Category: Jackson Heights

JHISN Newsletter 10/10/2020

Dear friends,

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

1. Please Take Our Brief Survey! 

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

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

2. Back on the Street

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

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

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

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

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

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

In solidarity and with collective care,

Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network

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 09/26/2020

Neighborhood Emergency! Donate!

Dear friends,

This weekend JHISN launches our Neighborhood Emergency! fundraising campaign. The campaign gathers direct financial support for six dedicated, deeply-rooted local groups that provide food, mutual aid, services, and solidarity to immigrant communities during the pandemic. 

We are cheered by evidence of Jackson Heights’ creative resilience and community strength just months after being the epicenter of the epicenter of the COVID crisis. A cover story in the New York Times (9/23) describes the vibrant community scenes that have bloomed all along the Open Street on 34th Avenue. Early autumn nights in the neighborhood are animated by improvised sidewalk dining and music in the streets. But underneath the lively resurgence of street life is the less visible loss, suffering, and economic vulnerability of so many community members.

As we reported in our August 15 newsletter, neighbors in Jackson Heights are now facing ‘the cliff’: that dangerous edge where housing and food insecurity, income loss, unemployment, illness, and lack of government support threaten to push people into economic free fall. Emergency relief from the federal government has excluded immigrants, especially those who are undocumented. Local immigrant justice organizations have stepped up to protect people and build community power. They need your support. We ask each of you this week to:

  • Donate directly to one or more of the six frontline, immigrant-led groups. Whatever you can afford makes a difference.
  • Share the jhimmigrantsolidarity.org/emergency webpage or circulate this newsletter. Ask others in your network to consider donating: friends, co-workers, folks in your building, members of your mosque, temple, church, community group, or political organization. 

Here are six extraordinary immigrant-led local groups. Please click on the group’s name to connect directly to their fundraising webpage:

Adhikaar

Adhikaar is a Jackson Heights-based immigrant justice group serving the Nepali-speaking community since 2005. Focused on immigration rights and legal issues, labor struggles (including for domestic workers), and health and social justice issues, Adhikaar played a key role in the groundbreaking New York State Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.

Your donation will support Adhikaar’s mutual aid relief efforts during the crisis including the supply of direct relief, community education and the ongoing struggle for systemic change and community empowerment.

Damayan

Damayan Migrant Workers Association organizes low-wage Filipino workers–including undocumented workers–to fight for their gender, labor, health, and immigrant rights. Established in 2002, Damayan’s immigrant-led organization builds leadership at the grassroots level to eliminate labor trafficking, fight labor fraud and wage theft, and demand fair labor standards to achieve economic and social justice.

Damayan’s Emergency Fund provides direct material support during the pandemic to community members, prioritizing those who are unemployed, sick, elderly, or families with small children.

Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM)

DRUM is a multigenerational, membership-led organization of South Asian and Indo-Caribbean working-class immigrants, women, youth, and undocumented families. Founded in 2000, DRUM has built a unique model of community-based organizing where members lead social and policy changes that impact their own lives–from immigrant rights to education reform, civil rights, and worker’s justice. 

DRUM’s emergency fund, “Building Power and Safety Through Solidarity,” provides direct aid to community members via food, healthcare, housing, and participatory programs to strengthen community power during the Covid-19 crisis.

Make the Road New York

Make the Road carries out extensive organizing to empower immigrant Latinx communities. As a locally-based and statewide organization, Make the Road New York builds the power of immigrant and working-class communities to achieve dignity and justice through community organizing, transformative education, policy innovation, and survival services.

Donate to MTRNY’s Covid-19 Emergency Response Fund to support vulnerable workers, undocumented households, and low-income families.

New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE)

NICE is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of vulnerable and precarious immigrant workers and their families in New York, with a focus on day laborers, domestic workers, and newly arrived immigrants. For over 20 years, NICE has offered an extensive set of services, community organizing, and leadership development programs.

Your donation will support NICE’s front-line impacts in our community. NICE has launched and continued vital food access, cash assistance, and overall case management programs during the pandemic.

Queens Neighborhoods United (QNU)

QNU is a community-based organization made up of members from Jackson Heights, Corona, and Elmhurst. QNU believes in establishing democratic control over land-use, policing, and immigration policies that directly impact us, our families, homes, businesses, places of work, and neighborhoods. Through grassroots organizing, leadership development, advocacy, and community education, QNU builds power to fight criminalization and displacement in our communities.

Donating to QNU will provide mutual aid to neighbors in need during the pandemic.

 

Support our Neighborhood Emergency! fundraising campaign. Share this newsletter and link to the fundraising webpage jhimmigrantsolidarity.org/emergency with your friends and local networks! 

 

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.

Neighborhood Emergency!

Neighborhood Emergency! Donate!

Introducing the fundraising campaign.

JHISN’s Neighborhood Emergency! fundraising campaign invites direct donations to the following six immigrant-led, community-based organizations in Queens that provide food, mutual aid, services, and solidarity to immigrant workers and families during the COVID-19 crisis.

The pandemic disproportionately affects immigrant and undocumented communities. Emergency relief from the federal government has excluded immigrants, especially undocumented households and workers. Local immigrant justice organizations have stepped up to protect people from multiple crises of health, employment, food, and housing. They need your support!

Find the quick links to fundraising pages for all six groups at: jhimmigrantsolidarity.org/emergency

Click on the group’s name to connect directly to their fundraising webpage and please donate what you can afford.

Adhikaar

Adhikaar is a Jackson Heights-based immigrant justice group serving the Nepali-speaking community since 2005. Focused on immigration rights and legal issues, labor struggles (including for domestic workers), and health and social justice issues, Adhikaar played a key role in the groundbreaking New York State Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.

Your donation will support Adhikaar’s mutual aid relief efforts during the crisis including the supply of direct relief, community education and the ongoing struggle for systemic change and community empowerment.

Damayan

Damayan Migrant Workers Association organizes low-wage Filipino workers–including undocumented workers–to fight for their gender, labor, health, and immigrant rights. Established in 2002, Damayan’s immigrant-led organization builds leadership at the grassroots level to eliminate labor trafficking, fight labor fraud and wage theft, and demand fair labor standards to achieve economic and social justice.

Damayan’s Emergency Fund provides direct material support during the pandemic to community members, prioritizing those who are unemployed, sick, elderly, or families with small children.

Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM)

DRUM is a multigenerational, membership-led organization of South Asian and Indo-Caribbean working-class immigrants, women, youth, and undocumented families. Founded in 2000, DRUM has built a unique model of community-based organizing where members lead social and policy changes that impact their own lives–from immigrant rights to education reform, civil rights, and worker’s justice. 

DRUM’s emergency fund, “Building Power and Safety Through Solidarity,” provides direct aid to community members via food, healthcare, housing, and participatory programs to strengthen community power during the Covid-19 crisis.

Make the Road New York

Make the Road carries out extensive organizing to empower immigrant Latinx communities. As a locally-based and statewide organization, Make the Road New York builds the power of immigrant and working-class communities to achieve dignity and justice through community organizing, transformative education, policy innovation, and survival services.

Donate to MTRNY’s Covid-19 Emergency Response Fund to support vulnerable workers, undocumented households, and low-income families.

New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE)

NICE is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of vulnerable and precarious immigrant workers and their families in New York, with a focus on day laborers, domestic workers, and newly arrived immigrants. For over 20 years, NICE has offered an extensive set of services, community organizing, and leadership development programs.

Your donation will support NICE’s front-line impacts in our community. NICE has launched and continued vital food access, cash assistance, and overall case management programs during the pandemic.

Queens Neighborhoods United (QNU)

QNU is a community-based organization made up of members from Jackson Heights, Corona, and Elmhurst. QNU believes in establishing democratic control over land-use, policing, and immigration policies that directly impact us, our families, homes, businesses, places of work, and neighborhoods. Through grassroots organizing, leadership development, advocacy, and community education, QNU builds power to fight criminalization and displacement in our communities.

Donating to QNU will provide mutual aid to neighbors in need during the pandemic.

JHISN Newsletter 09/12/2020

Dear friends, 

Greetings to you, as late summer nights grow cool and as we approach the seventh month of living in pandemic times. Mutual Aid Disaster Relief (MADR), a group that promotes communities’ ability to collectively meet their own needs during a disaster, observes that a crisis generates love. MADR writes, simply, “We want that love to last.” How? How to sustain the new forms of collective care, the new connections, and community-based power that are being built during our ongoing crisis? How to make our solidarities solid? We want them to last.

Newsletter highlights:

  1. Title 42 and the Expulsion of MIgrants during the Pandemic
  2. Chhaya Fights for Immigrant Power   

1. ICE At Work in a Pandemic: Expulsions at the Southwest Border

As the nation stumbled toward Labor Day—with over 180,000 COVID deaths, Congress on vacation as federal emergency aid programs terminated, protesters killed by an armed militia member in the streets of Kenosha, California in flames due to climate change-induced wildfires, and a growing number of states and cities facing economic insolvency—the US government did successfully conduct one piece of business: a nationwide sweep of 2000 immigrants arrested by ICE. The operation included 83 ICE arrests in New York State, including undocumented immigrants targeted for the sole ‘crime’ of crossing the border.

The largest nationwide ICE raid carried out during the pandemic, the arrests join up with another bold move by ICE to keep America safe: the detention of migrant children in major hotel chains—Econo Lodge, Best Western, Hampton Inn—before expulsion from the US. Working in a “largely unregulated shadow system of detention and swift expulsions,” border security during the pandemic has been contracted out to a private company, MVM Inc., founded by three Secret Service agents in the 1970s and now under contract with ICE. At least 860 migrants, mostly children, have been held by ICE in hotel ‘detentions’ carried out by MVM. 

The detained children and families, some of them seeking asylum, and supposedly protected under national and international refugee and human rights laws, are on track to be expelled as ‘public health threats’ under a little-known power in the CDC public health code. Invoked in March 2020 by the Trump regime, Title 42 of the U.S. Code is being cynically deployed to permit the expulsion of anybody crossing the Mexico border, even if they seek asylum or refuge. Called “an unprecedented and unlawful invocation of the Public Health Service Act” by the ACLU, Title 42 has so far authorized over 147,000 expulsions by US Border Patrol at the US-Mexico border during the pandemic.

Starting in March, border agents were given explicit instruction to “return” migrants to Mexico without any of the legal proceedings or protections to which they are normally entitled. For the first time in the 40 years since the passage of the 1980 Refugee Act, people entering the US seeking refuge from harm in their country of origin are being returned, rapidly and without recourse, to that harm. Migrant children waiting to be expelled may find themselves housed at Econo Lodge or Quality Inn under the unregulated gaze of a private security and transport company run by ex-Secret Service agents. Welcome to the weaponization of CDC public health codes that, in the words of Human Rights First, are being wielded “as the ultimate tool to shut down the border to people seeking refuge.”

WHAT CAN WE DO?

2. Chhaya: Services, Tools, Fighting for Power

I believe everything starts with economic and housing justice. —Chhaya Executive Director Annetta Seecharan

Walking down 77th Street between Roosevelt and 37th Avenue, you’re likely to notice a second-floor office that’s a beehive of activity. Sometimes people even gather outside, socially-distanced, as they wait for their appointments. The office belongs to Chhaya, a multifaceted community organization based in Jackson Heights and Richmond Hill.

Chhaya Community Development Corporation “builds the power, housing stability and economic well-being of South Asians and Indo-Caribbean communities in New York City.” For over 20 years they’ve done this through an impressive range of programs and campaigns, led by dozens of paid staff and a small army of volunteers.

Chhaya insists that housing is a human right. They sponsor programs for first-time homebuyers, foreclosure prevention, and tenant advocacy. They formed the City’s first Bangladeshi Tenant Union. They oppose gentrification. And they are fighting for a series of tenant protection laws.

Chhaya has worked for many years to develop a trailblazing campaign to upgrade, rezone and legalize basement apartments—something that could be a big improvement for both low-income tenants and small landlords. (It’s estimated that Queens currently has tens of thousands of illicit basement apartments.) BASE (Basement Apartments Safe for Everyone) has evolved into a broad coalition. After years of struggle, and after winning the support of several progressive politicians, BASE was poised to unfold a key pilot program in East New York this year. Nine homeowners had already been approved for renovations, out of thousands who were eligible. However, city budget cuts caused by Covid-19 suddenly pulled the rug out from under the project. Advocates are now fighting to restore funding:

The virus is exposing the desperate need for safe spaces for vulnerable populations who need to socially distance. It’s now more important than ever to help modernize and bring up to code informal basement apartment units, where living conditions may put people at risk of disease transmission. —BASE and Coalition for Affordable Housing, April 2020

Housing is just one aspect of Chhaya’s work. They offer financial counseling, Lending Circles (which enable pooling of savings based on cultural traditions), financial education workshops, a small business program, and free tax preparation for community members. Chhaya is conducting a campaign to start “public banks”—community banks owned by the government and accountable to the people. 

Chhaya also fights for immigrant rights and opportunities. They are part of a growing coalition pushing for the extension of voting rights to all immigrants with legal status in New York. They provide free legal services for immigrants, ESOL classes, and a program known as Pragati, which “empowers South Asian and Indo-Caribbean cis-women, trans-women, and non-binary individuals who are looking to enter the workforce…or pursue new opportunities.” 

The coronavirus pandemic has forced Chhaya to redirect much of its activism. The group’s counselors continue to offer many services remotely. But as Annetta Seecharan says, “right now, we’ve pivoted to focusing on fundamental COVID-19 relief work like cash and food distribution. We’re also working hard to elevate the concerns of immigrant-led small businesses.” Chhaya is part of the Coalition for Excluded NYers, demanding funds for immigrants who were systematically left out of the federal stimulus package and enhanced unemployment insurance. They advocate suspending rent, mortgages and utility payments, and a full moratorium on evictions and foreclosures during the crisis. Chhaya partnered with local South Asian restaurants to deliver food to Elmhurst Hospital workers—resulting in a recent award for Small Business Program Manager Shrima Pandey from the Hospital’s Volunteer Department.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

  • Support Chhaya and the coalition behind One City, One Vote to extend municipal voting rights to immigrants
  • If you are financially able, consider donating to support Chhaya’s work.

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 08/29/2020

Dear friends,

Jackson Heights continues to find itself challenged by intersecting life and death emergencies. Still, we dare to hope that our newsletter finds you in a moment of peace and a place of personal safety. 

When injustice rises, resistance is the only source of dignity. Every positive act, big or small, encourages the rest of us, and helps knit us into a community of struggle. This week, we reflect again on what it means to count, and to be counted.

Census: Fighting to be Counted

The millionaires who have fled New York City to their second or third homes will likely get themselves counted in this year’s census (though not necessarily as New Yorkers). And they may actually be counted more than once if they fill out their census forms in multiple states. Once again, New York turns to its immigrant communities for essential work — this time to stand up and be counted, and ensure that the 2020 Census gathers a full and accurate count of our population. 

The Constitution (Article 1, Section 2) requires that every ten years all U.S. residents, citizens and non-citizens alike, be counted for the purposes of fair political representation, and proportionate distribution of federal funding. In 2015, Census data were used to allocate over $675 billion in federal monies to state and local governments for health, housing, education, and infrastructure programs. The U.S. Census Bureau’s website celebrates the Constitutional design of the U.S. census as a turning point in world history. Instead of using the census for military conscription or tax collection, the Constitution transformed a tool of government into “a tool of political empowerment for the governed over their government.” This is not what is happening in 2020. 

The Trump administration’s failed push to include a citizenship question on the census survey, combined with fears of ICE and federal government surveillance, are certain to make already worried and hard-to-count immigrant populations even less comfortable about participating in the census. While the courts eventually ruled the ‘citizenship’ question to be illegal, its ugly purpose has already been served: to further discourage immigrants from census participation.

When asked how likely it is that answers to the census will be used to find people living in the US without documentation, 31.6 percent report it is extremely or very likely and 33.2 percent report it is somewhat likely…Among nonwhite and Hispanic adults and among adults in immigrant families, 40 percent or more are extremely or very concerned.   Urban Institute – Feb 2020

Census workers report often hearing concerns about the security of the data they collect. Historically, census data was used to seize the property and destroy the livelihood of US citizens and immigrants of Japanese origin, who were rounded up at gunpoint and forced into internment camps during World War II. After that national shame, the Census Bureau now follows policies and procedures that ensure their encrypted data cannot be used to locate individuals. The data is anonymized by converting it to simple counts with no identifiable information.

In early August, the Census Bureau announced suddenly that it would end the census count a full month earlier than its previously set deadline (October 30). Despite a public statement from four former Census Bureau directors warning that the new plan “will result in seriously incomplete enumerations in many areas across our country,” the all-important door-knocking efforts to ensure an accurate count of hard-to-reach populations will now end by September 30. There is only one month left “to try to reach people of color, immigrants, renters, rural residents and other members of historically undercounted groups who are not likely to fill out a census form on their own” (NPR, August 4, 2020). A past director of the 2000 census said publicly this week that the 2020 count might be so flawed that the Census Bureau will not want to release the data.

The Trump regime has also proposed–in a move that civil rights groups call blatantly unconstitutional–to eliminate all undocumented residents from the counts after census work is complete. Without notifying the Census Bureau Director, Trump declared that “undocumented immigrants would not be factored when drawing congressional district lines” [Associated Press]. While this move to weaponize the count to discount immigrants and boost congressional districts in favor of Republicans is unprecedented in U.S. history, as a practical matter “Mr. Trump’s order could not be carried out even were it legal, because no official tally of undocumented immigrants exists, and federal law bars the use of population estimates for reapportionment purposes” [NY Times]. But the threat remains, and court challenges are assured.

Concern is now widespread that New York state might lose another congressional seat due to a census undercount. There are even projections that New York State could lose two seats. To date, New York State has 5% fewer respondents than 10 years ago when we lost two congressional seats due to a low population count. As of this week, the city’s overall response rate sits at just 57%. Queens has the second-lowest rate of the five boroughs. Critical financial resources for schools, parks, public transport, and housing, will all be reduced if the 2020 count is not accurate. In Jackson Heights there is only one land tract (from 75th to 78th Street between Roosevelt and Northern) which has a response rate equal to or greater than that of 2010.

Neighborhood volunteers and local non-profit, community-based groups who work with immigrant populations in Queens, have stepped up their efforts to encourage as many people as possible to complete the census survey. Adhikaar, Make the Road NY, and Chhaya all joined an online Town Hall with Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to promote completing the census. Local groups are often more successful than government agencies in encouraging people to respond. They are grassroots organizations, primarily immigrant-led, known and trusted to work for the benefit of the people we need to count.

Successfully persuading people to complete the census is less a question of overcoming reluctance or refusal, and more about raising people’s awareness of the benefits. Local volunteers also say they are “knocking doors and doing Census canvassing to break the fear and sense of isolation.” People are learning from Information sheets written in over a dozen languages about how school classroom sizes and hospital bed counts and improvements to roads and housing are all driven by the census counts. Tabling efforts by local and national electeds, plus a novel census subway series encouraging competition between city neighborhoods to increase their participation count, have recently helped to increase our response numbers. A series of rewards that people can win if they show they have completed the census has also encouraged more people to complete online.

There is still time for New Yorkers, and local folks in Central Queens, to stand up and be counted–and to encourage neighbors, co-workers, friends, and strangers to be counted!–before the census gathering period ends. 

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 08/15/2020

Dear friends,

This week we take a focused look at the intersecting emergencies faced by thousands of community members in Jackson Heights. Some have started to call it, simply, ‘the cliff,’ that dangerous edge where housing eviction, income loss, health and food insecurity, and lack of government support now threaten to push people into economic free fall. As an increasingly authoritarian White House–in violation of the Constitution–orders undocumented immigrants to not be counted when apportioning congressional districts, we need urgently to ask ‘Who counts?’ Who counts during a deadly pandemic? Do some count more than others? Who decides?

The Cliff

Virtually the entire population we serve is jobless and facing food insecurity. Anetta Seecharran, Executive Director, Chhaya (Queens, NY)

It shouldn’t ever get this bad, in one of the richest cities in one of the richest countries on earth. Nevertheless, working-class immigrants in New York City, and the US as a whole, are confronting a devastating economic crisis that threatens their very survival. Already brutally battered by coronavirus, and reeling under constant police and DHS repression, millions of immigrant families have now been pushed to the edge of a financial cliff as basic needs go unmet, debt piles up to the sky, and crushing unemployment surges to Depression-era levels.

In the Jackson Heights area, working-class immigrants of all nationalities are in emergency mode. Gotham Gazette reports that hundreds of Bangladeshis have died from coronavirus in New York City, and thousands have become sick. Many lack health insurance. One in three Bangladeshis lives in poverty, but many are being passed over entirely for government assistance programs because they are undocumented. Communication from the City government to Bangla speakers has been poor, obstructing access to accurate health care information, food resources, and unemployment compensation.

A new report by Make the Road New York details the economic hardship faced by local working-class immigrants, mostly Latinx, who were surveyed at the end of July. Sixty-six percent of the respondents are out of work. About 60% were unable to pay rent for May, June, and July; almost all were worried about paying August rent. Among unemployed undocumented respondents, 98% have received no government economic assistance whatsoever; the same is true for 60% of the unemployed citizens.

In Corona, as in other parts of our neighborhood, the effects are stark:

Shutters are down on businesses that have closed permanently. Many people haven’t paid rent in weeks, said Pedro Rodríguez, executive director of La Jornada, a food pantry. “We have gone from 20 to 30 new clients a week to thousands in the last three months….” (Washington Post, July 28, 2020)

On top of food insecurity and unemployment, working-class immigrants are facing an explosive housing crisis. New York State and the federal government have extended eviction freezes month by month. There are partial rental assistance programs for some New York tenants. But whenever the programs and temporary freezes end, thousands of dollars of accumulated rent will suddenly come due for already-impoverished families. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, 30-40 million people are at risk of being evicted by the end of the year in the US; this includes hundreds of thousands in New York. Despite the supposed freezes, landlords are already lining up to file for judgments and evictions in a newly-reopened Housing Court.

Immigrant-led organizations, mutual aid networks, and some local progressive politicians are making heroic efforts to deliver funding, food, and services to working-class immigrant families. Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez has raised over $1 million for COVID-19 direct relief for immigrant and excluded workers, distributed to nearly 40 community and grassroots groups, including several in Queens. But donations and volunteers, crucial as they are, can’t be expected to meet the long-term survival needs of millions of people abandoned by a cruel and corrupt government during this crisis. 

Meanwhile, the rich get richer. 118 New York billionaires increased their wealth by more than $77 billion during the first three months of the Covid-19 shutdown. US insurance companies doubled their profits in the midst of the pandemic.

Progressive activists and immigrant justice groups have gathered around two major demands:

  1. Increase taxes on billionaires and millionaires to create a fund to help those excluded from current government benefits. Local State Senator Jessica Ramos authored one of several bills to make this happen. On August 9, over 300 people rallied and marched down Roosevelt Ave in support of the Billionaires’ Tax. (Governor Cuomo says he is firmly opposed, while also scooping up campaign contributions from billionaire families.)
  2. Rent and mortgage cancellation. Legislation to cancel rent for tenants facing hardship has so far been pushed aside by Democratic leaders in Albany. But grass-roots pressure is growing, accelerated by demonstrations and rent strikes.

It’s not just individuals who find themselves at the edge of a cliff. It’s our whole community. Powerful forces seem ready to destroy, by design and by neglect, the fabric of our neighborhood, and the immigrant families who are its heart. How will we fight back? Will we keep them from pushing us over into the abyss?

WHAT CAN WE DO?   As regular readers know, JHISN usually ends each newsletter section with this question, proposing a set of concrete actions that readers can take. Today, we leave the question open. Jackson Heights, together with working-class and immigrant communities around the country, faces a cascading set of deep crises. They will not resolve in a few weeks or a few months. They will unfold across our communities in uneven and profoundly unequal ways. The question of what we can do–collectively and with sustained solidarity–is one we dwell in, together. 

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.