starting to worry about basic needs like food. Hunger, and fear of hunger, is stalking our community.  

On April 15, Mayor de Blasio announced a $170 million emergency food program to address hunger. A select number of NYC public schools are operating as Meal Hubs, offering three free meals daily, Mon-Friday, in one ‘grab ‘n go’ food package. Food is available not only for students but for any New Yorker who shows up.  Below is a list of reliable resources for COVID-19 food assistance for folks in our neighborhoods and the NYC area:

  1. Meal Hub lookup to find a location nearest you.
  2. COVID-19 Food Assistance Resources.
  3. FoodHelp NYC
  4. ACCESS HRA 
  5. HelpNowNYC 
  6. NYC Food Delivery Assistance 

WHAT CAN YOU DO? 

  • Sign and circulate this petition calling on Florida Governor DeSantis to protect Immokalee farmworkers.
  • Share the food assistance information here with neighbors, friends, folks in your synagogue, mosque, church or temple. Post in your coop building or share on a listserv or social media!
  • If you are able, consider donating or volunteering with Hungry Monk Rescue Truck, serving Queens and Brooklyn. 

In solidarity, with gratitude for the collective care that we share.

Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network

JHISN Newsletter 04/12/2020

Dear friends,

We reach out to you, again, in hopes that we might find new ways to connect even as our daily lives remain physically distanced from each other. Collective care feels urgent and particularly difficult now. Some of us woke up to the latest news about the unfolding tragedy in central Queens–Jackson Heights, Elmhurst, Corona. Our home.

The coronavirus, here as elsewhere, both reflects and deepens long-standing economic and racial inequalities. And the vibrant immigrant communities that are the life-blood of Jackson Heights are being decimated. We must join forces any way we can, collectively, with love and creativity.

Newsletter highlights:

  1. A look at the central role of immigrant labor in our healthcare infrastructure and in the battle to save lives during the COVID-19 crisis.
  2. The grassroots work of Queens Neighborhood United (QNU) during the pandemic, making visible the most vulnerable among us.
  3. An invitation to invent ways to sustain public memory and honor the neighborhood people being lost to the pandemic.

1. Healthcare workers and essential workers are immigrant workers

As we search for practices of solidarity in a global pandemic, our support for healthcare workers becomes especially important. Solidarity with healthcare workers is solidarity with immigrants. While the US healthcare system teeters on the edge of an almost unimaginable disaster, immigrant healthcare workers are doing their best to keep it from collapsing completely. As COVID-19 spreads through the US and the government closes its borders to non-US citizens, nearly 1.7 million foreign-born medical and healthcare workers are on the frontlines of the national crisis, according to the Census Bureau.

Source: Axios Health Apr 3, 2020

All told, about 25% of all US healthcare workers, and almost one-third of US doctors, are immigrants. Twenty-nine percent of nurses in the New York/New Jersey area are immigrants. Even the Trump administration has realized that the US needs this workforce right now:

Since it came to power, the Trump administration has waged a relentless, multi-layered war on immigration. But it only took a few days of panic over the spread of the novel coronavirus for the government to start seeing the value of at least some immigrant workers. In an announcement published on March 26, and promoted on its social media channels, the State Department called on foreign medical professionals who already have US visas to either move forward with their plans to come work in the country or, if they are already in the country, to extend their stay. Source: Quartz March 30, 2020

Nevertheless, incredibly, some 29,000 frontline medical workers who live under the tenuous protection of the DACA program (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), are facing the possibility of immediate deportation. The Trump regime has gone to the Supreme Court for final authorization to destroy this Obama-era program. Analysts say that the Court will probably side with the regime. Not much has changed since last November when Ian Millhiser wrote, “The fate of DACA and the approximately 670,000 immigrants who depend on DACA…appears grim.” The blow could come literally any day now.

Will we see ICE agents dragging health care workers out of Elmhurst Hospital in the middle of the pandemic? Or, as an op-ed in the New York Times speculates, will immigrant workers “be asked to serve in this crisis for now, only to be deported later”?

Meanwhile, Dr. Chen Hu, an Asian-American physician at NYU Langone Medical Center, describes what it feels like to be both “celebrated and villainized” during the pandemic: celebrated for his life-saving work for COVID-19 patients; villainized as a second-generation immigrant of Asian descent who is harassed on the subway as he heads to work in his blue medical scrubs.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

  • At 7 pm each night, join your Jackson Heights neighbors by coming to your window to celebrate our amazing healthcare workers with cheers, applause, and pots ‘n pans!
  • Check out the work of Queens Feeds Hospitals. Local restaurants like The Queensboro and Senso Unico are closed, but they are taking donations and providing good meals to Elmhurst hospital workers.
  • Support the multi-pronged efforts to get personal protective equipment (PPE) to health workers
  • Join the #GetThemPPE hashtag campaign on Twitter
  • Sign and circulate the petition by the NY State Nurses Association demanding the Defense Production Act be put to full use for the mass production of PPE, COVID-19 tests, and other much-needed medical equipment.
  • Sign and circulate frontlineppenow’s change.org petition to urge our government, industry, media and the general population, to assist HCWs in obtaining immediate access to critical PPE
  • If you are a health care worker, please consider sharing your story about the lack of PPE with Frontline PPE Now.

2. Fighting Criminalization and Displacement with Queens Neighborhood United

Queens Neighborhood United (QNU) is a diverse, community-based organization founded in 2014 to address local issues including policing, immigration, community control of public land, and the growing economic displacement of small local stores by large chains (like Target).

Last weekend, QNU shared news with their 3,500 Facebook followers of police arresting three homeless people in Corona Plaza with no explanation. This action flies in the face of the CDC guidance, as reported by The Intercept: “Unless individual housing units are available, do not clear encampments during community spread of COVID-19.” Putting homeless people in jail, where physical distancing cannot be practiced, directly exposes them to the threat of contracting COVID-19. QNU reminds us that the CDC and WHO repeatedly state that “jails and prisons are extremely dangerous during a pandemic.”

QNU exemplifies another important aspect of true community support in a pandemic: Mutual Aid, a concept many people are becoming familiar with and mistakenly think of as some form of charity. The truth is that the best people to trust to organize Mutual Aid are the already existing grassroots groups, like QNU, who have been doing this work for many years. They have proven their leadership, advocating for the people in their neighborhoods with actions such as Rent Strikes. And they make community services available to the people who actually need them. These are the organizations that can best guide us in how and where to give our financial support during the crisis, because they are already trusted by and embedded within our communities.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

These are the groups that QNU has identified as great to directly support. You don’t need to donate to every group (unless of course, you can), but pick at the one that resonates with you personally…and then ask your friends to do the same! Your network will help their network.

3. In Memoriam

Make the Road’s Trans Immigrant Project has been posting “Rest In Power” memorials for the trans activists in our neighborhood lost to COVID-19. The names of Jamilet Valente, Lorena Borjas, Liz Fontanez, and Yimel Alvarado may not be known to us in the same way as rich personalities who post on social media about their fun ways of dealing with social distancing at home, but they have had significant influence in our neighborhood. These activist women helped combat the ostracism and exclusions that transpeople suffered long before the current health crisis and the government is not to be relied upon to help replace these leaders and their programs with the emergency funding they will need to continue their work.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

  • JHISN is looking for a creative way for everyone in our community to share the loss of friends, neighbors, and family in the pandemic and to do it in a way that is not as fleeting as social media. After 9/11 the posters of loved ones were seen throughout the city. But with shelter-at-home requirements, we cannot go out and pay homage the same way. Help us build an online solution that allows us to share our grief and memorialize those we mourn. Contact aniotus@outlook.com if you have ideas or want to help.

We wish everyone protection, safety, and well-being. Thank you for continuing to protect our wider and deeper home, in communities of care and solidarity.

Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network