Category: Racism

JHISN Newsletter 05/30/2020

Dear Friends, 

As the national count of coronavirus victims reaches more than 100,000, as Corona and Elmhurst continue to experience some of the highest hospitalization rates in NYC, we wonder when grief will have an end. With corporate media focused on ‘reopenings’ and the ‘mask wars,’ we want to use the newsletter to keep our focus on the local, the possible, and the unfolding realities around us. Both the grim and the hopeful.

A reminder that on June 1, Art from the Epicenter, a Jackson Heights-based artists’ initiative to raise money for local mutual aid groups, begins its Instagram auction of donated artworks. The auction runs June 1-10, and we encourage all of you who are financially able to participate!

Newsletter highlights:

  1. Public Charge, Part 1: Intended to Exclude
  2. Protesting during a Pandemic
  3. New Report on COVID-19 Crisis among Immigrant New Yorkers


1. Public Charge (Part 1 of 3)

The public charge rule was designed on purpose to be confusing, complicated, and scary. You have rights in this country no matter where you were born. The more we know about our rights, the harder it is for the Trump administration to scare us. We encourage you to learn more about your situation before making decisions that may harm you or your family. (National Immigrant Law Center)

One of the ugliest attacks the Trump regime has launched against immigrants is a set of new “public charge” regulations. The new rules are meant to keep poor, mainly non-white immigrants out of the US, and to sow fear and confusion among those who are already here, discouraging people from getting permanent residency as well as the social benefits they are entitled to. The long-term goal of the administration is nothing less than a massive distortion of the US immigration system, skewing it to welcome the wealthy and exclude the working class.

“Public charge” first became law as part of the Immigration Act of 1882. The Act mandated the exclusion of any immigrant “unable to take care of him or herself.” The government’s interpretation of this vague phrase has evolved, often reflecting waves of racial and class chauvinism. In the twentieth century, public charge rules were used “first to keep out poor Asian Indians and Mexicans and then to keep out poor people generally.” (Daniels and Graham, 2001) In the 1930’s Jews fleeing Nazi Germany were kept out of the US by public charge tests.

Public charge regulation is rooted in a xenophobic narrative that portrays immigrants as a drain on the economy. This has been widely debunked. Study after study shows that immigrants provide an overall boost to the economy. They pay billions in taxes, have enormous spending power, and “end up contributing more money into the economy than they take out in public services” (“US Immigrants Pay Billions..” Quartz)

In recent decades, the US generally raised public charge issues only against immigrants who were completely reliant on government aid to survive. This included small numbers of people on welfare or in government-run nursing homes. But that has changed. As of February 24, 2020, under Trump’s new regulations, public charge rules penalize many immigrants who use–or may someday use–a whole list of benefits, including federal Medicaid, welfare, food stamps, and federal housing subsidies.

Not surprisingly, the Trump regulations were challenged in court as soon as they were announced. Some of the pivotal lawsuits were initiated by Make the Road New York, working with other advocacy groups. However, in January 2020 the Supreme Court refused to stop implementation of the Trump rules while the challenges work their way through lower courts. In April, the Court turned down a request to freeze public charge regulations during the pandemic. The legal battle continues.

Unless the new regulations are overturned, they will disqualify large numbers of people from getting green cards and protected legal status. Relatives will be prevented from joining their families in the US. There will be additional deportations. Immigrants will not access needed social assistance programs–even those they might still be eligible for. 

All the while, millions of immigrants are left trying to figure out exactly how public charge rules are being enforced, and how their families might be affected later.

In Part 2 next week, we will look at who is not directly affected by the rule change, who is, and how.



2. The Perception of Protests in Pandemic Times

Anti-Trump protests with far more attendees in a single day than all of April and early May’s #ReOpen events … passed with far less attention in the national press. (Vox)

Protests aim to bring attention to an issue so that attention can bring about social change. When the new Trump administration announced its first travel ban against Muslims in January 2017, thousands of protestors rapidly gathered at NYC airports, drawing critical public attention to the issue. Within 24 hours, a federal judge in NY issued a temporary injunction and the ban was lifted.

Naomi Wolf notes that an effective protest disrupts business as usual — so how does protesting change when the entire planet is disrupted? When there is no business as usual?

Immigrant rights groups in New York and New Jersey have taken to their cars in “driving protests” with hand-written signs in every window, driving slowly in caravans, honking horns, and flashing lights, to draw attention to immigrant detainees locked in detention centers during the pandemic. Cosecha organized a month of #FreeThemAllFridays with bike and car rallies to demand people’s release from ICE detention. Immigration activists gathered at an elevated station on the 7 train in Queens to unfurl banners– “Fund Excluded Workers”, “ Cancel Rent Now”, and “Free Them All”. On May Day, the Laundry Workers Center coordinated with nail salon workers, street vendors, domestic workers, cab drivers, and other workers for an hour of storytelling streamed live with Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Make the Road and NICE have also held COVID vigils for #NamingTheLost, remembering those who are lost to us by projecting their names on the side of a building.

During the past month of stay-at-home orders, national media has paid far more attention to small numbers of white protestors with assault weapons–many purposefully not wearing protective face masks, screaming at police and public officials–than they ever paid to large immigrants rights protests over the last year organized by groups like “Lights for Liberty” and “Families Belong Together”. One of Trump’s advisors, Stephen Moore, actually celebrated ‘anti-lockdown’ protestors, which include white nationalist militia members, by trying to associate them with the historic action of Rosa Parks.

For the first time since stay-at-home orders launched in New York in late March, up to ten people may now join for “non-essential gatherings.” While Governor Cuomo initially excluded protesters from his May 21st executive order, he reversed course under threat of a lawsuit by the New York Civil Liberties Union. Up to ten socially-distanced protesters may now gather … JHISN asks our readers to share with us on facebook and twitter the creative forms of protest-in-a-pandemic they are seeing locally.


  • Use social media or contact the editors of your favorite newspaper to generate better coverage of immigrant justice protests.
  • Find where your skills are in this set of strategies for sustainable protest, then offer your skills for free to an activist group.


3. “In Their Own Words”– Latinx Immigrant New Yorkers and the Impact of COVID-19

Make the Road NY’s recently-released survey, Excluded in the Epicenter: Impacts of the Covid Crisis on Working-Class Immigrant, Black, and Brown New Yorkers, offers an invaluable and devastating picture of local communities reeling from the pandemic. Based on 244 phone interviews with mostly Latinx immigrants in and around NYC, the report reveals in careful empirical detail the intersecting crises faced by respondents: of work and income, housing, illness and death, education, and emotional health. 

Mapped out in charts, graphs, interview excerpts, and biographical stories, the unmet needs of immigrant New Yorkers are staggering. While one in six respondents have already lost a family member to COVID-19, and four in ten report family members with COVID-19, less than half believe they have received the medical attention that they or their loved ones need. With 92% of respondents living in households where at least one earner has lost a job due to the crisis, only 5% have received unemployment benefits in the past month. Among the two-thirds of respondents experiencing depression and anxiety, nearly half do not know where to go for help. With 89% of respondents worried about how they will pay their rent, only 15% have received any form of government assistance.

“If we don’t die from the virus,” said one member, “it will be from hunger.”

The report also spotlights the experiences of youth—one-third of respondents were 24 years old and under—almost all of whom spoke of the toll the crisis is taking on their mental health:

It’s been hard! My brother and I are in college and my younger brother and cousin are in high school and elementary school. It’s very stressful. All of us are at home so it’s packed and it’s hard to concentrate. A sleep schedule has been hard to maintain. Dad and Grandma tested positive for COVID-19 and there are people in the house that are not obeying the social distance norms. Mental health issues as a student have been hard for me to deal with and getting help has been difficult because it’s not something I’ve navigated before.

Nearly one-quarter of young people reported that their experience with remote learning was “poor” or “very poor,” due to barriers including internet access (38%), no devices (42%), lack of school support (34%), or parents working (18%).

What would a ‘true recovery’ from this crisis look like? Excluded in the Epicenter ends with concrete policy recommendations and political demands that would help build a just society in which immigrant communities are, always, essential and empowered. 


We wish you health, strength, and care as the crisis transforms and continues. The rich, complex fabric of our neighborhood has been torn. We hope that solidarity is one means of repair, together with new forms of connection.

Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network


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The Psychology of Scapegoating Immigrants

noun: scapegoat; plural noun: scapegoats
1. a person who is blamed for the wrongdoings, mistakes, or faults of others, especially for reasons of expediency.

There’s no denying it: life is going downhill for a whole lot of people in the US. This country now has an 18% poverty rate, the highest of all major Western industrialized nations. Good-paying, blue-collar jobs have practically disappeared. The educational system is falling apart, along with the infrastructure. People spend ever-increasing amounts of money for unreliable health care. In fact, life expectancy is falling and infant mortality is on the rise. Mass shootings are a common occurrence. Drug abuse is at epidemic levels. The US imprisons more of its population than any other country. Pollution and other environmental damage is poisoning us. Corruption infests every level of government.

It’s no surprise that people are frustrated, even angry. What’s harder to explain is why so many are willing to blame immigrants and refugees for their problems. Polls show that most people in this country support immigrants, yet tens of millions of citizens endorse the abuses and the reign of terror inflicted on migrants by the US government.

People accuse immigrants of draining resources from the economy, though every study shows they actually improve the economy and create more jobs. Many unjustly label immigrants as criminals, even though they are significantly more law-abiding than the rest of the population. This willful ignorance, flying in the face of the facts, is rooted in irrational thinking.

There’s no question that most anti-immigrant sentiment in this country is tied to white racism. Many people who attack immigrants embrace the idea of the US as a white nation that rules by dominating people of color. White nationalists cling to their race privileges as treasured possessions. In their fevered imaginations, the impending arrival of a non-white majority is perceived as an existential threat. Their guilty consciences make them terrified that, once they are in the minority, whites will be treated the same way they have treated people of color. By keeping out migrants from “shithole countries” in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Carribean, they hope to stem the tide of history, preserving a bubble of white supremacy in a multiracial world.

One of the ugliest forms of racism against immigrants is scapegoating. Scapegoaters blame immigrants of color for all the ills of US society. The narrative for scapegoating starts with the assertion that society has only a fixed quantity of jobs, education, health care, and wealth. According to this narrative, society is like a big pie: if we let somebody else have a slice, there’s less for us. And the reason life is going downhill today is supposedly because we give too much of our pie to immigrants. Immigrants should stay away from our pie, or at least wait in line until we’ve eaten our fill.

Though this narrative is illogical, it is persistent. Its believers don’t care that immigration is something our society needs to be healthy, or that immigration creates greater wealth—a bigger pie. They certainly don’t care about the human rights of migrants, or the fact that US policies have created massive migration. What matters to scapegoaters is the narrative itself—that they have identified people less powerful than themselves—people of color—that they can blame for their troubles.

It’s obvious to everybody living in the US that wealth and power are increasingly concentrated in the hands of a tiny number of people. Billionaires are the ones who hoard virtually the entire pie. They are the ones who are parasites on society—and not just our society, but the societies where migrants come from as well. The Trump tax cuts funneled billions of dollars to the richest 1%—money that could have been used to solve problems for ordinary people.

Scapegoaters are fully aware of this, but they are cowards. They are too morally weak and frightened to blame the billionaires for the declining state of the country, let alone actually try to do anything to stop them. Fighting back might involve some risk, some sacrifice. Cowards can’t handle that.

Instead, under the influence of people like Trump and his rich friends, scapegoaters punch down at immigrants of color—who are often the most vulnerable members of society. Demonizing immigrants gives the cowards an outlet for their anger, while still allowing them to kiss up to the rich and powerful. (Meanwhile, the rich and powerful laugh at them behind their backs.)

For scapegoaters, it’s all about short-term ego gratification. They don’t care about the long-term economic or political costs of scapegoating, provided those don’t impact them right now. They certainly don’t care about the human costs. In fact, they seem to enjoy seeing immigrants of color oppressed and humiliated. Cruelty is part of the psychology of scapegoating.

Scapegoaters are not just enemies of the immigrant human rights movement but enemies of everyone fighting for justice, equality, and freedom. They fortify the billionaire elite, undermine our solidarity, and function as shock troops for a corrupt, racist system. We need to expose them and call them out whenever they raise their cowardly voices.