Category: Immigration

JHISN Newsletter 3/06/2021

Dear friends,

As we approach the one-year mark of pandemic life in the US, with vaccine distribution promising hope and also delivering predictable class- and race-based inequality, JHISN offers a look at history and the near future. Behind the recent headlines reporting the horrific number of Filipino health care workers who have died from COVID-19, we recount a less talked about history of US colonialism and the out-migration of health care workers from poorer to richer countries. We then examine how immigration activists are reacting to the new administration’s sweeping proposal for future immigration legislation.

Like us, you may be looking for a path toward spring, without forgetting the pandemic season we have dwelled in together—and which is not over. We hope the newsletter can provide a few useful signposts.

Newsletter highlights:

  1. Understanding the Disproportionate Deaths of US Filipino Health Care Workers
  2. Biden’s 2021 Citizenship Act: Immigrant Justice Groups Respond

1. Colonial History Behind COVID Deaths Among Filipino Health Care Workers

Three times as many Filipino health care workers have died here in the US than in the Philippines. So right away we know there’s something wrong.Jollene Levid, founder of the memorial website Kanlungan

A tide of grief is washing over Filipino communities around the country, as COVID death and illness falls relentlessly and disproportionately on their members working in health care. Four percent of nurses in the US are of Philippine ancestry, but they make up almost one-third of all nurse deaths from the pandemic. So far 178 Filipino healthcare employees are known to have died, dozens of them in New York City alone. Serious COVID illness is widespread among Filipinos working in health care, including doctors, hospital staff, and home health aides. This heavy toll is another bitter inflection point in the long history of colonial rule and racist discrimination inflicted on the Filipino people.

The US wrested the Philippines away from a fading Spanish Empire in 1898, initiating “one of the most brutal military occupations in American history” (J. Ditz, HuffPost). Intent on crushing the Filipino independence movement, US occupiers cemented their ownership through a vicious 15-year counterinsurgency war, employing widespread summary executions, torture, and concentration camps. Estimates of Filipino deaths at the hands of the US invaders range from hundreds of thousands to as many as a million people.

Colonial administrators combined vicious repression with paternalistic social programs to “uplift” the population. Catherine Choy’s definitive book about the complex history of healthcare colonialism in the Philippines, Empire of Care, reports that the imperialists called the occupation “benign assimilation.” They insisted that the colonized population needed US intervention to overcome ‘uncivilized’ dirt and disease. Starting as early as 1907, English language nursing schools were established to train Filipinos according to Americanized medical protocols, targeting the recruitment of women students. 

The training schools helped launch an enduring pattern of emigration by Filipino nurses, who left home to staff health care systems around the globe. After Philippine independence in 1946, nurses eventually became one of the country’s main ‘exports,’ praised by the government as “national heroes” for the money they sent back home. Remittances by migrant workers—mostly healthcare workers—now make up roughly 10% of the gross national product of the Philippines, to the tune of 15 billion dollars a year. At times, including during the current COVID crisis, this out-migration has created devastating and deadly nursing shortages back home.

Large numbers of Filipino nurses first came to the US after 1965, when an explicitly racist, anti-Asian immigration quota system was replaced by the Immigration and Nationality Act, which included “skills-based” provisions. Demand for nurses accelerated with the passage of Medicare and Medicaid, and again during the 1980s AIDS epidemic. Many white women in the US left nursing and fought their way into previously male-dominated professions, creating a further shortage. Meanwhile, economic crisis, devaluation of the peso, and the rise of political violence in the Philippines pushed more workers to migrate. By 2018, there were 145,800 Filipino registered nurses, along with many other Filipino health care workers, living in this country.

As migrants of color in the US, and mostly women, Filipino health care workers have been concentrated in the “front line of the front line” health care jobs: critical care, acute bedside care, elder care, surgical care, etc. This is a source of pride to many of the workers, but has had dire results during the pandemic, made even worse by the criminal withholding of adequate personal protective equipment by a profit-hungry medical system. The disproportionate death statistics, in other words, are no accident.

Last June 12—Philippine Independence Day—residents of Woodside’s “Little Manila” district unveiled a mural on the wall of Amazing Grace restaurant to honor Filipino health care workers. Incorporating a traditional Tagalog salutation—’Mabuhay!’ (or ‘to life!’)—it was painted by local artists and community members using details and themes from Philippine culture. Activist Sockie Laya Smith read the names of Filipino healthcare workers who had died from COVID-19. Speaking of the mural, Smith said, “This is to remember them as human beings—not simply as a labor percentage, a deceased statistic, or an immigration number. We thank you, say thy name. Mabuhay!”

WHAT CAN WE DO?

  • Visit the Kanlungan memorial website for healthcare workers of Philippine ancestry around the globe who have died from COVID-19. If you are able, consider donating to help maintain the online memorial.
  • Support and employ care workers from the local Damayan Workers Cooperative, managed by Filipino immigrant worker-owners.

2. Beyond the 2021 Citizenship Act

Last month, the White House presented a Bill to Congress promoted as a ‘new’ system of immigration and border control. But the Citizenship Act of 2021—with its clumsy official title, ‘To provide an earned path to citizenship, to address the root causes of migration and responsibly manage the southern border, and to reform the immigrant visa system, and for other purposes’—reads partly like pre-Trump business as usual. 

Any bill that is not a fear-mongering, immigration-halting, proudly racist policy crafted in the malevolent spirit of Stephen Miller is a step forward. But that alone doesn’t guarantee a real course correction from decades of problematic immigration policies. Some of the proposed changes, like replacing the word ‘alien’ with ‘noncitizen’, are minor steps toward addressing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)’s systemic dehumanizing policies and procedures. And yet there is still no clear legislative path to eliminating the rampant racism, white supremacy, and misogyny inside DHS’s Border Patrol and ICE. 

Non-governmental organizations have done their best to summarize the details of the Citizenship Act and explain the scope of its changes. The centerpiece of the Act is an 8-year ‘earned path’ to citizenship for all 11 million undocumented US immigrants, and an expedited 3-year path for Dreamers, Temporary Protected Status holders, and some farmworkers. The New York Immigration Coalition celebrates the activist work that inspired many specific features of the bill. Angeles Barrancos, member leader of the NJ chapter of Make The Road, notes that the “introduction of the Citizenship Act of 2021 demonstrates the strength of our movement.” Frank Parry, founder of “America’s Voice” which created DHS Watch in 2018, states: “We have to give credit to the people who have been organizing from the ground up for the last 20 years” for the existence of the Biden Bill— their work made “what once seemed a little radical seem common sense.”

At the same time, immigration and other progressive groups have made clear that there is more to be done, and to be demanded. Well-known activist Ravi Ragbir, co-founder of NYC-based New Sanctuary Coalition, said in early February, “Even though the Biden administration wants to stop deportations, an enforcement agency like ICE has the unchecked authority and power to continue doing so.” Members of the Congressional Black Caucus have expressed outrage that DHS is blatantly ignoring new White House directives, as ICE continues to terrorize Black immigrant communities. For instance, ICE deported a New York immigrant to Haiti, although he was not born there and had never lived there.

South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), which includes local groups like Adhikaar, Chhaya CDC, and DRUM, acknowledges the “possibilities this legislation presents.” They also urge Congress to address some of its “harmful provisions” like the exclusion of immigrants harmed by a racist criminal legal system, or discouraging immigrants from accessing vital services as they move toward citizenship. SAALT also calls on President Biden to “transform the immigration system to explicitly account for climate change, religious persecution, and growing right-wing fascism.”

Looking at the foreign policy elements of the 2021 Act, Alberto Velázquez Trujillo of Faith in Action in Central America says that the $4 billion in promised ‘investment’ in the region must also have accountability checks. “If Biden wants to help Central America, he needs more discernment about where the money is spent. If he just gives money to the governments [as administrations have done in the past], things will remain the same.”

In sum, there is no settled summary of the ambitions, gaps, and dangers in the proposed 2021 Citizenship Act. All that is unfolding, in real-time. The ACLU notes “This legislation provides one of the most far-reaching pathways to citizenship and legal residency in recent history.“ But importantly they voice concerns too:

[W]e must … ensure that Congress passes legislation that does not import the wrongs of the broken and racist criminal legal system, nor lead to more wasteful funding for technology at the border that would undermine everyone’s right to privacy.” —N. Shah, ACLU Statement, 2/18/21

WHAT CAN WE DO?

In solidarity and with collective care,

Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network (JHISN)

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

 

 

JHISN Newsletter 1/23/2021

Dear friends, 

This week, a different cry went up near the steps of the US Capitol: “If we’re to live up to our own time // Then victory won’t lie in the blade // But in all the bridges we’ve made // That is the promised glade  // The hill we climb if only we dare it // Because being American is more than a pride we inherit // It’s the past we step into // And how we repair it.”  In solidarity with the fierce spirit of Amanda Gorman, a young Black woman poet laureate who captured the inaugural stage, we offer you this week’s newsletter.

On the cusp of political change—a moment of promise that so many have fought for, and a moment of danger that together we must name—we analyze the connection between an emergent US fascism and anti-immigrant hatred. Closer to home, we then look at the politics of distributing the Covid vaccine in immigrant communities like Jackson Heights. Finally, we offer a local history of immigrant justice groups and the key role of women’s leadership in repairing the past and making bridges … in our own time.        

Newsletter highlights:

  1. US fascism and anti-immigrant politics
  2. Vaccine rollout and NYC immigrant communities
  3. Women-led immigrant activism

1. Hatred of immigrants fuels US fascism

After four years of relentless racist attacks, sponsored and directed by the highest levels of government, hatred of immigrants of color has become a more normal, open feature of mainstream politics in the US. This hatred provides fuel for a rising wave of fascism: a revolutionary movement of the racist Right that treats the existing “deep state” government as an “anti-American” fraud. Not all anti-immigrant sentiment is fascist. But fury against immigration plays a central role in the rise of fascism here, as it does in other countries around the globe. This is evident within the key political trends feeding into the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol—Proud Boys, QAnon, and the militia movement:

  • Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes constantly mocks and insults immigrants and people of color. “I love being white,” he says….”I don’t want our culture diluted. We need to close the borders now.” Enrique Tarrio, the new head of Proud Boys, is the son of conservative Cuban immigrants. He denies that he (or Trump, or law enforcement) is fascist, or racist. But in online chat rooms, Tarrio and other Proud Boys spew white nationalist hate and call for violence against undocumented people. Tarrio’s Twitter feed was suspended in 2018 after he tweeted racist comments about Black actor Leslie Jones, and slurred Islam, Jews, and trans people.
  • QAnon supporters, who promote a bizarre conspiracy theory alleging that top Democrats are running a massive pedophilia ring, also pretend to be inclusive. But they are deeply implicated in anti-immigrant politics. Ashli Babbitt, the QAnon “martyr” shot to death while invading the Capitol, posted videos “ranting about immigration at San Diego’s southern border.” Marjorie Taylor Green, the new QAnon congresswoman, considers immigration “a full on illegal invasion.”
  • Anti-immigrant hatred is a prominent feature of the national right-wing militia movement. The Oath Keepers, a large militia drawn from law enforcement and the military, is convinced that undocumented immigrants are part of a Democrat plot to shatter US society. (Two of the people arrested last week after the insurrection are members of the Ohio State Regular Militia, a subset of the Oath Keepers.) The Three Percenters consider immigrants and Muslims to be enemies, while the insurrectionary Boogaloo movement is “a broad anti-government movement that is full of white power activists” promoting race war. These three militias were key actors in the Capitol attack.

Fascism walks hand in hand with racist attacks on immigrants. US fascism is also rooted in anti-Black racism, as the many Confederate flags waving during the Capitol invasion proudly proclaimed. It’s of grave concern that the cancer of fascism has become deeply embedded inside police forces and the military. Notably, neo-nazis and other fascists are highly active inside ICE and the Border Patrol.

As the Trump regime leaves office, hopes are high that the new administration will reverse his anti-immigrant policies. But the fascists and their hard-core white supremacist allies aren’t going away. The immigrant justice movement must join with the Black justice movement and other progressive people to turn back the fascists’ violent threat, and to uproot their social influence. The boldness, militance, and size of the attack on the Capitol indicate that this will have to be a sustained struggle.

2. New York will not share citizenship status with feds during Covid vaccination

As New York begins rolling out the Covid-19 vaccine, public health officials and advocates urgently stress the importance of getting it to marginalized communities, including immigrants.

As part of that effort, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo last month announced that the state will not share identifying information with the federal government that could be used to determine an individual’s citizenship status. Sharing this sensitive data could have discouraged undocumented immigrants—many of whom are essential workers—from getting the vaccine. 

The announcement came soon after Governor Cuomo sent a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, requesting in part that HHS allow New York to develop its own system to keep track of vaccinated individuals and administration of doses. The December 1 letter objected to the federal government’s original requirement that states provide information on individuals receiving the vaccine—such as social security, passport, or driver’s license numbers—that could be used to determine if a person is documented.

The letter was signed by the governor and leaders of 52 community groups, including Queens-based organizations like New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE) and Adhikaar, as well as Make the Road New York.

The success of the vaccination campaign will likely be determined by its rollout in communities of color, which include many immigrants. Not only have these communities been hit hardest by the virus, but they include large numbers of essential workers who can’t work from home. Reaching them for vaccination will be key for New York to prevent more loss and achieve herd immunity—the point when enough people are immune that the virus can’t spread. (Officials often say that about three-quarters of the U.S. population would need to be vaccinated to get to herd immunity.)

At the same time, some members of these communities have said they’re skeptical about getting vaccinated, something advocates have warned about given long histories of mistreatment and neglect by scientific and medical institutions.

“We are working hard with the undocumented and Indigenous immigrant population,” Janet Perez, director of programs at Sunset Park-based Mixteca, said last month. “Our goal is that they also have access to those vaccines.”

As with most other aspects of the pandemic response, policies to distribute the vaccine vary from state to state. New Jersey officials said all residents and workers in the state can get the vaccine, including those without documentation.

Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts was criticized early this month for saying undocumented immigrants wouldn’t be included in the early vaccine rollout—even though many of those individuals work in meatpacking plants, which have been well-known sites of outbreaks. A spokesperson later said that while proof of citizenship won’t be required to get vaccinated, “Nebraska is going to prioritize citizens and legal residents ahead of illegal immigrants.”

The confusion and stigmatization come during an already complicated vaccine distribution effort that’s been slowed by high demand and short supply, and frequently changing guidelines on who’s eligible. Many of these problems have been attributed to mismanagement at the federal level that’s kept states from getting vaccines and, until recently, withheld critical funding for distribution. President Joe Biden is aiming to distribute 100 million vaccines in his first hundred days in office.

In New York City, health care workers and people 65 years and older, as well as public-facing grocery store workers, teachers, and homeless shelter residents, are eligible to sign up for a vaccine appointment. However, appointments are hard to come by, and over 20,000 appointments were canceled this week due to lack of vaccine. At the current rate, the governor has said it could take until the summer for those eligible to get vaccinated and for the rest of the state to begin. What remains clear is that the inclusion of immigrant workers and communities is vital to the success of any vaccination program in New York. 

WHAT CAN WE DO?

3. Local History: Women and Immigrant Activism

This week, the daughter of two immigrants was sworn in as the first Black, South Asian, and female vice-president of the United States. On the campaign trail, Kamala Harris laid out a roadmap to citizenship for DREAMers, another example of the power of women’s leadership in the recent history of immigrant activism. Women’s leadership has also been central in our own Queens-based neighborhood organizations.

Immigrant rights activism is not an old story. After the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act granted legal status to almost three million undocumented immigrants, border enforcement also became more harsh; more immigrants stayed in the US instead of migrating back and forth. The unintended effects of IRCA actually increased the number of undocumented workers living in the US, which prompted the development of organized groups advocating for their right to stay and for safe work conditions … these groups needed activist leaders.

Immigrant rights groups share goals with civil rights and labor movements, but don’t share the tradition of dominant male leadership. Studies of immigrant activist groups in California suggest that since many immigrant justice groups were created after struggles for women’s rights, the women who had migrated to the US and had to work outside the home, were motivated to take on those leadership roles. In Queens, we can tell similar stories.

In the early nineties, Latin Women in Action was founded by Haydee Zambrana in Corona for Hispanic women and families in Queens. Shortly after, Sakhi for South Asian Women started tabling in Jackson Heights for women’s rights as part of International Women’s Day. At the end of the `90s, Sakhi spun off a Queens-based Women’s Domestic Workers Committee group called Workers Awaaz. Closing the decade, NICE developed in response to anti-immigrant billboards placed in Queens. (In 2020 a founding board member of NICE, Jessica González-Rojas, was elected to represent the 34th Assembly District).

In the 2000’s Seema Agnani, a founder of Jackson Heights-based Chhaya CDC, created housing and economic support for low-income South Asian Workers building from her experience working at Asian Americans for Equality’s housing and neighborhood development program. Shortly after that Monami Maulik founded DRUM to build up the power of South Asian workers. Damayan was co-founded by Linda Oalican to support Filipino domestic workers, and Voces Latinas was co-founded by Nathaly Rubio-Torio to reduce violence and HIV transmission among immigrant Latinas. In that same decade, Luna Ranjit helped create Adhikaar in Woodside for the Nepali community to promote human rights and social justice. In nearby Astoria, the RIF Center was established by Maria Blacque-Belair to support the legal needs of refugees and asylum seekers.

While the idea for Immigrant Movement International was conceived by artist Tania Bruguera in 2006, it took four years and support from the Queens Museum to create a space for its services, where artists use their skills to advocate for immigration reform. IMI was the seed that became Centro Corona which shares a close connection with woman-led Queens Neighborhoods United—a local activist group that advocates for democratic control over land use, policing, and immigration policies.

Join with JHISN in honoring the historical leadership of the many women-led organizations that advocate and fight for immigrant workers, families, and communities.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

  • Donate to DRUM’s Campaign and Leadership Development Fund to support future women leaders.
  • Be inspired by the life of Queens immigrant/AIDS/LGBTQ/Sex Worker activist Lorena Borjas who tragically died of Covid in 2020, at the age of 59.
  • Join our developing crowdsourced JHISN initiative to build out a robust timeline of immigrant activist work in our neighborhood – contact timeline@jhimmigrantsolidarity.org for more information.

In solidarity and with collective care,

Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network

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

 

JHISN Newsletter 1/9/2021

Dear friends,

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

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

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

1. What Kind of Moratorium? 

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT CAN WE DO?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT CAN WE DO?

In solidarity and with collective care,

Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network

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

 

 

JHISN Newsletter 12/19/2020

Dear friends,

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

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

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

Newsletter Highlights:

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

1. The Struggle at the Bergen County Jail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT CAN WE DO?

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

2. Scrolling for Justice — Activist Art for Excluded Workers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT CAN WE DO?

In solidarity and with collective care,

Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network

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