Tag: Biden

JHISN Newsletter 05/28/2022

Dear friends,

Sometimes the face of violence is stark and hypervisible … like the latest nightmare massacre in a US school where, this time, 19 children are gunned down in a Texas border town. Or the spectacle of mass murder the week before in Buffalo, with 10 people killed by an avowed white supremacist with a semiautomatic rifle.

But violence can also be slow, and unspectacular, even invisible – at least to those who are not its target. This week we look at two scenes of less visible violence. We highlight the story of immigrant women of color, denied abortion rights and reproductive health care. And we report on an NYC-based immigrant justice group fighting the state violence directed at queer and LGBT detainees in the US.

Newsletter highlights:
  1. Reproductive Justice for Immigrants
  2. Queer Detainee Empowerment Project (QDEP)

1. Migrant Women and Abortion Rights

The destruction of abortion rights in the US has the biggest impact on women of color, a fact that is often missing in mainstream media. Even less widely reported are the specific obstacles faced by immigrant women of color who seek an abortion.

Black, Brown, and Asian immigrants often face reduced abortion access due to language barriers, a problem that only grows as the number of community-based clinics declines. Traveling to find an abortion provider is difficult, expensive, and risky, especially for undocumented people. Medical insurance may be hard or impossible to get without legal status. For women locked inside the public/private US immigrant detention system, regulations governing reproductive health are confusing, vary widely from facility to facility, and may change overnight when a detainee is relocated.

 Already struggling against a wave of racist violence, Asian American immigrant women are subjected to an extra layer of scrutiny as a result of anti-choice laws that target “sex-selective” abortions. Supreme Court reactionary Clarence Thomas has alleged that this sort of “feticide” is a common practice among “certain populations in the US,” even though this racial profiling myth has been thoroughly debunked. (Asian American women actually give birth to more female babies than white women do.) Legislation denying abortion if there is “suspicion” that it is being used for sex selection is popular on the Right as a stepping stone toward the complete elimination of abortion rights. This profiling is already enacted as law in several states and has been proposed in many others (including New York), as well as at the federal level.

The lack of abortion rights for migrants is particularly dire today along the US southern border. According to advocates, a large percentage of the Latina, Caribbean, African, and Indigenous women who risk the dangerous land route through Central America are sexually assaulted or raped while in transit, making abortion access even more urgent.

However, migrant women who reach the US needing abortion services find little urgency. The Trump regime was able to populate the immigration system with anti-abortion fanatics, pushing already conservative agencies even farther to the right. Right-wing anti-immigrant agents and administrators treat immigrant women’s reproductive health rights as one more reason to criminalize and punish them. Immigration bureaucrats often drag their feet on making medical appointments, finding excuses for denying or delaying even emergency reproductive care.

“The Trump administration’s efforts to undermine access to reproductive health care for women and girls in immigration custody is exemplified by former Director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement Scott Lloyd. During his tenure, Lloyd did not approve a single request for a minor seeking abortion care; those who were able to obtain abortions did so only after court intervention.” –Center for American Progress

Lloyd is gone, but other anti-choice zealots remain, such as Roger Severino who, ironically, is head of Health and Human Services’ Office for Human Rights, which is supposed to oversee refugee resettlement programs for the Biden administration.

Immigrants incarcerated by federal agencies like ICE and the Border Patrol are subject to the abortion laws of the state where they are held. The drastic time limits imposed on abortion in Texas and other border states will result in the exclusion from reproductive care of even more migrant women who became pregnant during their journey north.

 Texas and other states are also trying to criminalize easy-to-use medications that would allow safe abortions at home, painting women into a corner. They are aware that immigrant women of color often lack the money, childcare, and employment flexibility needed to seek abortion care in another state. For undocumented people living in border regions, this kind of travel is especially risky because of a web of Border Patrol checkpoints deployed as far as 100 miles inland. Today more than ever, large numbers of immigrant women are forced to weigh the risk of deportation against their abortion and reproductive health needs.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

2. Queer Politics of Immigration

“I think ultimately this is what we’re fighting for … the ability to be human. The ability to just laugh, and just get up in the morning and not worry that you’re going to get killed if you step out your door. We’re fighting for the ability to not have to worry about food, or not have to worry about shelter, or not have to worry about making the hard choices of, stay in my homeland, experience violence, [or] go to places like the US, experience a different kind of violence …. And I think at the very basic level, it’s just the ability to be human, and be in community, and not be afraid.”Ola Osaze (interview, Black LGBTQIA+ Migrant Project, 2019)

 Immigrants detained in the US face a host of dangers and vulnerabilities. But queer and LGBT and HIV+ detainees often face more specific challenges related to their gender identity or sexual orientation. Sometimes those challenges are, literally, life-threatening. In 2014, Jamila Hammami founded the Queer Detainee Empowerment Project (QDEP) here in NYC to address the state violence and structural barriers that target lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, or asexual (LGBTQIA+) migrants. Operating in the first months out of Hammami’s living room in Brooklyn, QDEP has grown into a vibrant organization providing direct services to queer detainees and fighting for systemic change through community organizing.

 “LGBTQIA+ migrant rights are invisible to the public,” notes Ian Zdanowicz, Co-Director of Direct Services at QDEP. “They often immigrate from their home country without family or support due to their identity not being accepted. When they are incarcerated in detention centers, there is an abundance of transphobia and homophobia.” With most advocacy and legal services for immigrants amplifying a ‘heteronormative’ narrative—one that presumes heterosexual marriage, family, or sexual practices—LGBTQIA+ immigrants lack a collective voice advocating for the specific resources that they need. QDEP is committed to building that voice.

 In March 2022, QDEP in solidarity with Families For Freedom joined a national “Communities Not Cages” Day of Action, calling for an end to all deportations, and the closure of immigrant detention centers–including Orange County Correctional Facility in NYS. In 2021, the group distributed $240,000 to over 370 queer and trans immigrants in NYC to pay for rent, groceries, utilities, medication, and mental health services during the pandemic. They also connected over 40 queer and trans detainees with free legal representation for asylum hearings, and parole and bond proceedings.

 Uchechukwa Onwa, the current co-director of QDEP, came to the US in 2017 after the passage of the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act in Nigeria, his home country, criminalized LGBTQ relationships. Upon arrival in the US, he learned a quick and brutal lesson in ‘American’ racism and xenophobia when he was shackled at the airport, then driven to an ICE detention center where he was incarcerated for three months. “I know that there are so many other people like me who want to be safe,” Onwa says. How to promote that safety?

“At the end, it is our stories, as migrants. Our stories matter. And at the end it is our stories that are going to change that narrative.”U. Onwa (2020 Deep Dive Interviews)

 WHAT CAN WE DO?
  • Volunteer with QDEP, or Pen Pal with QDEP members in detention. Email eliza@qdep.org for information.
  • Join Immigration Equality to support the recent complaint filed with Homeland Security to investigate the Houston Asylum Office’s handling of Credible Fear Interviews for asylum seekers, including LGBT migrants. 

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 05/14/2022

Dear friends,

For many of us, Jackson Heights is an extraordinary example of a vibrant immigrant neighborhood. We may not know all the statistics–that over 60% of residents are immigrants; that over 80% of households speak a language other than English at home; that we have the second-highest percentage of immigrants among any neighborhood in NYC. But we know that immigrant communities are the heart of Jackson Heights. This week, JHISN takes a critical look at how immigrant politics are playing out at the national level, under a Democratic-led government. We offer our report with an eye on the future and grassroots justice struggles in our own backyard.   

1. Here We Go Again: Democratic Party Failing Immigrants

There’s a recurring, predictable pattern for many decades to the betrayal of undocumented immigrants and immigrant justice struggles by the Democratic Party–which now controls the White House and has a majority in Congress. It’s like clockwork:

First come the big promises. During Biden’s campaign, he vowed to create “a roadmap to citizenship for the nearly 11 million people who have been living in and strengthening our country for years.” 

Then the flawed proposals. The actual plan Biden submitted to Congress treated immigrants like criminals who were “earning” the chance for citizenship instead of welcoming them as essential workers and valued members of the community. It laid out a complex process for attaining citizenship, full of pitfalls and exclusions, that would take most immigrants 8 to 13 years to navigate; many would not be successful.

Then the watered-down Biden bill immediately met with Democrat defections and unnecessary obstacles. The Senate parliamentarian decided to oppose including immigration reform in a large omnibus bill; Joe Manchin and other Democrats refused to override her. Therefore the Biden plan is dead in the water. So is another proposal by Democrats in Congress that could have helped legalize roughly four million Dreamers and farmworkers.

Predictably, now comes a proposed “bipartisan” consolation prize. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Durbin’s bipartisan “compromise” initiative apparently follows the classic DC sellout pattern. As always, it promotes a fake “balancing act”: more money for “border security,” more “guest workers” with limited rights, amnesty for Dreamers if they are good, and no pathway to citizenship for their parents, or millions of other immigrants.

If the classic pattern holds, Congress will fail to pass even a deeply compromised bill like this

 In the meantime, the Democrats have increased the budget for ICE. Biden used the Trump era deployment of Title 42 to illegally bar millions of asylum seekers. On the sidelines, Democrats deal out targeted immigration reforms and funding to certain immigrant rights groups and ignore others, dividing the movement. Democrats welcome 100,000 white immigrants from Ukraine, while forcibly expelling millions of immigrants of color.

This is corrupt political theater, not progressive politics.

If the Dems actually cared about the 11 million immigrants without rights in the US, they would:

  • Be strong advocates. Talk every day about how immigrants are exploited and abused by corporations and the government. About families being ripped apart. About immigrants contributing to the economy without being given rights in return. About essential workers. About US responsibility for migration flows. About how the 100-mile border enforcement zone and other police-state measures hurt everybody.
  • Help organize unified national protests against immigrant exclusion. Support a “union of immigrants” to add muscle to immigrant justice demands. Hold public national hearings and consultations with immigrant justice activists. Include grassroots immigrant leaders in all Democratic meetings about immigration and spending priorities.
  • Punish Democrats who take anti-immigrant stands (like Manchin) by taking away their committee positions, Party financing, and endorsements. Openly criticize them for their reactionary stands and run alternate candidates to replace them. 
  • Clean the white nationalists and sadists out of the Department of Homeland Security. Close down ICE and return immigration oversight to the Justice Department. Set new policies to end the criminalization of migrants. End all detention for migrants.
  • Declare mass pardons or amnesty for undocumented immigrants, and expand the use of TPS. Use Biden’s presidential power to attempt to provide asylum and decriminalize immigrants. 
  • Stop the relentless attacks on migrants at the southern border. Follow international laws on asylum and refugees.

 But it’s become obvious that we can’t count on the Democratic Party on its own to speak or act for immigrants. JHISN believes that excluded migrants and solidarity activists must rely on ourselves by building a unified, national, non-partisan movement led by immigrants of all nationalities, starting from the bottom up. Such a movement, which can only be led by grassroots immigrant justice organizations, must maintain its independence from the Democratic power structure and their corporate funders, even as it seeks to light a fire under the Party to do the right thing.

 Local immigrant justice groups are already generating the kind of heat that’s needed. On May Day, local immigrant workers and allies held a march and rally and staged a die-in to call out Congress for failing to deliver on a pathway to citizenship as promised. Among the sponsors were groups from our neighborhood: MTRNY (Make the Road NY), DRUM (Desis Rising Up and Moving), and NICE (New Immigrant Community Empowerment). The local actions converged with organized marches in at least a dozen other US cities.  

 The Democratic Party won’t support serious measures to help immigrants unless it is confronted with a powerful independent movement that holds it, and the rest of society, accountable. JHISN hopes, in solidarity with immigrant-led organizations, to help that movement become a reality.

WHAT CAN WE DO?
  • Support Movimiento Cosecha’s national campaign “Papers, Not Crumbs!” protecting the rights and dignity of undocumented immigrants.
  • Join marches and rallies by local immigrant justice groups demanding citizenship for all 11 million! 

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 04/17/2022

Dear friends,

Our newsletter arrives this week after a mass shooting in the large, working-class Asian and Latinx community of Sunset Park; a community that created an ICE Watch during the Trump administration and rallied to support its elder population during the pandemic—when city resources were lacking and xenophobic scapegoating about the causes of the virus were severe. This strong community successfully fought for tenants’ rights and recently united to defeat a developer-led plan to rezone and replace the working-class waterfront. We know it will rally in recovery once again. 

We also write as a ferocious war still rages in Ukraine. Our first article reports on the red tape that Ukraine’s refugees face if they do make it to the US. The newsletter ends with a lively review of the many podcasts you can listen to that will broaden your understanding, and social and political awareness, about immigration issues. We conclude with an invitation to share with us what you are listening to if we have missed a favorite podcast of your own!

Newsletter highlights:
  1. Ukrainian migration to the US: slow and fraught
  2. A wealth of immigration-related podcasts

1. Refugees, red tape, and race

As large numbers of refugees first started to flee the brutal Russian invasion of Ukraine (the total so far is over 4.6 million), the Biden administration promised that up to 100,000 would be given shelter in the US. Many Ukrainian refugees will eventually arrive in NYC, which has the largest concentration of Ukrainian-Americans in the country. But the process of actually allowing them into the US has barely begun. Key decisions about the status of Ukrainian migrants remain unresolved while the administration weighs practical and political factors. The current gridlock illustrates the complicated, bureaucratic, and politicized nature of US immigration law, even in the case of refugees officially welcomed by the president. 

The Biden government quickly granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Ukrainians already inside the US, which protects them from being deported for at least 18 months. But this doesn’t help Ukrainians who are not yet admitted. In addition, most Ukrainians are legally ineligible for ordinary asylum: fear of persecution by one’s own government is usually a requirement.

The two main pathways that Ukrainians will probably use to gain entry to the US are visitor’s visas and “humanitarian parole.” Neither type of entry provides access to long-term residency or social welfare benefits. A visitor’s visa is normally used for tourism or business, for up to six months. It might be a viable option for some refugees, depending on specific family circumstances and the discretion of immigration officers, but many Ukrainian families have already been turned down for visas.

Humanitarian parole is supposed to be available for “urgent humanitarian reasons.” However, “it is not that easy to qualify,” according to a recent article in Forbes. “Success often depends on family ties to U.S. citizens prepared to support the migrants on arrival or other such willing sponsors with financial means.

So far, there has been minimal direction from the federal government to guide the immigration bureaucracy or local authorities. The processing of applications has been painfully slow. The stakes are high: Ukrainian migrants whose visa applications are rejected or who aren’t approved for humanitarian parole could face deportation or detention. 

In recent weeks, thousands of Ukrainians have tried to get faster access to humanitarian parole by flying to Mexico—which doesn’t require a visa—and then traveling to the US border at Tijuana. This has led to a steady trickle of admissions, greatly facilitated by Ukrainian American civic and church groups that provide material support and run interference with both Mexican officials and the Border Patrol. But the journey from Ukraine is arduous, processing is slow, and success isn’t guaranteed.

The circumstances of Ukrainian migrants gathering at the southern border are disturbing on a number of levels. They are camping out at the same sports complex formerly occupied by a caravan of migrants from Central America, who were forcefully turned back by the Border Patrol. We sympathize with anyone fleeing violent conflict. But while Ukrainians are slowly gaining admittance to the US, Black and Brown refugees from violent conflicts in Africa, Haiti, Latin America, and elsewhere are being excluded at the border, after their own arduous journeys. They are currently denied entry largely through the use of “Title 42”–-a false pretext of Covid public health control carried over from the Trump administration and strongly protested by human rights activists. 

Yet Ukrainians have immediately been given special exemption from Title 42. As legal advocate Blaine Bookey puts it, “President Biden’s decision to welcome Ukrainian refugees seeking safety in the United States is the right thing to do. [But] there is no way to look at what’s happening at the southern border other than along racial lines.”

Title 42 will eventually be lifted for everybody. Biden plans to repeal it in May, despite active attempts by Republicans and some Democrats to keep it in place indefinitely. If that happens, Ukrainians in Mexico may actually find their admission process drastically slowed, as migrants of other nationalities are finally allowed to press their own claims for refuge. 

2. A podcast for every listener

Podcasting seems like a perfect way for grassroots activists to raise awareness about immigration. As an open and distributed platform, it allows stories and information to be broadcast widely without needing the resources of a radio station. The local activist groups that JHISN regularly reports about have not yet established their own shows. Instead, they appear as guests on the episodes of podcasts created by other groups or radio shows which makes it possible to reach an already existing and relevant listener base instead of creating a new one.

  • Damayan appeared on This Filipino Life to bring attention to human trafficking.
  • DRUM joined the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence on Let’s Be Real after their successful campaign against Amazon’s HQ move to New York.
  • In Out of the Margins, Make The Road NY discussed the 35,000 children who immigrate to the United States every year as unaccompanied minors.
  • Brian Lehrer, on WNYC, had a conversation with CHHAYA CDC revealing how small homes were being bought by investment companies rather than families. 

Some individuals and organizations have created podcasts dedicated specifically to immigration issues. Hendel Leiva, based on Long Island, began interviewing immigrant activists in 2015. He gave each person an opportunity on Immigration Mic to tell their personal story as well as talk about their activist work. After 5 years and just over 100 episodes, his series came to an end, but the benefit of the podcast media is that the archive remains. Archives are also great for binge-listening: 

  • Immigration nation examines misconceptions about immigrants and tells listeners about the reality of immigration policy in the United States in just 20 episodes.
  • Indefensible is a quick 5-episode podcast by the Immigrant Defense Project about people who resisted deportation. 
  • Memories of Migration was the first series created by the Queens Memory Podcast and shared ten oral histories of immigrants found in the archives of the Queens Public Library.
  • Real People. Real Lives. Women Immigrants of New York 2020/2021” is a 12-episode collection of stories of frontline workers, journalists, stay-at-home moms, artists, and entrepreneurs produced by New Women New Yorkers.

Ali Noorani hosted the long-running podcast, Only In America; he created over 200 episodes of interviews from all over the US covering policy, social, and geopolitical situations surrounding immigration. Although Noorani’s podcast ended recently when he gives up his role at the National Immigration Forum, there are several other organizations and think tanks in the capital with a focus on immigration issues:

Then there are the storytelling podcasts that advance inclusiveness or promote empathy by simply sharing the stories of human beings. The Immigrant Story invites immigrants to share their experiences, while The Immigrant Experience in America, Why America? and The Immigrant Voice have curated gatherings of stories about people choosing to come to this country. Nestor Gomez is a prolific storyteller, originally from Guatemala and now living in Chicago, who created 16 binge-able Immigration Stories, half of which feature New York City immigrants. Radio Cachimbona adds storytelling from Arizona about migrant resistance in the borderlands. Immigrantly is entirely produced by women and began as a podcast called The Alien Chronicles. It aims “to deconstruct stereotypical narratives of immigrants, their second-generation kids, people of color, and change-makers with cross-cultural, nuanced conversations.” Taking a slightly different storytelling tack, How to Be American, produced by the Tenement Museum in NY, tells the history of US immigration and reveals the key role that women have played.

The New School, here in New York City, has contributed two podcasts to the immigration discussion. Now in its fourth season, Tempest Tossed focuses on refugee and asylum issues, and shares interviews with immigration policy experts, journalists, artists, and migrants. Hosted by Alex Aleinikoff, who served as United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees, the podcast has also featured Catalina Cruz, the first DREAMER in the New York State Assembly. The second podcast, Feet in 2 Worlds (FI2W), examines political issues related to immigration but has also found a unique approach to the subject by focusing on the significant role food plays in the immigrant story. FI2W last year joined with the Institute for Nonprofit News and also has a magazine and creates pieces for public radio. 

Immigration lawyers are also quite prolific in podcast creation. The Redirect Podcast is a weekly dive into the world of immigration law, refugees, border walls, rhetoric and politics, and the human impact of immigration restrictions. The Immigration Nerds looks at the social impact of immigration law, mixing social history and politics with discussions on race, identity, nationalism, war, and refugee policy. The Immigration Review Podcast comes out every Monday to explain opinions from the Supreme Court, the Board of Immigration Appeals, and The US Circuit Courts of Appeals. 

While the podcast format may not yet be leveraged as a tool by individual activist groups, there is certainly a wealth and variety of immigration-related podcasts that are available for us all to listen to on our commute, during a stroll down 34th Avenue, or in the evening after dinner. If there is a favorite immigration-related podcast you are listening to that we haven’t covered in today’s newsletter, please let us know at info@jhimmigrantsolidarity.org.

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 03/19/2022

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 02/19/2022

Dear friends,

Our newsletter this week illustrates the incoherence and political confusion of current US immigration policy. On the one hand, Democrats have just proposed a bill to remedy the 80-year old travesty of locating immigration courts in a federal law enforcement agency, subject to political interference from the executive branch. On the other hand, the Biden administration continues to embrace one of the most vicious anti-immigrant policies of the Trump years: the systematic expulsion of migrants at the US-Mexico border under the trumped-up authority of Title 42.

Both of these issues have intimate effects on the everyday lives of immigrant communities, including here in Queens. How to move beyond confusion to understanding and action? We hope our stories this week can help.

Newsletter highlights:
  1. New legislation targets the immigration court system
  2. Politicizing border-crossings in a pandemic 

1. Creating an independent immigration court 

“As long as the immigration courts remain under the authority of the Attorney General, the administration of immigration justice will remain a game of political football–with people’s lives on the line” –Alison Peck, Co-director, Immigration Law Clinic

On February 3, 2022, the Real Courts, Rule of Law Act of 2022 was submitted by three House Democrats to alter the US immigration court system. The national union for US immigration judges has long advocated for an independent court. If passed, judges would form an independent judiciary that no longer bends the whims of the executive branch;  immigration courts would be removed from the Department of Justice (DOJ) oversight. This would be the first significant change to the immigration court system since 1940 when Roosevelt moved it out of the Department of Labor. 

The way we house immigration courts within the DOJ is inconsistent with practices of justice, fairness, and due process. Today we talk of immigration judges, but the Immigrant Inspectors of the Treasury Department (also known as Inquiry Officers in the DOL and DOJ) were not authorized to use the title “judge” nor to wear judicial robes until 1973. These courts can order the indefinite detention of immigrants without meeting any burden of proof that detention is necessary—a foundational legal demand required of the government in all other court proceedings. This has contributed to a massive detention network in the US and advanced ICE’s extraordinary powers to confine. In the face of bipartisan acceptance of prolonged detention of immigrants without an opportunity for review by an immigration judge, activist campaigns like the Dignity Not Detention actions become critically important. 

The recently proposed bill was immediately criticized by Republican opponents as an expensive change that won’t significantly reduce the unprecedented backlog of 1.6 million immigration cases. The author of the bill, California Democratic Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, along with 148 organizations that support it, doesn’t claim it will directly reduce that backlog. They see it as a way to eliminate the presidential and political influences that add to the backlog regardless of which party holds the presidency. Under Obama, the backlog grew out of political pressure to process family hearings—with Trump a quota system was created to handle border hearings, which contributed to a record number of immigration judges leaving in 2019. 

In Alison Peck’s The Accidental History of the U.S. Immigration Courts, we learn, “The immigration courts are not really ‘courts’ at all but an office of the Department of Justice, the nation’s law enforcement agency.” Peck’s research reveals that the reason the courts report to the Attorney General in the DOJ is not based on rationality or best practice, but a history of paranoia and fear. 

The Secretary of Labor during The New Deal era was responsible for immigration adjudication—a responsibility at odds with her role to deal fairly and impartially with union leaders, many of whom were immigrants potentially subject to deportation. The Department of Justice was rejected in 1939 as an alternative federal agency to take on this authority: lawyers expressed concern about immigration management in the DOJ becoming politically charged, and advisors warned immigration would become associated with crime and law enforcement. But, by May of 1940, President Roosevelt grew fearful of a supposed Fifth Column Nazi plot to take over the US government from within. This paranoia resulted in a plan to “afford more effective control over aliens” by moving immigration responsibility to the DOJ. There was no Fifth Column, just fear-mongering propaganda that generated almost a century of immigration court proceedings without the constitutional principles of due process and separation of powers. 

After 9/11, fear further entrenched immigration courts within the DOJ and, in 2002, created the Department of Homeland Security. The DOJ’s Immigration and Naturalization Service agents, attorneys, intelligence analysts, and detention and removal officers merged with the United States Customs Service (USCS) into a new agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The focus of ICE is enforcement and security, not administrative immigration; DHS attorneys from ICE present evidence during removal proceedings in immigration court with a focus on ensuring removal. At the same time, immigration judges work for a prosecutorial agency (the DOJ) and leverage rulings such as In Absentia removal orders that seek to deny entry to immigrants. 

The Real Courts bill is the first opportunity in 80 years to separate immigration courts from law enforcement by creating a system similar to the tax courts. The American Immigration Lawyers Association reported that the bill was drafted to appeal to members of both political parties, with a promise that the scales will not be tipped toward either end of the political spectrum. But the bill may not de-politicize immigration courts entirely because it proposes a Presidential nomination and Senate confirmation process for judges, similar to the Supreme Court, and such nomination and confirmation processes can be heavily politicized

WHAT CAN WE DO?

2. Covid Borders 

On the US’s northern border this week, Canadian trucker blockades—having disrupted international trade and laid siege to several neighborhoods—were slowly and politely cleared by authorities. The blockades were sparked by the Canadian government’s mandate requiring Covid-19 vaccination for cross-border truckers (90% were already vaccinated). Well-funded protesters, virtually all white Canadian citizens, leveraged border choke points to advance a peculiarly right-wing version of “freedom”: freedom to undermine public health during a pandemic; freedom to infect others.

By contrast, on the other US border, some 1,500 miles to the south, hundreds of thousands of impoverished working-class migrants of color, seeking asylum from violence, economic crisis, and climate change, are being brutally abused and ejected from the US, in violation of international law, by an administration that had promised them dignity and respect. The administration’s excuse? Covid-19.

In March 2020, when Donald Trump weaponized Title 42 of the 1944 Public Health Services Law to expel asylum seekers because of “Covid risk,” he was denounced in many quarters. Title 42 does allow the government to prevent individuals from entering the US during certain health emergencies. But it doesn’t give the government free rein:

“U.S. law says that any person in the United States or at the border with the United States has a right to seek asylum…. There’s nothing in the law that allows the government to expel [migrants] without any due process.” Olga Byrne, International Rescue Committee

Several federal judges ruled that blanket Title 42 expulsions were illegal. Nevertheless, Trump forged ahead, carrying out hundreds of thousands of expulsions without hearings. The Biden administration is following in his footsteps. It announced last summer that it would continue to utilize Title 42, subject to review every 60 days. It was last renewed on February 2.

Covid-19 is a fake pretext for Biden’s mass expulsion of working-class people of color, just as it was for Trump. “Covid risk” hasn’t caused the US to prohibit millions of visitors and employees from routinely crossing the Mexican border every month. Neither has the administration bothered to test, treat, or vaccinate asylum-seekers—it simply rejects them all out of hand. DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkis strongly defends this practice, insisting that the agency will use Title 42 to its fullest extent to expel asylum seekers who arrive at the border. 

In September, shocking images of Border Patrol agents on horseback threatening to whip and trample Haitian migrants raised public awareness about the cold-blooded reality of Title 42 expulsion. Unlike asylum-seekers from some other countries, Haitians arriving at the border are generally not returned to Mexico to wait for an asylum hearing—a practice that is itself a radical violation of migrants’ human rights. Instead, most have been incarcerated without any hearing in Covid-infested detention centers in the US and then forced onto planes heading back to Haiti—and the same intolerable conditions that caused them to flee in the first place. As a result, many Haitian asylum-seekers have decided not to approach the US border, and remain trapped in Mexico.

Immigrant justice advocates and progressive Democrats condemned Biden’s Title 42 policy. “We speak out against the cruel, the inhumane, and the flat out racist treatment of our Haitian brothers and sisters at the southern border,” Rep. Ayanna Pressley said. Two top Biden appointees resigned in disgust. The United Nations repeatedly denounced Biden’s violations of international law. Just this past Monday, over 30 congresspeople demanded that the CDC explain how it could justify supporting such a policy. And yet, over 17,000 Haitians have now been expelled by this administration based on Title 42—and over a million migrants total. 

“I never would have predicted this White House, within Year One, would be expelling Haitians to a failed state. In December of 2020 we’re talking about a transformative vision. And in 2022, expelling Haitians without a meaningful asylum process. Wow.”  —Frank Sharry, America’s Voice

WHAT CAN WE DO?

In solidarity and with collective care,

Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network (JHISN)

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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.