Category: Racism

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. 

 

JHISN Newsletter 07/18/2020

Dear Friends,

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

Newsletter Highlights:

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

1. Fasting for Justice—#FundExcludedWorkers

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

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

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

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

WHAT CAN WE DO?

2. History & Politics of Dominican Immigration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT CAN WE DO?

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

3. How COVID-19 Impacts Black Immigrant Domestic Workers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT CAN WE DO?

In collective struggle and mutual care,

Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network

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

JHISN Newsletter 07/02/2020

Dear friends,

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

Newsletter highlights:

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

1. Black Lives Matter and Immigrant Rights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT CAN WE DO?

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT CAN WE DO?

3. Homeland Security or Racist Persecution?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT CAN WE DO?

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

In solidarity and with collective care,

Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network

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

JHISN Newsletter 06/20/2020

Dear friends, 

In a time of so much loss and uncertainty, we find strength in whatever victories come our way. This past week, the Supreme Court stopped the Trump regime from deporting hundreds of thousands of young DACA immigrants–many of whom are healthcare workers fighting on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic. Relief is only temporary: the Court says Trump can end DACA, he just needs to do it the “right” way. But the delay will take us past the presidential election in November. The struggle continues….

Newsletter highlights:

  1. Immigrant Voting Not a Dream
  2. Essential Immigrants @ Queens Museum Mural
  3. New Public Charge Rules: Working-class Immigrants Need Not Apply (Part 3 of 3)

1. VOTING  – A POLITICAL PRIMER

As the NY State primary approaches on Tuesday, June 23, and as unprecedented numbers of New Yorkers vote for the first time via absentee ballot or early voting, JHISN offers a brief window onto what has been, what could be, and what is, in terms of voting and the politics of power in the U.S. Historically, women of all races and ethnicities were denied voting rights in the U.S. until 1920 when, for the first time, voting by women was decriminalized. Voting rights for indigenous americans in all 50 states was not achieved until 1962. The violent and systematic suppression of Black voting in the U.S. was targeted by the 1965 Voting Rights Act—and then gutted seven years ago by a Republican-leaning Supreme Court. As of 2020, millions of US citizens in the colonial territories of Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and American Samoa are denied a vote in US presidential elections. 

If voting is a “right” in the United States it has been won by struggle, denied by force, and shot through until this day with colonial, racist, patriarchal, and imperial power relations.

Establishing municipal voting rights in NYC for immigrants—legal permanent residents and those with work authorizations—is a vision and a struggle gathering force today. A coalition of over 50 organizations has called for the enfranchisement of immigrants in NYC elections for mayor, city council, and borough president. Adhikaar, African Communities Together, Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), New Sanctuary Coalition, and Street Vendor Project are some of the local immigrant justice groups joining the fight. In January 2020, City Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez introduced a bill to enfranchise immigrant New Yorkers and secure their electoral power.

Immigrant voting is not a pipe dream; it is a historical precedent. Before WWI, immigrant men in some US states were able to vote in municipal, state, and even Congressional elections. Several cities in Maryland have expanded voting rights to noncitizens, including undocumented immigrants. San Francisco, Portland, Chicago, Washington DC, the states of Massachusetts and Maine have all passed or proposed legislation to enfranchise immigrant voters.

On the ground in Queens, for those of you voting in the June 23 primary, a few facts: Absentee ballots needed to be requested by June 16; absentee ballots must be sent in by election day. If you requested but do not receive an absentee ballot you are still eligible to vote in-person on June 23. Early voting runs June 13 – 21 and reports so far suggest that early voting is quick and easy, especially if you go early in the morning. 

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

2. “Somos La Luz” (“We are the Light”) – Murals and Memory

In the early 20th century, Mexico’s vibrant Muralist art movement brought leftist images and politics to the walls of public buildings. Mural artists recognized workers as central figures in the country’s developing political and cultural identity. Here in Queens, in the early 21st century, Cuban-American artist Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada recently completed a mural that recognizes the essential immigrant healthcare workers who are giving their labor and, too often, their own lives to treat those suffering from COVID-19. Nationally, almost 27,000 of our essential health care workers are DACA recipients who experienced a small sigh of relief this week when the Supreme Court ruled the Trump administration could not simply end the DACA program. 

Gerada’s enormous mural, painted on the Queens Museum parking lot in Flushing Meadows Park, works on two levels. The first celebrates and gives thanks to workers on the pandemic front lines, while a deeper level conjures the social and political challenges that immigrants are forced to navigate. Supported by the NYC Parks Department, the Queens Museum, the SOMOS Community Care Network, and Make the Road New York, Gerada explains:

This project is an homage to Hispanic caregivers that risk their lives to save others. It highlights their contribution while at the same time calling for action. These are the people that make our city move, the people that care for us, these are the people that contribute socially, culturally and economically to the nation…how it is that minorities today still have to suffer the same injustices of the minorities of the past.

Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada – Artist

The mural’s face can only be seen from the heavens, where the compassion of the healthcare provider is apparent, and most people will only know it from those aerial photographs. Gerada tells us that the eyes belong to a particular SOMOS doctor, Dr. Ydelfonso Decoo, but the rest of the mask-covered face could be anyone—any of the unknown faces protecting our neighborhoods and our lives.

The mural’s deeper level of meaning, the challenges of being an immigrant, can only be experienced in person. The mural introduces uncertainty: it is not immediately apparent that you are driving onto a work of art. Parking space markings are obscured by the giant painting and, while you know the marks should be there, you can’t find them. No vantage point provides a clear picture. You could attempt the risk-taking enterprise of climbing a nearby tree where you might finally see both eyes together, but they are not looking at you. Their kindness is not directed to the person on the ground. The eyes look skyward, seen through the screens of people who are remote and, mostly, working safely from home, while the essential immigrant workers remain outside.

Already, a short week after the mural was completed, there are scars where possibly a motorcycle has done a wheel spin on the face mask. People have paid homage. Given recognition. But they are starting to move on. Soon, parked cars will cover the mural face as practical needs become more important than seeing the bigger picture.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

3. New Public Charge Rules (Part 3 of 3) 

In the final part of this series (see Part 1 and Part 2), we discuss the most damaging aspect of the new public charge rules that aim to systematically alter the demographics of immigration.

A battery of expanded financial tests is now being applied to most people seeking to live in the US, whether temporarily or permanently. The new public charge tests are applied even to non-immigrant visa holders when they apply to extend or modify their visa–for instance, if they want to change an education visa to a work visa. But the biggest impact of the new regulations is on people with modest incomes who are trying to get a green card in order to live permanently in the US with their spouse or their family. These applicants are affected by public charge whether they are applying from inside or outside the country.

We noted in Part 2 that most green card applicants are ineligible to actually participate in any of the newly-listed public charge benefits that cause disqualification. Unfortunately, that doesn’t necessarily give them protection from the new public charge process. Officials reviewing green card applications are also now instructed to decide, based on an Orwellian scoring system, if an immigrant is likely to use one of the designated public charge benefits in the future, after they get a green card. Department of Homeland Security or Department of State officials scrutinize an applicant’s income, age, health, “insurability,” education, family size, family income, employment status and history, skills, credit score, English proficiency, disability status, sponsor support, etc. Is the applicant likely to ever use food stamps, or welfare, or Section 8 housing vouchers, other listed benefits, in the future? If an official thinks so, based on the “totality of circumstances,” the application is denied.

This is a process expressly designed to discriminate against low-income households. And it will affect a large proportion of green card applicants. The Migration Policy Institute explains the long-term significance:

This forward-looking test will likely have an enormous impact on future green-card grants and has the potential to reshape U.S. immigration by lowering levels of permanent immigration and tilting admissions toward those with more wealth and education. Using data on recent green-card holders, MPI determined that 69 percent have at least one factor that would be considered negative under the test, 43 percent have at least two factors, and 17 percent have at least three. In short, the public-charge rule’s primary immigration impact will be through its test of the likelihood of future benefits use.

A lot is riding on advocacy, activism, litigation, and legislation to reverse these damaging public charge regulations. In the meantime, how can immigrants weigh the risks? Like public charge itself, the answer is complicated. Every individual needs a strategy for making it past the public charge barrier. And so the last word of this series goes to Hasan Shafiqullah, Attorney-in-Charge of the Legal Aid Society’s Immigration Law Unit:

If there’s one message to leave people with: do not stop your benefits without speaking to an immigration expert, because it’s possible that the benefits you are getting are totally fine.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

In solidarity and with collective care,

Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network

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JHISN Newsletter 06/13/2020

Dear Friends,

As NYC takes the first official steps towards a wider reopening, and as we move out from under an unprecedented 6-night citywide curfew, JHISN–like you–is in transition. The local landscape feels a bit more familiar as shops and activity come back to life. Nationwide uprisings in the name of Black Lives Matter demand real structural change in how we fund, and how we imagine, policing. The pandemic continues to burn steadily, with the U.S. death count hovering around 1,000 people each day. We hope the newsletter can help us orient in these disorienting times, as immigrant justice and empowerment converge with dreams for freedom, and demands for lasting change. 

Newsletter highlights:

  1. Public Charge: Who is Hurt by New Regulations?  (Part 2 of 3)
  2. Crisis and Radical Imagination 

1. Public Charge (Part 2 of 3)

In Part 1, we discussed the history of public charge regulations. We saw that the Trump administration has radically expanded those regulations in an attempt to systematically discriminate against working-class immigrants of color. In this part, we consider which categories of immigrants are directly affected, and how.

Given the clear exclusionary intent of the new public charge rules, it’s no wonder that many immigrants are concerned.

One in seven adults in immigrant families reported that they or a family member did not participate in a non cash benefit program (assistance with health care, housing, food, etc.) in 2018, out of fear of risking future green card status. This has also created a ripple effect. Even individuals who already have legal status, including permanent residents, are forgoing these benefits out of fear of risking the status of a relative. The Trump administration is weaponizing the public charge rule, which is essentially a “wealth test” to hurt families, and limit them from accessing critical safety net programs. (US Rep. Grace Meng)

Responding to the widespread anxiety about the public charge rules, advocates have been quick to point out that most immigrants are not directly affected right now. For example, it’s unlikely that public charge will be an obstacle to citizenship for people who already have a green card, even if they use the listed benefits. Several other large categories of migrants are completely exempt from public charge tests, including refugees and migrant survivors of violence against women. 

Many kinds of benefits are also currently exempt from public charge determinations. For instance, most programs for children, emergency medical assistance, and student loans will not be considered; neither will most state assistance programs. The US has promised that Covid-19 testing and medical care will not count as part of public charge.

Ironically, most current green card applicants aren’t even eligible for the federal benefits listed in the public charge regulations. These federal programs are generally reserved for citizens and permanent residents.

On the other hand, a subset of green-card applicants do receive potentially disqualifying “public charge” benefits. The Migration Policy Institute estimates that about 167,000 green card applicants, in certain specific categories, could potentially be rejected for a green card because of participation in the newly-listed public charge programs. This may be a tiny percentage of potential green card applicants, but it’s still a lot of people (and their families) that might be in jeopardy. 

And it turns out that, despite all the apparent loopholes and exemptions in the regulations, immigrants and their supporters have reason to be very concerned about the trajectory of public charge. The new rules, if left in place, will eventually affect millions of green card applicants. The reason is both simple and deeply disturbing: immigration officials aren’t just looking at past or present benefit use. They are now mandated to judge how likely an applicant is to ever use the listed public charge benefits in the future. That is where the new public charge regulations are expected to do the most damage. 

In Part 3, we’ll talk about why.

WHAT CAN YOU DO? 

2. Re-Imagining the Future as Ours

In response to the crisis, ideas that were previously impossible in American society, are now being considered …. These kinds of crises are transformative of society and things will never return back to the way they were…  (DRUM, Desis Rising Up and Moving, April 2020)

The Minneapolis City Council declares it will dismantle the city’s police department. Cries for “Defund Police! Decolonize the Schools!” ring down 34th Avenue on a bright June day in Jackson Heights. Mayors from New York City to L.A. announce they will cut budgets for policing and redistribute funding to community and health services. Confederate statues are toppled to the ground, with joyous collective whoops. The swell of protests in the name of Black Lives Matter and justice for George Floyd has surged into something almost unimaginable a few months ago: big, new cracks in historical structures of white supremacy.

‘Something almost unimaginable a few months ago’? Within weeks of the unfolding of the pandemic in the U.S., voices reminded us that crisis has long been the author of previously ‘unimaginable’ transformations. Could the pandemic usher in newly imaginable alternatives to predatory, dying neoliberalism? Could the wildcat strikes, the union walkouts, the courage of immigrant farmworkers shutting down fruit-packing plants across Washington State, and the militant organizing campaigns by workers at Amazon, Target, and Whole Foods, signal a fierce renewal of working-class power? Will the ongoing dance with pandemic death create deeper openings for indigenous people’s post-apocalyptic knowledge of how to survive and still dream

“There are no simple rules for when disaster becomes insurrection,” writes Rebecca Solnit just weeks before the police murder of George Floyd launched a popular insurrection against systemic racism that is not yet over.

Here in Queens, DRUM (Desis Rising Up and Moving) organized a new Building Power & Safety through Solidarity campaign in April, as the pandemic ravaged New York City and the working class, immigrant, undocumented workers and families at the core of DRUM’s community. Calling up “previously impossible” ideas like a universal basic income, DRUM mobilized to address the entwined health crisis (demanding wholistic community care), the systemic crisis (demanding new structures that serve human needs before corporate profit), and the social crisis (demanding new cultures of mutuality and solidarity). This is not an impossible dream. DRUM began during quarantine, patiently building a base for radical social change phone call by phone call. The campaign remains vibrant and ongoing.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

 

Yours in struggle and collective care,

Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network

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

 

 

JHISN Newsletter 06/06/2020

George Floyd

The struggle for immigrant rights and the fight against police brutality are connected. Black communities for generations have disproportionately borne the brunt of police militarization and brutality that often is also deployed to detain and deport immigrants. 

New Jersey Immigrant Justice Center (NJIC)

Dear friends,

We write in solidarity with the nationwide popular uprisings calling for justice for George Floyd, and for an end to the long, violent history of anti-Black racism by the police. Our newsletter is interrupted—as are so many people’s lives right now—by the surging demand that Black Lives Matter.

We mourn the loss of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and David McAtee. Rest in power to all who have died in the hands of police, ICE, or CBP. We recognize that these most recent deaths occur during a global pandemic that disproportionately impacts Black, Brown, and immigrant communities in the U.S., with nearly 23,000 deaths of Black Americans. We honor the tens of thousands who have poured into the streets, with courage and commitment, to turn our public mourning into political change.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

  • Consider joining local protests, while protecting ourselves from health risks or police arrests. For updated listings of NYC protests see @justiceforgeorgenyc
  • Demand justice by signing the petitions for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and David McAtee.
  • On Monday, June 8th, 3:30pm to 5:00pm, join the NYS Day of Action for Education. Come to the socially distanced march on 34th Ave in Jackson Heights starting at 69th street. “March for Schools! Defund the Police.
  • Donate to local and national Bail Funds to help protesters quickly get out of jail during a pandemic that is spreading through the prison and detention system. Here is a Directory of Immigration System Bail Funds.
  • Support organizations calling to “Defund the NYPD” and reallocate monies to education and community services.
  • #repeal50a and join with Communities for Police Reform to demand the repeal of section 50-A of the NY state code to bring transparency to the misconduct and disciplinary records of every officer charged with brutality.
  • Attend a forum on Tuesday, June 9th, 8:00pm to 9:00pm on how the millionaire’s tax can be used to fully fund our schools, dismantle the police presence in schools, and return to school in safety following the pandemic.
  • Support the four demands, including defunding the NYPD, announced in an open letter to the mayor written by over 300 current and former staffers for de Blasio.
  • Add our names to the Alliance for Quality Education petition telling Mayor De Blasio to Defund the NYPD and invest in school
  • Educate ourselves about local and national campaigns to end police violence.

 

In solidarity,

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.

Image copyright Lorie Shaull