Tag: Adhikaar

JHISN Newsletter 03/19/2022

Dear friends,

​​Two years ago this month, Covid-19 hit the US. Our neighborhood in Central Queens quickly became a deadly epicenter of the global pandemic. For some of us that time may seem far away or a bit unreal; for others of us, including those who lost beloveds or who continue to suffer Covid’s lingering grip, the story has not ended. Memories remain vivid and losses are still grieved.

Our newsletter highlights the ongoing struggle for economic justice as the immigrant-led fight for pandemic aid marches straight to the steps of the state capitol. And we take a careful look at the inequalities and structural racism that shape how refugees are welcomed—or not—as millions of Ukrainians join the radical displacement and dispossession experienced by tens of millions fleeing Central Africa, the Middle East, Central America, and the Caribbean.

Newsletter highlights:
  1. #FundExcludedWorkers Now!
  2. Refugee Politics: Who is Welcome? Who Is Excluded?

1. #ExcludedNoMore Launches ‘March to Albany’

This International Working Women’s Month, how will New York state care for domestic workers, restaurant workers, home health aids, retail workers, grandmothers, mothers, aunts, daughters, sisters, wives? …. The pandemic has shown us time and again that when a crisis hits, it’s our communities who fall through the gaps in the social safety net.” – DRUM (Desis Rising Up and Moving), 03-14-22

For those of us included in the pandemic social safety net who benefitted from supplemental unemployment insurance, stimulus checks, or remote work from home, the distance between NYC and Albany can be measured in hours or the price of an Amtrak ticket. For undocumented immigrants systematically excluded from the social safety net, the 150-mile distance to Albany is measured this month in activist days and a strategic itinerary through the districts of key state leaders. ‘March to Albany,’ organized by the Fund Excluded Workers (FEW) coalition, kicked off on March 15 in Manhattan with a march to the Bronx, and a demand for $3 billion in this year’s state budget for immigrant New Yorkers left out of pandemic aid.  

FEW won a historic victory a year ago when their 23-day hunger strike helped secure a $2.1 billion Excluded Workers Fund in the NYS budget to assist eligible immigrants, many of whom had not received a single dollar in federal or state pandemic support. The fund was life-changing for tens of thousands of New Yorkers who successfully applied, including thousands of residents in Queens.

But the fund ran out of money barely two months after it launched in August 2021, with an estimated 95,000 applications still pending. Tens of thousands of people never even had a chance to apply before the fund closed down. Activists report that up to 175,000 immigrants remain effectively ‘excluded’ from funding for which they are eligible, and which they desperately need.  

Immigrant justice groups, led by FEW, are mobilizing to right that wrong by securing billions for the Excluded Workers Fund in this year’s state budget. On March 8, hundreds of Deliveristas on bikes and scooters, along with domestic workers, street vendors, house cleaners, and taxi drivers, stopped traffic on the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges, rallying to demand an additional $3 billion for the Fund, and a permanent unemployment insurance program for undocumented immigrant workers in NYS.  

With less than three weeks to go until the state budget is finalized, ‘March to Albany’ is routing their #ExcludedNoMore campaign through the home district of Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, as part of a rolling cascade of actions around the state. On March 23, they will march into Albany to bear witness to the contributions, and needs, of essential and excluded workers. JHISN is one of over 120 organizations–along with local groups DRUM, Chhaya CDC, Adhikaar, and Damayan Migrant Workers–that endorse the Fund Excluded Workers (FEW) campaign. Join us in the urgent fight for budget justice in Albany! 

WHAT CAN WE DO?

2. Equity and Justice for All Refugees

“I think the world is watching and many immigrants and refugees are watching. And how the world treats…Ukrainian refugees should be how we are treating all refugees in the United States.” –Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, The Rachel Maddow Show, 03-01-22 

As of March 14, more than 3 million Ukrainians have fled the brutal Russian attack on their country. The EU says that the invasion could end up displacing over 7 million people in “[w]hat could become the largest humanitarian crisis on our European continent in many, many years.” It has asked all member states to grant asylum to Ukrainian refugees for up to three years.

European countries are eagerly stepping up to address the crisis. News media are full of heartwarming stories: “Moldovans Open Hearts and Homes to Refugees,” “Britain Announces ‘Homes for Ukraine’ Program to Sponsor Refugees,” “Berliners Open Their Hearts and Homes to Those Fleeing Ukraine Conflict,” “Map Showing Number of Polish People Willing to Accept Ukrainian Refugees in Their Homes Is Giving Everyone Hope”—a seemingly endless outpouring of sympathy and, even more important, material assistance. 

What we are not hearing is familiar complaints about refugees “burdening” the receiving states; instead, only humanitarian concern and a willingness to share. This is inspiring; it is exactly how a global community should react to a vulnerable population running for their lives. So why does this response seem to only apply to white people?

Over the past 11 years, 6.8 million Syrians have become refugees and asylum-seekers from a war just as bloody as Ukraine’s.  Except for Germany and Sweden, most countries in the West have refused to shelter them in significant numbers. Millions of refugees have tried to enter Europe because of deadly violence in Afghanistan and Iraq. They have faced “a backlash of political nativism” in the same countries that now welcome Ukrainians.

The military in Hungary is allowing in Ukrainians through sections of the border that had been closed. Hungary’s hard-line prime minister, Viktor Orban, has previously called refugees a threat to his country, and his government has been accused of caging and starving them.

“Farther West, Chancellor Karl Nehammer of Austria said that ‘of course we will take in refugees if necessary’ in light of the crisis in Ukraine. As recently as last fall, when he was serving as interior minister, Mr. Nehammer sought to block some Afghans seeking refuge after the Taliban overthrew the government in Kabul.

“‘It’s different in Ukraine than in countries like Afghanistan,’ he was quoted as saying during an interview on a national TV program. ‘We’re talking about neighborhood help.’”New York Times, 02-26-22

Horrifying stories are emerging of Polish border guards assaulting and ejecting refugees from Africa, while simultaneously welcoming white Ukrainians. The Ukrainian military has also reportedly discriminated against non-white refugees, sending them to the back of the line in train stations and at border posts as they try to flee the war.

And then there is the US. The Biden administration and Congress are urgently discussing how to help Ukrainian refugees. Almost overnight, billions of dollars have been allocated to help them get shelter and services in Europe. The president says “we will welcome Ukrainian refugees with open arms” if they come to our borders. He has already extended Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Ukrainian immigrants now in the US. Some Ukrainians are apparently being allowed to cross freely into the US from Mexico. This is admirable. 

But this is the same government that turned away over 1,100,000 asylum-seekers last year, using the phony pretext of Covid-19. The same government that forced tens of thousands of Haitian asylum seekers onto deportation planes, back into the deadly chaos they had risked their lives to escape. The same government that illegally ejected hundreds of thousands of refugees from Central America who are fleeing the violence, destitution, and climate disasters caused in large part by the US itself. These refugees now face vicious abuse while stranded in Mexico. 

Will the massive upwelling of support for imperiled Ukrainians transform the poisonous discourse about refugees in Europe? In the US, will the widespread racism towards refugees of color, thrown into stark relief by the Ukraine crisis, finally give way to a fuller respect for universal human rights? We can hope so. And we can fight to make that happen.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

 

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 03/05/2022

Dear friends,

This week, on the eve of President Biden’s State of the Union address, hundreds gathered in Washington DC, for a counter-event addressing the true #StateOfOurLives. Immigrant justice groups came together demanding that the administration fulfill its promises to end Title 42, extend TPS (Temporary Protected Status) for vulnerable immigrant groups, and create a path to citizenship for millions.

Our newsletter this week reports on the #StateOfOurLives among immigrant communities close to home – from the Valentine’s Day of Action mobilized by Jackson Heights-based NICE, to the recent hunger strike among 50 detainees incarcerated just north of NYC, to Adkhikaar’s activism focused on low-wage, women of color workers in the nail salon industry. We honor these vibrant, necessary, ongoing local justice struggles. 

Newsletter highlights:
  1. NICE in solidarity with ‘A Day Without Immigrants’
  2. Detainee hunger strike at Orange County Jail 
  3. Adkhikaar’s ‘All Hands In!’ for nail salon workers 

1. NICE Joins ‘A Day Without Immigrants’

There are tens of millions of immigrants living and working in the United States. New York City alone is home to 3.1 million immigrants and more than half a million undocumented residents. What would happen if for one day they didn’t go to work or school, and didn’t spend any money?

Carlos Eduardo Espina, a 23-year-old immigrant from Uruguay with 2.5 million followers on TikTok, wanted to find out. So he encouraged immigrants to use February 14, 2022, as the day to skip work or skip school, and not spend any money. People in the U.S. typically spend $23.9 billion on Valentine’s Day; an action on that day would be a graphic illustration of how important immigrants are to the U.S. economy.

More than 2,600 businesses across the U.S. pledged to close for the day in solidarity with the protest, including 66 New York-based businesses. Members of New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE), located here in Jackson Heights, participated in A Day Without Immigrants by sponsoring a full day of events in Union Square and an evening rally in Times Square. 

In Union Square, NICE held a press conference demanding an end to workers’ exclusion from government assistance, including unemployment insurance, followed by a Know Your Rights presentation. The lively Times Square rally had close to one hundred participants, most wearing NICE’s signature yellow T-shirts. Their leaflet called for the right to decent housing, life without fear of deportation, and dignified union jobs. Impassioned speeches by members of NICE and other participating groups were interspersed with energetic chants and drumming.

Similar demonstrations took place in fifteen other U.S. cities. Protests in Washington, DC, and Ogden, Utah, were especially large, and the United Farm Workers (UFW) organized walkouts in five California locations emphasizing that much of our food is produced by immigrants.

According to the American Immigration Council, in 2019 immigrant-led families in the U.S. controlled about $1.3 trillion in spending power, paying approximately $331 billion in federal taxes and $162 billion in state and local taxes. Undocumented families alone contributed $19 billion in federal taxes and almost $12 billion in state and local taxes.

 The recent Executive Director of NICE, Manuel Castro, is now Commissioner of Immigrant Affairs, appointed by Mayor Adams. This is a good omen for immigrant affairs in our city.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

2. Hunger Strike at the Orange County Jail

“[P]eople arrested for immigration offenses are supposed to be individually evaluated as to whether they are a flight risk or threat to public safety. If not, they are supposed to be released on bond or their own recognizance. But the New York ICE field office is jailing virtually everybody …. According to the NY Civil Liberties Union, ‘ICE has secretly decided to detain thousands of New Yorkers unlawfully, inflicting enormous and entirely unnecessary harms.’”  –JHISN Newsletter (12/19/2020)

We wrote these words during a courageous hunger strike by immigrants detained at the Bergen County Jail in New Jersey. Supported by vigorous demonstrations outside the facility, striker demands included an end to inhumane conditions, and release while waiting for their immigration hearings. 

A year later, at the end of 2021, the immigrant decarceration movement celebrated its success in forcing New Jersey to close all immigrant detention facilities. Unfortunately, as we reported at that time, many of the ICE detainees were simply transferred to NY State jails instead of being released to their families.

 The Orange County Jail in Goshen, NY, about 65 miles from Jackson Heights, is a known hellhole. In 2018, a detainee hunger strike protested out-of-control practices of solitary confinement. In 2020, another hunger strike was launched over denial of visitation and lack of hot meals. 

Now comes word that more than 40 immigrants detained at the OC Jail started a new hunger strike on February 17, provoked by widespread racist abuses. The strikers also complained about religious discrimination and “spoiled, stinking food.” Some of the strikers reported intense retaliation for the strike. A coalition of community groups denounced the jail’s “racist and retaliatory abuse, violence and medical neglect,” calling for the termination of its ICE contract and release of all immigrant detainees. The immigrants’ protest seems to have ended on February 20, after an ICE official visited the facility. Two corrections officers were transferred out of the ICE unit soon afterward.

This week there was a flurry of new activity by detainee allies, partly inspired by the hunger strike. A Dignity Not Detention week of action featured a City Council hearing on conditions in immigrant detention facilities, as well as testimony in Albany supporting legislation to close detention centers. On Thursday there was a rally in Foley Square to demand the release of all immigrant detainees. 

 WHAT CAN WE DO?

​​3. #AllHandsIn for Nail Salon Workers

As the only community and worker rights center in the US dedicated to the Nepali-speaking community, Adhikaar is familiar with breaking new ground. In January 2022, the Woodside-based immigrant justice group introduced a first-in-the-nation bill to raise industry standards for nail salon workers across New York. As they launch an ‘All Hands In’ campaign to support the bill, Adhikaar is committed to member leadership and worker-led organizing by immigrant women of color. 

 The legislation would create a statewide council bringing together government officials, employers, and nail salon workers themselves to identify ways to improve the industry. Adhikaar member leader Sweta Thakali explains:

 “If anyone knows what needs to be changed it’s us who are in the industry. Our income is not stable, we face discrimination, we work without breaks, we are guaranteed no benefits and we work in unhealthy conditions. This council will give us the chance to be heard and win the ability to come to the table and speak up for what we need.”    –S. Thakali (1/26/2022)

 Partnering with State Senator Jessica Ramos of Queens and the NY Healthy Nail Salon Coalition, Adhikaar aims to redress decades of labor rights violations, wage theft, and unsafe working conditions for nail salon workers that have only worsened during the pandemic.

 New York State has over 5700 nail salons, with the largest concentration in New York City. At the same time, NYC has some of the lowest prices in the country for a manicure ($13.70 on average in NYC and Long Island). Immigrant women of color make up the vast majority of salon workers, with 73% of all nail technicians in New York identifying as Asian or Pacific Islander, and 21% as Latinx.  

 In 2015, Adhikaar helped win the fight for a NY Nail Salon Workers’ Bill of Rights – another first in the US. As a powerful, local, women-led immigrant justice group, Adhikaar is poised to continue breaking new ground for workers’ rights and economic justice in the nail salon industry. 

 WHAT CAN WE DO?

 

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 02/05/2022

Dear friends,

​​We welcome our readers to the Year of the Tiger, ushered in by over a billion people celebrating this past week’s Lunar New Year—including hundreds of thousands of Asian and Asian American residents here in Queens. JHISN marks the new year by a look back at the extraordinary work in 2021 of several local immigrant justice groups.

Many of us have seen the recent headlines about the fatal landslide in Quito, Ecuador’s capital city, after nearly 24 hours of continuous rain. Not all of us know that Ecuadorians compose the largest immigrant community here in central Queens. We offer a story about the history and recent increase in migration from Ecuador, which is also a story about Jackson Heights today.  

Newsletter highlights:
  1. Migrant Paths from Ecuador to Jackson Heights
  2. Local Immigrant Justice Groups @2021

1. Ecuadorian Immigrants at JH’s Heart

“If you have dreams, you can fulfill them, as long as you feel proud of who you are and where you are going. The rest just depends on work.”
José Juan Paredes, Afro-Ecuadorian musician

Ecuadorians make up the biggest immigrant group in our community: more than 100,000 in Queens and over 20,000 in the Jackson Heights area alone. In recent years, coronavirus and other factors have caused a new surge of migration that is bringing more Ecuadorians to our neighborhood.

Ecuador is highly diverse geographically, socially, and politically. Spanish, Quechua, Shuar, and other Indigenous languages are officially recognized. The northern Andean provinces were part of the Inca Empire and have much in common with Peru and Colombia, while there is a strong Afro-Ecuadorian culture in the Pacific coastal region. The eastern rainforest region is home to several Native peoples. And Ecuador is itself home to the largest refugee population in Latin America, mostly Columbians fleeing conflict in their own country. 

Ecuadorians’ reasons for migrating to the US are diverse as well, but often involve economic crises. The first wave of migrants followed the 1947 collapse in the market for Panama hats (made by Ecuadorian women). A second wave of migration in the early 1980s was caused by an oil bust and economic crash that bankrupted many poor farmers. In the late 1990s, the national poverty rate climbed to 56% due to low oil prices, flooding, and political instability. Up to a million Ecuadorians emigrated in those years, out of a total population of roughly 18 million. 

Now, Covid has set off another wave of migration. The pandemic devastated Ecuador’s already-struggling economy, causing the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs. The number of Ecuadorians arriving in the US reached its height this past summer: in July, US authorities stopped 17,314 Ecuadorians at the southern border, compared with 3,598 stops in January. 

Other factors contributed to recent Ecuadorian migration. Starting in 2018, Mexico allowed Ecuadorians to enter without a visa. This offered Ecuadorians easier access to the US border. (Mexico canceled this policy in August 2021, making migration more arduous and hazardous.) Also, Ecuadorian nationals, unlike migrants from Central America, were not targeted for automatic exclusion under draconian Title 42 “public health” regulations. Finally, many Ecuadorians hoped that Joe Biden would be more immigrant-friendly.

Ecuadorians play an important role in the economy and culture of New York. Representing all social classes, they work as everything from professionals and business owners to day laborers cleaning houses. As we know, there are many Ecuadorian-owned restaurants. But also, undocumented Ecuadorian workers are a mainstay of NYC’s entire restaurant industry. Many Ecuadorian immigrants also work in construction, often doing the most dangerous and difficult jobs.

The Alianza Ecuatoriana Internacional (International Ecuadorian Alliance), located in Corona Plaza, is a respected community center for Ecuadorian immigrants. Founded by Walter Sinche in 1994 to combat violence and racism against Latin American immigrants, it has become a multifaceted non-profit that advocates for immigrant justice while also providing public health education and supplies, job training, and cultural activities including music and dance. The Ecuadorian American Culture Center, located in Long Island City, is another important institution for immigrants. EACC provides extensive cultural programming as well as tutoring.

Like many immigrant communities, Ecuadorian Americans are underrepresented in electoral politics. When Francisco Moya became State Assembly member for the 39th District in 2017, he was the first Ecuadorian American elected to public office in the US. (Moya currently represents District 21 of the New York City Council.) It will be interesting to see how Ecuadorian American votes influence local politics once NYC noncitizen voting takes effect in 2023.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

​​2. A Year of Struggles and Victories // 2021

In 2021 we came together in the face of compounding crises to take care of each other, and win what we needed to survive. We found ways to connect however we could, digitally over zoom, over the phone, and sometimes in person …. We built solutions even though everyone said it was impossible. We created the world we needed, one piece at a time.”  – DRUM ‘Unite & Organize!’ video

We can’t begin to truly represent all that local immigrant justice groups have faced, and accomplished, during this past year of pandemic and political crisis. But we offer here a selective story that gives some sense of their inspiring engagement with community organizing, advocacy, and direct action. 

DRUM (Desis Rising Up & Moving) is a member-led organization based in Jackson Heights that has been organizing South Asian and Indo-Caribbean working-class communities since 2000. Amidst ongoing commitments to gender justice work and their annual summer Youth Organizing Institute, DRUM in 2021 also built new solidarities and new organizational forms. Members participated in a solidarity hunger strike with taxi workers who finally won historic debt relief from the city. DRUM organized to bring South Asian and Latinx delivery workers together, building solidarity in the face of an exploitative, dangerous industry. And they launched a new sibling organization, DRUM Beats, to engage in electoral politics and creatively build ‘hyperlocal power.’

Adhikaar is a women-led immigrant justice group in Elmhurst serving the Nepali-speaking community since 2005. In July 2021, Adhikaar celebrated a historic victory: a bill dramatically expanding legal and economic protections for domestic workers passed the NYC Council. Adhikaar and coalition partners also introduced the NYC Care Campaign, aimed at gaining insurance and benefits for over 200,000 care and domestic workers—primarily immigrant women of color. Adhikaar helped lead the fight in 2021 for a New Jersey Domestic Workers Bill of Rights to secure legal rights for the state’s 50,000 domestic workers.

Adhikaar was invited to the White House in Summer 2021 to participate in a roundtable on immigrant rights with Vice President Kamala Harris. Closer to home, they continued to provide neighborhood relief during the ongoing Covid crisis, distributing Emergency Relief Funds to community members excluded from federal relief, and working with the NY Immigration Coalition to distribute food coupons to over 900 households.

The Street Vendor Project, representing about 2000 NYC street vendors, continued in 2021 to push for city legislation to decriminalize street vending and provide protections for an immigrant workforce that, literally, feeds New York. In May, the Street Vendor Project organized a well-publicized direct action at Hudson Yards where vendors had been displaced by the NYPD at the bidding of real estate developers.

In September 2021, when Hurricane Ida moved north and torrential rains slammed into the city, Queens Neighborhoods United (QNU) stepped up to provide mutual aid and financial support to immigrant households in central Queens devastated by basement flooding.  

Make the Road New York (MRNY) organizes and empowers immigrant Latinx communities. Founded in 2007, MRNY has over 23,000 members and a local office right here on Roosevelt Avenue. In 2021, MRNY provided Covid information and outreach to 40,000 people; served 1,100 weekly at MRNY food pantries; and vaccinated 1000 at community center events. As leaders in the coalition struggle to Fund Excluded Workers, MRNY celebrated a huge victory with the first-in-the-nation state fund that delivered $2.1 billion to immigrant workers excluded from federal emergency unemployment and pandemic stimulus relief.

MRNY also helped win $500 million to create a culturally responsive curriculum reflecting the diversity of NYC students, and $4.2 billion in funding for school districts with high needs. After a decade-long campaign, Make the Road celebrated the repeal in 2021 of the Walking While Trans ‘loitering’ law that profiled and criminalized low-income TGNCIQ people of color. Looking ahead, MRNY launched plans in 2021 to open a new three-story, 24,000 square foot community center in Queens in 2022.

Chhaya CDC is another Jackson Heights-based organization, focused on housing and economic justice for South Asian and Indo-Caribbean communities. In 2021, when Hurricane Ida hit, Chhaya was poised to take a lead role in aiding immigrant households devastated by flooding and property damage. They knocked on more than 200 doors to provide resources, and distributed over $53,000 in emergency relief funds. Chhaya also organized multilingual community outreach (in Bangla, Hindi, Nepali, Tibetan, and English) about the Emergency Rental Assistance Program to aid households threatened with evictions due to the pandemic.

NICE (New Immigrant Community Empowerment) is an immigrant justice organization and day laborer worker center in Jackson Heights that has, for over two decades, offered solidarity and job training to newly arrived immigrant workers. In 2021, NICE amplified its role as a community organization, helping thousands of immigrant households to weather the pandemic by providing groceries, hot meals, accurate Covid information, and reliable vaccination locations. At the same time, NICE organized multiple rallies, vigils, and trips to Washington, DC to advocate for immigration reform. Their major campaign, 11 DAYS FOR 11 MILLION, demanded that the Biden administration keep its promise of citizenship for 11 million immigrants. In mid-November, the 11 days of action culminated in an 11-mile march that started at 110th St. and ended in Brooklyn outside Senator Schumer’s home.

WHAT CAN WE DO?
  • If you are financially able, consider supporting the work of any of the above organizations! Just click on the organization’s name and go to their DONATE page. 

 

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 12/18/2021

Dear friends,

The days grow short as the winter solstice approaches. At this darkest time of year, we celebrate the power of community and the promise of collective warmth in our immigrant neighborhood here in the heart of Queens. We celebrate the political promise of hundreds of thousands of immigrants now enfranchised to vote in local elections, as NYC joins over a dozen US communities where non-citizens have the right to vote.

In this issue, we offer you a local story of how the historic fight to fund excluded workers in New York State has been curated into a museum exhibition in Queens. And we report on the statewide campaign to end ICE detention of immigrants, in the context of the 20th-century criminalization of immigrants of color in the US.  

Newsletter highlights:

  1. ‘Nuevayorkinos: Essential and Excluded’ at PS1
  2. Shutting Down ICE Detention 

1. Immigrant Activism Meets Museum Space: Art & Politics @MoMA PS1

The room is sunny, spacious, and quiet. The white museum walls are adorned with colorful banners in Spanish, and photographs of immigrant activists taken last spring at Corona Plaza. In the middle of the room is a comfortable couch and chairs circled around a table with Spanish- and English-language books on immigration history and politics, including a neatly stacked pile of tales of resistance for children.

The exhibition in the “Homeroom,” a community-engagement space at MoMA PS1 in Queens, invites reflection: What is the place of community activism in a museum that contributes to gentrification and community displacement? How can we build popular memory of immigrant struggles using the tools of art and visual culture? Who is this exhibition created for, and who may be excluded by ticket price and social class?

PS1’s exhibition Nuevayorkinos: Essential and Excluded (on view through January 10, 2022) brings together the work of artist Djali Brown-Cepeda and local immigrant groups Make the Road NY, the Street Vendor Project, and NY Communities for Change. At the center of the exhibition is the historic struggle of the Fund for Excluded Workers, and their 23-day hunger strike in spring 2021 that culminated with an unprecedented victory: a $2.1 billion fund in NYS dedicated to immigrant workers excluded from federal programs of pandemic relief and emergency support.

In a corner of the exhibition, providing a rolling soundtrack, are two videos by Jose Armando Solis, filmed on Day 5 and on Day 17 of the hunger strike. As visitors wander in and out of the exhibition space, the voice of hunger striker Ana Ramirez cries out, over and over, “It is not just me but thousands of families—families that went to the bakery to bake the bread so that the rich can eat during this pandemic comfortably. I am forgotten, I am one of the excluded. We are house cleaners, construction workers, restaurant workers, retail workers, laundry workers, all of whom have worked hard for this nation…”

For those of you unfamiliar with the Fund for Excluded Workers, the hunger strike, or the cultural power and beauty of immigrant justice struggles, we encourage you to visit the exhibition. To not forget those who were systematically forgotten. For those of you who have participated in the victorious fight for essential and excluded workers – a fight that is ongoing – we honor your power and the possibility that this exhibition can help strengthen community support and solidarity. For the struggles ahead.


2. ‘Dignity Not Detention’: Decriminalizing Immigration 

“This hard-fought victory reflects the resilience and tenacity of our communities – and reaffirms that our vision of a world without detention is within reach.” Tania Mattos, Freedom for Immigrants (August 2021)

Sustained activism on the part of immigrants, their families, and immigrant justice activists has succeeded in shutting down ICE detention in the state of New Jersey. The Hudson County Jail processed out its last immigrant prisoner in October. And the last 12 immigrant detainees in the Bergen County Jail were transferred out on November 12. Ending the use of these jails for immigrant detention was a result of militant protests outside the facilities, hunger strikes by prisoners, and an intense publicity and organizing campaign run by activists including the Abolish ICE NY-NJ coalition. 

Unfortunately, while some immigrants have been released, most of the New Jersey detainees have been transferred to New York State jails such as the Orange County Correctional Facility in Goshen and the Buffalo Service Processing Center in Batavia. This puts them hundreds of miles farther away from friends, family, and lawyers.

New York State activists hope to keep the anti-detention momentum going with the “Dignity Not Detention Act”  now making its way through the state legislature (it is currently in committee in both houses). The Act would require the termination of all existing ICE contracts for immigrant detention in public jails in New York, including the Goshen and Batavia facilities. Local groups including Centro Corona, DRUM, Queer Detainee Empowerment Project, NICE, and Street Vendors Project are supporters of the statewide mobilization for the Act. Similar legislation has already become law in Maryland, California, Washington, and Illinois. Activists in New Mexico launched their own Dignity Not Detention movement in 2019.

But as the ICE detainee transfers from Bergen County make clear, passing state-by-state laws isn’t a panacea. In fact, some immigrants may find themselves transferred even farther away from where they were arrested, to completely different parts of the country. They might also end up in brutal private for-profit jails –  still widely used for ICE detention, despite pledges by the Biden administration to eliminate them.

Nationally, ICE continues to detain tens of thousands of immigrants. Most of these people are simply waiting for their backed-up immigration hearings, which they could do without being jailed. The number of undocumented migrants imprisoned has increased 50% since Joe Biden took office. Conditions in the facilities are often brutal. When immigrants speak out about rampant abuses, they face severe retaliation and ongoing surveillance

The criminalization of migrants to the US began in the 1920s with a wave of reactionary anti-immigrant politics that led to a series of quotas, exclusions, and other restrictions on immigration, mainly targeting immigrants of color. In 1929, the Undesirable Aliens Act – authored by an avowed white supremacist and pro-lynching advocate – epitomized the hardening of immigration policing. Entering the US illegally–which had been processed as a civil complaint–suddenly became a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year’s imprisonment and a fine. Returning to the US after deportation was now defined as a felony, resulting in up to two years imprisonment and a $1,000 fine. The Act was intended specifically to control and regulate Mexican labor. In the years after the passage of this law, Mexicans made up as much as 99% of the newly-criminalized immigrants filling just-built federal prisons in El Paso, Tucson, and Los Angeles. (Today, Latinx immigrants still make up 92% of people prosecuted for illegal entry and re-entry to the US.)

The 1929 law was eventually updated by the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952. This legislation cut the sentences for crossing the border in half but continued to criminalize migrants through its notorious Sections 1325 and 1326. During periods when Mexican labor was in demand, immigrant detentions and prosecutions fell. But starting in 2005, as the “war on terror” ramped up during the Bush and Obama administrations, the federal government once again began prosecuting tens of thousands of migrants and jailing them until their cases could be heard. Donald Trump used Section 1325 as a basis for his infamous “zero tolerance” and family separation policies.

The most effective means of stopping the large-scale detention of immigrants would be a national law that overturns the criminalization of border crossing. (For example, by returning illegal border crossing to its previous status as a civil offense.)  Hundreds of immigrant justice groups have been demanding this kind of federal legislation for years, including local groups like DRUM, Adhikaar, and JHISN. However, decriminalization of border crossing is not included in the current Build Back Better draft legislation. A 2019 decriminalization proposal introduced by Representatives Pramila Jayapal and Jesus Chuy Garcia, has been stalled in Congress, despite the fact that it is endorsed by many immigrant justice groups and has 44 co-sponsors – all Democrats.

And so the end of immigrant detention in New Jersey must be seen as only one hopeful step in a long struggle. Local activists have turned their full attention to fighting against the abuses of immigrant detention in New York State, including punitive transfers, detainee mistreatment, and deportations. At each step, they raise the need for the Dignity Not Detention Act. 

Last Sunday, December 12, a small demonstration took place outside the Bergen County Jail. It commemorated the one-year anniversary of a violent clash with cops that led to the arrest of ten immigrant justice activists. Protesters carried signs saying “Releases Not Transfers,” “Close the Camps,” and “Abolish ICE.”  As Shamz Azanedo, one of the organizers, said, “We didn’t feel right just letting today pass. Today was a huge day last year, and we needed to be here together.”


WHAT CAN WE DO?

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 12/04/2021

Dear friends,

Welcome to our new readers who have signed up to receive the newsletter! Some of you may have seen us recently handing out our newsletter flyer on 37th Avenue and at the Farmers Market – we are excited to now have over 525 newsletter subscribers. Please feel free to share our subscriber link with friends, co-workers, local activists, neighbors, and family: https://jhimmigrantsolidarity.org/news/

 This week’s feature article takes a look at the latest news on national immigration legislation. The news is not good. But the more political awareness we can build around what is happening, and the more solidarity we can offer in the struggle for collective security and a permanent home for undocumented immigrants—the closer we will get to that deferred promise of “… justice for all.”          

Senate must reinstate a pathway to citizenship in Build Back Better bill

People who try to frame this as a win for the community need to work closer with undocumented immigrants… there’s clearly mass disappointment and confusion, and a sense of betrayal.”  –Manuel Castro,  NICE Executive Director

While the New York City Council will soon vote on making this city the largest US municipality allowing non-citizens to vote in local elections, the US Congress is offering us nothing more in immigration law than the halfhearted options they have already debated for decades. In mid-November, instead of providing a permanent road to citizenship as promised by Democrats, the House of Representatives included a proposal called “immigrant parole” in the Build Back Better bill. This parole allows a limited population of immigrants legal status and work permits for five years, with the possibility of a five-year extension. The Senate still has the option to include a more desirable option, changing the existing Green Card eligibility date (called Registry) from 1972 to 2010. This would create a pathway to citizenship because after five years a permanent resident can then apply to become a naturalized citizen. 

Over recent months, New York groups energetically mobilized to remind Democratic legislators of their promise to create a pathway to citizenship for 11 million people. There were 11 days of action by NICE, Movement for Justice in El Barrio protested outside Senator Gillibrand’s office, newspaper ads were published, and rallies took place at Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s Manhattan office and at his home. A four-day #NoSleepTilCitizenship sleep-out with Adhikaar in front of Schumer’s Brooklyn home kept the pressure on, demanding a pathway to citizenship be included in the final Build Back Better (BBB) reconciliation package. 

The House did not deliver that pathway on November 19. Not because of any true policy commitment that parole is actually the best solution; according to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, “It’s our best option for getting past the parliamentarian,” who had rejected more expansive immigration proposals, arguing they did not meet the budgetary rules. In response, the New York Immigration Coalition, Make the Road New York, NICE, and other groups led an 11-mile march from 110th street in Harlem to Grand Army Plaza to urge Senate Democrats to fulfill their campaign promise. Adhikaar retweeted the statement from South Asian Americans Leading Together that the Senate must reinstate the pathway to citizenship, not the temporary reprieve of parole and time-limited work permits. DRUM retweeted United We Dream’s call for a pathway to citizenship. 

Despite recent surveys showing over 55% of Republican voters support a pathway for citizenship and work permits and protections from deportation for those who have been here for over 20 years, not a single House Republican voted for Build Back Better. Elected Democrats spoke mostly about the need to do more. The first Dominican American to serve in the House of Representatives, Harlem’s Adriano Espaillat, noted that undocumented workers contribute significantly to our nation’s pandemic recovery and should not be left behind: “[W]e now urge our colleagues in the Senate to further this work by reinstating a pathway to citizenship for the millions of Dreamers, TPS holders, farmworkers, and essential workers who are counting on us to do the right thing.”

Make The Road NY and NICE thanked Espaillat, along with AOC and 10 other NYC Representatives, for signing a letter calling on Congress to fulfill its promise for immigration reform. The letter argues this “promise three decades in the making still hangs in the balance”; the signatories urge the Senate to refuse this temporary measure:

“Immigrants have sought relief from the precarity of jumping from one temporary status to another in the only country they can call home. Another temporary status would merely extend this precarity.“ – Letter to the Senate from 91 members of Congress (Nov 22, 2021)

Make The Road, NY posted a set of infographics showing how temporary parole and registry are very different, and reminding members to ignore scam offers to apply for either proposal since they are not yet laws. 

As JHISN member Rosalinda Martinez notes, “11 million people who are present now working ‘clandestinely’ are still not accepted as citizens, so as not to pay them benefits and cut their rights as Workers. Rather, they do not have the status of workers, at any moment they can detain and deport them as if they were disposable, like poisonous animals.“ Passing BBB with temporary parole reinforces the problematic good vs bad immigrant trope and merely postpones for many people the threat of deportation from now until some time in the very near future, possibly as soon as September 2031Neither parole nor registry are radical left policies, nor are they new to the immigration discussion. Registry was last used 35 years ago, by the first Make America Great Again administration of Ronald Reagan. Millions of people were given a path to citizenship, while many others were detained or deported, and the criminalization of undocumented people increased.

Those who support parole may believe most undocumented people don’t have much to fear under a Biden administration, especially if parole grants many the security to live and work safely in this country. However, millions of families and individuals will still face persecution from ICE and Border Patrol because even recent rules under the current president do not guarantee their security. As Lena Graber, senior staff attorney at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center notes, Biden’s ”guidelines gave officers so much discretion that enforcement actions would not look much different from those during the Trump administration.”

Even a broadly popular program like DACA, which is still being litigated in the courts, could be eliminated by next year. And the Biden Administration, which declares its support for DACA, may be about to complicate the program: DHS took public comments from September to November about a proposed change to create multiple DACA application processes. One application includes work permission and one does not, which could lead to confusion, bad guidance, and a situation where someone discovers that they made the wrong application choice for their future needs.

AOC has noted that some national immigrant advocacy groups have actually hampered the negotiating process on BBB, resulting in parole replacing registry as the Democrats’ proposal in the spending bill. Many of these groups are not grounded in immigrant communities or do not have undocumented members in positions of power. By way of contrast,  NICE has made clear “Our members are ready to continue to fight for #citizenship4all! after a packed member meeting, we are recommitting ourselves to demand @SenateDems to ACT and include a #pathtocitizenship in #BuildBackBetter LET’S GO!” 

JHISN encourages our readership to join them…Let’s go!

WHAT CAN WE DO?

  • Join United We Dream’s campaign by texting PATHWAY to 877877 and tell Senators to add a real pathway to citizenship.
  • Join Movement for Justice in El Barrio, in East Harlem, by demanding that NY Senator Gillibrand fight for a pathway to citizenship in the Build Back Better bill. 
  • Join the Texas-based RAICES campaign to tell Senators to add a real pathway to citizenship (while also signing up to learn more about their refugee work).

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 10/30/2021

Dear friends,

We approach the end of the harvest season, with All Hallow’s Eve, Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), and Samhain each marking – for different cultures – a time of haunting, of remembrance, and of sacred darkness. In Queens County, at least 10,266 people have died from Covid since the start of the pandemic, many of them immigrants, all of them mourned. In this year’s mixed harvest of sorrow and loss, re-openings and return, we look for ways to both honor the dead and cultivate the dark seeds of renewal.

Our last newsletter reported on the 24/7 protest outside City Hall by immigrant taxi workers. Since then, workers have launched a hunger strike to demand relief from the medallion debt that is crushing NYC yellow cab drivers. To support the strikers, please consider a donation to the New York Taxi Workers Alliance. 

In this issue, JHISN is excited to announce the launch of our crowdsourced Timeline of Immigrant Activism in Jackson Heights. You can help us build the story of our local history! We also offer an update on the 34th Avenue Open Street as it moves to become a permanent feature of the neighborhood.

Newsletter highlights:

  1. Interactive Digital Timeline of Immigrant Activism in Jackson Heights
  2. Keeping 34th Avenue an Open Street 

1. Be Part of Our New Timeline of Local Immigrant Activism

JHISN works in solidarity with immigrants and their allies, disseminating information, and encouraging our neighbors to stand with, defend, and empower immigrants. We invite you to participate in our new online project, building a robust history of local immigrant activism. You can be part of this crowdsourced adventure of discovery and sharing which showcases activities that support and celebrate immigrant communities.

Did you know, for example, that Paola Mendoza has made a film, co-written a book, hosted a mourner’s walk, and curated an art installation all of which connect to immigrants in our neighborhoods? That the Latin American Integration Center (LAIC), established in Jackson Heights in 1992, was the precursor to Make the Road NY? Or that the majority of immigrant activist actions have been initiated by women in Queens?

To honor the contributions over the decades by many individuals and immigrant groups in Jackson Heights, Woodside, Corona, and nearby areas, JHISN has created the Timeline of Immigrant Activism. We seeded it with over 120 items: organizational foundings; changes in federal and state laws; marches and protests, including family-friendly events; academic and governmental publications, fiction and non-fiction accounts; and a range of artistic and cultural endeavors. Every one of these efforts is significant by itself. When we look at them collectively we can see the impressive picture of immigrant-led mobilizing and creativity that exists in this distinct part of Queens.

Did you know that, around 2010, the publication director of the Philippine Forum created a hyperlocal online news website for immigrant communities in Queens? It was named Queens7.com after the subway line that served the community.

JHISN is not an authority that knows all the details about these important events and activities. Our group is just a few years old, very young in comparison with groups that have organized here for decades. Many people in our neighborhood–you may be one of them since you subscribe to our newsletter–know a great deal more about these events and our local history. If you notice we have failed to include a march, or did not mention an important cultural event, or missed some important milestones, we encourage you to simply add an item to the timeline yourself.

Did you know that Adhikaar, CHHAYA CDC, and NICE (New Immigrant Community Empowerment) were part of the People’s Walking Tour in 2012, which later became a feature in the curriculum of a 2016 course on urban change at the University of Toronto?

The timeline is a crowdsourced initiative. Anyone can sign up to create an account and add items. There is a slight editorial review process because this topic is both significant and prone to flaring up arguments in public digital spaces. We seek to raise the voices of immigrants and those in solidarity with immigrant struggles by building this public archive. Submissions will be reviewed before they are made publicly available. As a small volunteer group, we ask for your patience, contributions, and collective memory as we build up this resource with you.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

  •  Share the link to the timeline jhimmigrantsolidarity.org/timeline with friends, colleagues, and others who can help it grow.
  • Do your own research about local events and efforts and, when you locate something of importance to note or celebrate, search for it in the timeline. If it is missing, create an account and add the information.
  • With every new item you add, you can also name one or more organizations that were involved. If the organization is not already on our list, you can add it. Just be sure to save your event description before you add the names of organizations.

2. DOT Plans for the 34th Avenue Open Street 

Since May 2020, Jackson Heights residents have enjoyed the freedom of the 34th Avenue Open Street. Many organized activities have been held on the Avenue, including immigrant-led programming in the 90s and elsewhere along the new promenade. The Avenue was even named the “gold standard” for an Open Street. There has also been vocal opposition to a permanent Open Street, primarily from car owners as well as those concerned about the safety of pedestrians and children.

Representatives of the NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) finally unveiled a design proposal for 34th Avenue at Community Board 3 on October 21. More than 100 virtual participants attended the meeting. The DOT design was partly based on survey responses from more than 2000 local residents, including 90% of respondents who live in Jackson Heights. 

The proposed design aims to reduce car traffic and incorporates significant input from the seven public schools on the Avenue. The design also takes note of how the Avenue has actually been used, and responds to some complaints received over the past year. The DOT slide presentation shows that the Open Street has in fact improved public safety: the total annual number of crashes and injuries along 34th Avenue has dropped since May 2020. The presentation also includes schematic representations of the design and introduces new vocabulary: diverters, chicane, plaza block, and shared space blocks.

The key element of DOT’s proposal is the use of diverters (permanent triangular areas marked by paint, granite blocks, and planters) at all 26 intersections. These are designed to allow cars to turn onto 34th Avenue while preventing drivers from traveling more than one block without having to turn onto a side street. Diverters would replace the temporary metal barricades currently used, which are difficult to move, and which must be installed and removed every day. Here are schematics of a planned diverter and traffic flow around it:

In the DOT plan, there are four plaza blocks (car-free areas marked with paint and planters) on the north side of the Avenue. Two of them would be near PS 368 and IS 230. There would be a green marked bike path 4 feet from the median; the rest of the space would be set aside for pedestrians (see Slides 38 and 39). The plaza expands the pickup/drop-off area for the schools and allows for programming on the Avenue. The chicane (an offset curb extension to slow traffic) will slow any delivery vehicles.  

The area near Travers Park is slated to have a third plaza block at 77-78th streets and a shared space block at 78-79th streets, allowing access to residential buildings and more space for public events (see Slide 40).

The block near PS 212 (82-83rd streets) is planned to be a shared space block (see Slide 41). Since there has been little organized programming on 85-88th streets, they will simply have diverters at the intersections. Because of the apartment fire at 89th street, the final design for the avenue from 89th-92nd streets has been postponed. 

From 93rd street to Junction Boulevard there is a fourth planned plaza block in front of PS 149, and a shared space block from 93rd to Junction Boulevard (see Slide 44). The bus stop on the west side of the street will be moved south.

There was a long Q&A period at the Community Board 3 meeting, with concerns raised about getting more feedback through door-to-door surveys, more traffic studies, sanitation issues, problems with Access-A-Ride, and the speed of motorcycles and mopeds on the Avenue.

DOT is accepting continued feedback on their design proposal through Fall and Winter 2021, with implementation anticipated for Spring 2022. Given the lack of green space or public commons in our primarily immigrant, working-class neighborhood, a permanent Open Street in Jackson Heights would be a huge and welcome transformation.  

WHAT CAN WE DO?
  • Review DOT’s slide presentation of the design proposal. Use the online form to send feedback to the DOT/Queens Borough Commissioner by selecting Open Streets as the General Topic. Then select “street or Sidewalk” to talk about a specific location or select “Citywide Concern” to make general feedback.
  • Sign up for the 34th Avenue Open Streets Coalition monthly newsletter

 

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.