Category: Your Voice

JHISN Newsletter 2/06/2021

Dear friends,

Amidst the cascade of immigration news at the national level (executive orders, new DHS/ICE/CBP appointments, policy reviews, and more), we take a look this week at immigration politics closer to home. As the pandemic deepens our relationships with our neighbors and our local communities, JHISN investigates a major change in how we vote in New York City: ranked choice voting. Thousands of Queens residents already cast votes in a special election this week that, for the first time, will be decided by ranked choice. As this new voting method becomes the rule, the promise, and risks, for immigrants are still coming into focus. We hope the newsletter helps us begin to unravel the complexities, and together create a local politics committed to immigrant justice and solidarity.

It’s not too late to contribute to our ‘Neighborhood Emergency!’ fundraising campaign. Our website links you directly to the donation pages of six local, frontline, immigrant-led organizations that are fighting for community empowerment during the pandemic. Whatever you are able to afford can make a real difference, in Jackson Heights and beyond.

Ranked choice voting: hope and concern from immigrant advocates

Ranked choice voting (RCV) has been billed as a way to ensure that all New Yorkers—especially immigrants and other underrepresented groups—have a voice in local elections.

But with a pandemic rollout, a fast-approaching mayoral primary, and several special elections already underway —including here in Queens—many people worry that the new RCV system will bypass the groups it’s supposed to benefit.

Nearly three-fourths of New York City residents who voted in 2019 approved ranked choice voting. The system applies to primary and special elections, including this week’s special election in Queens’ 24th District. (An official winner has yet to be called, but Democrat James Gennaro has all but secured the race with more than 50% of the votes.)

Here’s a brief explanation of how ranked choice voting works:

  1. Rather than casting your ballot for one candidate, you rank candidates with a first choice, second choice and so forth, up to five.
  2. If no candidate gets 50% or more of the (first-choice) votes, the candidate with the fewest votes is removed from the race.
  3. If you listed the removed candidate as your first choice, your ballot will instead be counted toward your second choice.
  4. The process repeats until one candidate ends up with more than 50% of the votes.

Advocates in New York who support the change, including the New York Immigration Coalition, say it will encourage candidates to reach beyond their bases to court second, third and fourth spots on voters’ ballots.

A widely cited 2018 study found that in California races with ranked choice voting, more candidates of color participated, and more women of color won local elected office. The authors hypothesized that the RCV system encourages a more diverse array of candidates, since candidates don’t have to worry about splitting the vote with competitors of similar backgrounds so none of them win.

But springing a brand-new voting system on residents during a pandemic—in a mayoral election year—doesn’t sit well with some, especially those advocating on behalf of communities that are often left out of public outreach efforts.

“When it became apparent that the Covid-19 pandemic would constrain its ability to enable a ‘robust voter education plan’ for this new and complex system, the city should have accelerated the pace of its efforts to execute its public outreach plan,” the City Council’s Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus said in a December statement. They argued that without adequate education, the system risks disenfranchising residents of color, seniors, and people who speak limited English. Several caucus members were among those that filed a complaint with the New York Supreme Court.

Despite the criticism, the Supreme Court refused to nix ranked choice voting for the special election in the 24th District. Meanwhile, several stakeholders in that election also voiced their support for RCV.

“If immigrants can handle the challenges they face on a daily basis, like operating in their second or third language, navigating government bureaucracies, or even learning to vote the traditional way in their non-native country, we are confident they will be able to rank their preferences in an RCV election, just like everyone else,” advocates from Jackson Heights-based Chhaya and the Chinese-American Planning Council wrote in an op-ed in the Queens Daily Eagle. In January, Chhaya and other community groups were out in the streets and online educating residents in eastern Queens about the new voting process.

The 24th District election could have led to the City Council having its first South Asian member. But that seems unlikely to happen at this point. There were complicating factors on top of the pandemic, including low turnout and the election date falling during a major snowstorm.

“There are 66,000 of us in Queens….And we don’t have representation,” said Moumita Ahmed, a Bangladeshi American and a prominent City Council candidate in the 24th District, in a Gothamist interview. “Ranked choice voting is literally the only way our voices can matter, can be heard.”


  • Learn about ranked choice voting and talk to family and friends to make sure they know how it works. The city’s finance board explains RCV, with information in English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, and Bengali.
  • For those of us who are voters, start researching candidates for the November 2 City Council, District Attorney, Mayor, and other races, many of which will be effectively decided in the June primaries. Early voting for the primaries begins on Saturday, June 12. Registration must be completed by May 28, and absentee ballots must be requested by June 15.
  • Listen to Jagpreet Singh, lead organizer at Chhaya CDC, discuss RCV on a recent WNYC Brian Lehrer Show.

In solidarity and with collective care,

Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network (JHISN)

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



JHISN Newsletter 12/05/2020

Photo: Barbara Mutnick


Dear friends,

December arrives with measured optimism that one of the most viciously anti-immigrant administrations in US history will soon be out of power. JHISN wants to take this moment to thank our newsletter readers for the encouraging responses we received in our recent reader survey. “Keep doing what you are doing” was one of your clear messages—and we will. Readers expressed most interest in locally-focused immigration news and the work of local immigrant justice groups, so you will find more of it here in our pages. Readers looking for practical actions that make a difference can find concrete ideas in our regular ‘WHAT CAN WE DO?’ sections.

For survey respondents who said they would like to volunteer with JHISN—helping out with social media, or joining a working group—our survey was anonymous, so we don’t know who you are! Please send us a follow-up email at with the subject line “I’d like to volunteer”.

We continue our ‘Neighborhood Emergency!’ fundraising campaign as winter arrives and food insecurity, housing, job loss, and health, remain intersecting crises for many immigrant households. Your donation goes directly to local immigrant-led community groups who are providing, under extraordinarily difficult conditions, emergency support throughout the pandemic. Gratitude to everyone who has already contributed to the campaign!

Newsletter highlights:

  1.   Local Activism Intensifies to Fund Excluded Workers
  2.   Mobilizing for a Moratorium on Deportations and Detentions

1. Local Activism: Tax the Rich! Fund Excluded Workers!

On November 24, 2020, two noteworthy events took place. First, local activists with the Fund Excluded Workers Coalition gathered in a mock breadline outside Governor Cuomo’s office to dramatize the unmet needs of immigrant New Yorkers during the pandemic. And second, the total wealth gain of US billionaires during the COVID-19 crisis surpassed $1 trillion by the close of the stock markets, a 34% increase since mid-March.

As we reported in a previous newsletter, the campaign to Fund Excluded Workers (FEW) brings together several local immigrant justice groups including Adhikaar, Make the Road, NICE, Street Vendor Project, DRUM, and Chhaya. Together, they are demanding emergency support for immigrant workers excluded from federal relief, funded through a New York State billionaires tax. Activists have marched in the summer Hamptons with protest signs and pitchforks, held a public sleep-over on the sidewalk outside Jeff Bezos’ Fifth Avenue penthouse, joined in a hunger fast in Madison Square Park, and used the historic symbolism of the breadline to dramatize the obscene mismatch between the surplus of the very wealthy and the stinging hardship of everyday workers during the pandemic.

Several Democrats who promised to tax the rich and build an economy to serve working people got elected in statewide contests on November 3, boosting the chances that this community-led struggle can be won. Grassroots groups immediately called on the post-election state legislature to raise taxes on the wealthiest New Yorkers. Immigrant justice groups and the FEW Coalition are potentially poised to wield increased power as new Democratic supermajorities in both the Senate and Assembly move New York’s state politics—and its coronavirus response—in more progressive directions. 

Undocumented workers, and immigrants in the informal economy (day laborers, vendors, sex workers, food delivery workers), have struggled to withstand the pandemic crisis with zero federal emergency relief. No stimulus check. No unemployment benefits. A recent report on “The Pandemic Recession” notes:

The overall unemployment rates are dramatic, and every group is deeply affected by the COVID-19 recession. But, immigrants and people of color are hit far harder by unemployment. And undocumented immigrants may be hit hardest of all, while also being left out of aid… Fiscal Policy Institute, November 2020

While there are few direct measures of unemployment among the estimated 490,000 undocumented workers in New York State, we do know that undocumented labor is concentrated in industries hit hardest by the crisis: hotels, restaurants, and food services. The nail salon industry in NY, which hums on undocumented women’s work, has seen a 50% drop in customers as of October. Here in Jackson Heights, we don’t need to look any further than the block-long lines at food banks to see that immigrant communities, and our undocumented neighbors, need immediate support—not systematic exclusion from emergency economic aid. Fund. Excluded. Workers. Now. 


2. For Hope—and a Real Moratorium

In this election, Americans chose a new path forward. We will hold President-elect Biden accountable to the promise he made on the campaign trail to respect immigrant communities and fight hard so that we can remain with our families in this country. —Anu Joshi, NY Immigration Coalition, Brian Lehrer Show, WNYC, 9/10/20

This is a season of hope for immigrants and everyone who believes in immigrant justice. Donald Trump, the anti-immigrant terrorist-in-chief, is gradually being dragged out of the White House, kicking and screaming. Joe Biden, the President-elect, promises to undo many of Trump’s most destructive policies on immigration and claims to support substantial reforms. His campaign statement on immigration, clearly influenced by AOC and Bernie Sanders, was a noticeable improvement over decades of conservative Democratic Party policy. 

Nobody was particularly surprised when Biden pledged to reverse Trump’s Muslim Ban and family separation policies. Or when the candidate said he would restore TPS, DACA, and pre-existing asylum laws. Or when he proposed to reverse draconian “public charge” regulations, send humanitarian resources to the Mexican border, provide aid for Central American countries, and broaden visa programs. What was more encouraging, and more of a break with the past, was Biden’s full-throated cry for a “roadmap to citizenship” for 11 million long-term undocumented people: 

These are our mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters. They are our neighbors, co-workers, and members of our congregations and Little League teams. They contribute in countless ways to our communities, workforce, and economy.    —Biden campaign statement

Yes, there are reasons for hope. But hope is not enough.

We can never forget that Biden was part of the administration that deported more immigrants than any regime in US history. (He has at least admitted that this was “a mistake.”) Biden’s refusal to call for dismantling ICE or the Border Patrol signals the limits of his vision for immigrant justice. Trying to “reform” these cesspools of racism and anti-immigrant ideology can easily be dead-ended by resistance inside and outside the agencies.

Any meaningful immigration reform will require solid commitment from the new administration—and possibly a Senate majority

Untangling the human rights disaster at the southern border will also be extremely challenging. Tens of thousands of asylum-seekers are waiting in camps in Mexico; tens of thousands more wish to cross. Processing all these urgent applications, under changing regulations, with immigration agencies in turmoil, will take time and massive resources.

Similarly, many of Trump’s reactionary executive orders are “sticky”—they can’t be overturned immediately. Some of them overlap, requiring that they be reversed in a specific order. Biden’s reforms will have to be made according to complex legal procedures, and will provoke numerous court challenges.

Immigrants, under extreme pressure from ICE and DHS, and from Covid-19, cannot wait while government bureaucracies grind through years of debates and formalities, with no guarantees that this process will result in major improvements. That’s why, since long before the presidential race, JHISN has called for a complete moratorium on deportations and detentions until the broken, racist immigration system gets fixed. We think this is a key organizing focus: a way to keep up the pressure on politicians during the current emergency, and to prioritize the basic human rights of migrants.

To his credit, Joe Biden has promised a partial, conditional deportation freeze. During the primary debates in March, he “committed to halting deportations of nearly all immigrants in the country illegally…..He would place a moratorium on deportations in the first 100 days of his administration and then would only look to deport people convicted of felonies.” This freeze proposal has been repeated in various forms during the post-election period. 

Like much of the Biden program, this is a step in the right direction—but isn’t nearly enough. One hundred days is not enough time to reform the system. Also, most felonies—which include things like failure to appear in court or small-time drug possession—don’t deserve to be punished with the radical sentence of deportation, which separates families and ruins lives. Finally, we need to have a moratorium that includes immigration detentions, not just deportations.

In the coming months, JHISN will renew our call for a real moratorium, one that brings sustained relief for immigrants. The election has brought us some hope—but we need to keep organizing.


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 10/24/2020

Dear friends, 

Gratitude to all of our readers who have filled out our newsletter readership survey. If you have not yet responded, please fill out the brief survey today! It asks for your thoughts on our articles and gives you an opportunity to describe yourselves to us. We also continue our ‘Neighborhood Emergency!’ fundraising campaign, gathering direct donations to six local immigrant-led groups providing mutual aid, support, and solidarity during the pandemic. 

Please check out our fundraising webpage that links you directly to the donation page of each of the six organizations, and describes each group and the extraordinary work they are doing. To all of you who have already made donations, enormous thanks. Whatever you are able to afford can make a real, immediate difference to immigrant communities in Jackson Heights and beyond.

Two Focal Points for Immigrant Justice: Cancel Rent & Fund Excluded Workers

Immigrant rights groups in New York tend to be rooted in specific immigrant nationalities, which creates a diverse and complex web of activism in the city. Although they often work in coalition with others, these groups naturally concentrate on issues that impact their particular communities. 

But the pandemic has created an urgent common challenge: a struggle for basic survival that’s shared by all working-class immigrant communities. Some of the most immediate on-the-ground needs of individuals and families are being addressed by local groups through direct assistance and mutual aid. Meanwhile, on the level of city and state politics, the response by immigration activists to this common challenge seems to have converged around two key demands: a) rent cancelation, and b) a state fund to support immigrant workers who have been excluded from government coronavirus aid, financed by a tax on billionaires.

As newsletter readers are aware, the pandemic-induced housing emergency couldn’t be more dire. Rent was unaffordable before Covid-19. Things are much worse now. A recent study finds that 66% of renters in the US are concerned about being evicted and that over 20 million people are likely to have an eviction filing against them by January. An estimated 1.4 million renters in New York City are behind on their rent. Governor Cuomo keeps extending conditional, month by month moratoriums on evictions–the latest partial moratorium ends January 1. But back rent is piling up, creating impossible debt for working-class New Yorkers, most of whom are immigrants. Landlords are already filing for pre-pandemic and other types of evictions in Housing Court. Many are just waiting for the day the state moratorium ends to pounce on renters who fell behind during the pandemic.

Progressive lawmakers have tried to address the housing disaster. Federal legislation to cancel rent was proposed by Rep. Ilhan Omar. It was never taken up by the rest of Congress. In New York State, a proposed Rent and Mortgage Cancellation Act, introduced in July by Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou and Senator Julia Salazar, has gone nowhere. Another bill by NY Representative Michael Gianaris, sponsored by 21 state representatives, languished in the Judiciary Committee.

But the real pressure behind the demand for rent cancelation is coming from the grassroots. Notably, local immigrant justice groups have picked up and amplified the demand, including DRUM, Adhikaar, Make the Road New York,and Damayan. Chhaya, which is part of the United for Small Business NYC Coalition, advocates rent cancelation for small businesses. These organizations feature Cancel Rent in their demonstrations, social media, and publications. 

The Cancel Rent movement has generated street heat. On October 1, tenants and Cancel Rent activists dragged furniture onto Broadway, blocking the avenue near Park Place. And on October 16, the entrance to Brooklyn Housing Court was spray-foamed and barricaded with a bike lock. A communique, demanding “an immediate end to evictions and retroactive rent relief,” explained why:

New York City’s unhoused population has reached its highest level since the Great Depression…. However, eviction courts have been allowed to continue with proceedings….This is unconscionable and we demand that evictions end immediately. If our elected leaders won’t do it, then the People of New York will make sure it happens.

Back in April and May, there was a series of rent strikes in 57 New York buildings, demanding rent cancelation. Some of the strikes were in our neighborhood. Tenant activists are working hard to spread the word about rent strikes as a key tactic for keeping people in their homes. They argue that collective action by tenants is the only way to “force the establishment to capitulate.” NYCHA Rising is currently building a rent strike in public housing projects, focused mainly on the pain and suffering caused by unsafe and unhealthy conditions, made even worse by the pandemic. If the NY State eviction moratorium ends without rent cancelation, there will almost certainly be an increase in this kind of direct action by tenants.

A similar broad-based grassroots movement has gathered around the Fund Excluded Workers campaign. As with Cancel Rent, local immigrant rights organizations have converged around Fund Excluded Workers. Among the campaign endorsers are Adhikaar, Chhaya, DRUM, Make the Road, NICE, Street Vendor Project, the New York Taxi Worker Alliance–and JHISN. 

In Albany, Senator Jessica Ramos sponsored legislation for a tax on billionaires who have seen their wealth skyrocket during the pandemic. This tax money would be used to fund aid for essential workers and immigrants not included in federal relief programs. AOC and a whole list of other progressive politicians support this idea.

Governor Cuomo initially refused to consider a tax on billionaires, many of whom are his campaign contributors. But pressure is building, and he’s been forced to moderate his position, opening the door to the possibility of a tax on the wealthy. There have been loud demonstrations outside the governor’s residence–in one case, 150 New Yorkers formed a “bread line” in front of his mansion. Many other actions have been organized outside the offices of billionaires, and in other symbolic locations. A Fund Excluded Workers petition currently has 8,770 signatures, with a goal of 12,800.

At a time of emergency, with so many issues clamoring for attention, it’s noteworthy that these two campaigns–Cancel Rent and Fund Excluded Workers–have emerged as dual political focal points for several front line immigrant rights organizations in our neighborhood. As we evaluate where to put our support and energy in the middle of a difficult and complex political situation, following their lead may be just the right move. 


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 10/10/2020

Dear friends,

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

1. Please Take Our Brief Survey! 

Survey link:

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

2. Back on the Street

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

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

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

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

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

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

In solidarity and with collective care,

Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network

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



JHISN Newsletter 09/12/2020

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.”


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.


  • 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. 



In solidarity and with collective care,
Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network

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