Category: Your Rights

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

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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 08/01/2020

Dear friends,

“We all must find a way to have the courage to get in trouble, to make good, necessary trouble,” John Lewis said. As we mourn his death this past week, we also bind his life and spirit to current struggles for racial justice. John Lewis faced down state violence and demanded voting rights for Black Americans. Today we honor his memory by collectively facing down state violence that is, again, armed and ready to make justice bleed. JHISN hopes that you might use the newsletter to make some good trouble this summer. Wherever you might be. Wherever it might be needed. 

Newsletter highlights:

  1. Border Patrol’s Long History of Violence
  2. Who Counts? Protecting the 2020 Census
  3. Community Art-Making as Activism

1. First They Came for the Migrants…

The brutality that Customs and Border Patrol paramilitaries have unleashed on protesters in Portland is shocking, but perhaps not entirely surprising.

As I see white mothers and mayors being teargassed on the streets Portland, Ore., one word keeps bubbling up from my bleeding heart: “Welcome.” Welcome to the world of secret police and nighttime raids. The world where you can be snatched by an unidentified officer in an unmarked van. The world where you get to see an attorney, maybe, after the government is done beating you. Welcome to the world as experienced by brown people with foreign-sounding names in this country.Elie Mystal (The Nation, July 2020)

CBP has made headlines in recent years for its openly racist brutality at the Mexican border; for casually separating children from their parents; for concentration camps where migrants are tortured in hieleras–“ice boxes”–and locked in cages filled with Covid-19. At least 111 people have died at the hands of the Border Patrol since 2010. But this is only the most recent chapter of a murderous history that goes back generations. 

Established in 1924, during an earlier period of xenophobic frenzy, CBP became part of the new, sprawling Department of Homeland Security in 2002. It is one of the largest enforcement agencies in the world, fielding some 20,000 agents, with a budget of around $5 billion. By design, CBP has a loosely-defined mandate, which allows it to be used however the federal regime wants, including as a political police force.

Since its founding in the early 20th century, the U.S. Border Patrol has operated with near-complete impunity, arguably serving as the most politicized and abusive branch of federal law enforcement — even more so than the FBI during J. Edgar Hoover’s directorship.Greg Grandin (The Intercept, January 2019) 

The Border Patrol operates outside clear borders, geographic or legal. Judges have affirmed that it can operate within 100 miles of any US border, including the coasts–a zone which encompasses 2 out of every 3 US residents. CBP has weaponized this bizarre definition of “the border” to establish intrusive checkpoints all over the country, to deploy “roving patrols” in sanctuary cities including New York, and to board trains and buses searching for people who “look undocumented.” (Protests by activists forced Greyhound Bus to deny CBP agents unrestricted access to the company’s buses last year.)

CBP’s mandate also has an international aspect. The Border Patrol Academy has trained counterinsurgency forces from a variety of overseas dictatorships. BORTAC, the paramilitary group leading the current repression in Portland, has been deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan, and throughout the Americas to carry out raids and beef up border forces.

Sometimes likened to an American SS, the Border Patrol has always welcomed white nationalists into its ranks, including Klansmen and neofascists. Beatings, rape, murder, racist abuse and sadistic torture have been common throughout Border Patrol history. In 2019, ProPublica exposed a secret Facebook group that had almost 9,500 Border Patrol members, including the current chief. Featuring endless racist jokes about migrant deaths, the group also mocked Democratic congresswomen–including AOC–who were investigating CBP abuses at the Mexican border. One poster encouraged agents to “throw a burrito at these bitches.” Thousands of abuse complaints have been lodged against CBP; these are routinely stonewalled and ignored

WHAT CAN WE DO?

2. 2020 Census and Trump’s Attempts at Immigrant Exclusion

Last weekend marked the 15th year since four immigrant women founded Adhikaar and began serving as social justice advocates for Nepali-speaking workers in our neighborhood. The organization has grown and thrived; Adhikaar currently provides direct relief for those impacted by COVID-19, promotes health justice, pushes for worker safety, and campaigns for a Billionaires’ Tax. All while encouraging immigrants to complete the 2020 census

Adhikaar has taken to the streets in Queens to educate the communities they serve about Congress’s constitutional responsibility to count all the people in the country every 10 years. To be counted is to take a stand against the fear-mongering used by Trump and his liegemen to dissuade people from participating in a process that determines congressional representation and appropriate distribution of federal resources. As Adhikaar, along with other local groups in the Queens Complete Count Committee, encourage immigrants to participate, the federal government is looking at other ways to discount them:

The Census Bureau has begun to examine and report on methodologies available to “provide information permitting the President…to carry out the policy” of “the exclusion of illegal aliens from the apportionment base”. Steven Dillingham, Director of the Census Bureau, July 29, 2020

The 14th Amendment corrected the intentional racism of the original census charge, which excluded indigenous Americans and counted only three-fifths of all persons who were “not freemen or bound to service”. Trump’s push to eliminate immigrants from the census count was a nod back to the original wording in the Constitution; designed to redefine who counts as a person. The failed attempt to add a citizenship question to the census exacerbated an existing problem: historically, our national population has been undercounted, even more so in minority communities. People who fear that responding to the census might bring ICE or Border Patrol to their door are disincentivized to participate, as are historically marginalized groups who feel they do not benefit from the representation the census promises. 

In September, the Census Bureau will send a seventh mailing, including a paper questionnaire, to people in the population tracts with the lowest response rates. There are many in Queens. Despite extending the census deadline due to the pandemic, we are not yet even close to the response rates in 2010. In 2010 the overall NYC response was 62%, a full 14 points below the national average. This year the national response rate is almost 63% while NYC is only at 54%. When we drill down into specific neighborhoods the differences are dramatic: East Elmhurst is only at 43%; in Corona, the majority of tracts are below 50% (and 10 tracts are under 40%), while in 2010 there were only 6 tracts which had responses under 50%.  Although the rectangle between Roosevelt and Northern, from 76th to 86th streets, has a 68%+ response, all other areas of Jackson Heights average below 50%.

JHISN celebrates Adhikaar’s 15th birthday and honors their social media and text-banking outreach campaigns that have so far assisted over 4,300 people to complete the 2020 census. In the face of adversity and targeted exclusions, Adhikaar shows how to stand up and be counted. 

WHAT CAN WE DO?

3. Art as Activism

Art with organizing is all about building people’s power and finding strength in our communities; and art has always existed in our communities…that’s where our power lies.”  —Mahira Raihan, Arts & Cultural Justice Organizer, DRUM

The power of art and the power of organizing are intimate allies. As hundreds of thousands of people in the US, night after night, filled neighborhood streets with cries for justice for George Floyd, new art-making also poured into our public spaces. From community murals and street art to the collective performance of thousands ‘taking a knee’ together, the mobilization of political power has been inseparable from an outpouring of creative work.

While the huge, bright yellow street paintings spelling out ‘Black Lives Matter’ in Washington DC, and in front of NYC’s Trump Tower, have received international attention, more community-driven BLM street paintings designed in lush colors by local artists have also proliferated in Jackson, MI, in Cincinnati, OH, in Charlotte, NC, and in Seattle, WA. Foley Square is the site of a gorgeous multicolored Black Lives Matter street painting collaboratively designed by multiple artists; the word ‘Black’ was designed by artist and immigrant Tijay Mohammed, using Ghanaian fabric motifs and imagery. In Harlem and Bed-Stuy, painting the street with Black Lives Matter was a community event, with hundreds of local residents participating.

Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM) here in Queens is currently running a two-month Art to Activism program, mobilizing South Asian and Indo-Caribbean working-class youth to collaborate on a community-based art project. Aimed at deepening understandings of both police brutality and anti-blackness in South Asian-American communities, the project uses art-making as a catalyst to social change. Art to Activism builds on DRUM’s earlier Moving Art—Making Art for Our Movements program which created collective art “grounded in our communities’ experiences and dreams of liberation.” Visual art, theater, ‘zine-making, and poetry are all a regular part of DRUM’s organizing and cultural work.   

WHAT CAN WE DO?

  • Support DRUM’s Building Power & Safety through Solidarity campaign.
  • Purchase a copy of DRUM’s ‘zine created collectively in the Moving Art program.
  • Visit the Black Lives Matter street art in Harlem, Bed-Stuy, and Foley Square!
  • Work and play with local artists, neighbors, kids, and friends to design street art for immigrant justice on 34th Ave Open Streets.

Gratitude for your collective care in this moment of sustained and multiplying crises. Together we will continue to take strength from our solidarities, and our histories of creative resistance.

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.