Tag: Biden

JHISN Newsletter 06/12/2021

Dear friends,

On Tuesday, June 22, a very small percentage of registered NYC voters will head to the polls for the Democratic Party primaries which, in a city like ours, basically decide the outcome of next November’s municipal elections. We encourage all of you who will vote to take immigrant justice issues with you to the voting booth (or absentee ballot!). The pandemic brought many of us into new intimacy with our streets, our small businesses, our neighbors, our park, our local issues, and our differences in class, race, citizenship status, vulnerability to disease, and access to care. We hope that intimacy carries over into a sustained commitment to participate in local forms of self-government and community-based power. 

Several immigrant justice groups that JHISN deeply respects are focused on the upcoming primaries. Make the Road New York has co-authored a report, Dignity, Community, & Power, laying out an election-year vision for immigrant communities’ collective dreams and demands; their candidate endorsements can be found here. Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM) has offered specific endorsements of City Council candidates who support participatory working-class, immigrant-centered politics for economic, gender, and racial justice. Adhikaar and members of the NYC Care Campaign hosted a Candidate Forum for the District 26 City Council race. And to see what NYC mayoral candidates are saying about immigration politics–and why they need to say more, in a city of over 3 million immigrants–check out this recent article

In the meantime, we offer you an update on what’s up with ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) several years after the cry, ‘Abolish ICE!’, was raised by tens of thousands here in New York, and beyond.  

ABOLISHED ICE? Not yet …

Street Arrest – Story 1738
Jackson Heights, NY 11372
March 17, 2021

“ICE agents arrested LN on the street near his home in Jackson Heights around 10am as he was walking with his laundry to his local laundry mat. ICE agents left LN’s laundry bag on the street as they drove away with him.”  —  ICEwatch raids map / Immigrant Defense Project

As ‘Story 1738’ makes poignantly clear, ICE is still on the streets of Jackson Heights conducting arrests that disappear immigrants from our neighborhood as they go about their daily life. ICEwatch’s invaluable map of verified ICE raids, launched in July 2018, also shows that ICE arrests in Queens County appear to be dropping off since the latest peak—right before the November 2020 election. Six months into a new federal administration, what is ICE actually doing? How are people continuing to resist ICE’s key role in the criminalization of migration, and the harassment and terrorizing of immigrant communities in the US?

At first glance, some of the numbers seem promising: ICE arrests are reportedly plunging nationwide. “Interior arrests” by ICE (arrests not conducted at the border) are down to about 2500 per month, compared to an average of 6000 arrests in the last months of the Trump regime, and a grotesque 10,000 per month before the pandemic. In April, ICE deported 2962 immigrants, the lowest monthly number on record. 

In addition, Biden has ordered a full review of ICE priorities (not yet released). New interim rules prohibit ICE agents from arresting anyone who is not a national security threat, an aggravated felon, or a recent border crosser, without written authorization from senior ICE supervisors. And the new director of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, has finally placed significant limits on ICE’s ability to arrest immigrants at or near courthouses–something immigration activists have fought for for years. 

But beneath the numbers and temporary rule changes is a more disturbing reality. As ICE pulls back on ‘interior arrests,’ Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) under the Biden administration continues to expel migrants at the southern border in huge numbers, including those legally seeking asylum or refuge. Using an obscure CDC public health regulation called Title 42, activated in March 2020 by the Trump regime, over 750,000 migrants have been ‘returned’ to Mexico as public health threats, without any recourse to legal proceedings. Approximately 350,000 of those expulsions have occurred since Biden took office, including at least 50,000 families who have been turned back. Challenged by the ACLU as unlawful and opposed even by public health scientists, Title 42 remains in place with the new administration, keeping ICE deportation numbers low while in fact choking off migration across the border.

Even more tellingly, Biden’s proposed $7.9 billion budget for ICE in 2022 echoes the Trump regime’s funding levels, with about 50% dedicated to detention and deportation of immigrants, also in line with fiscal 2021 priorities. 

Several state-level legislative initiatives aim to press further than a new administration that claims to support immigrants and reign in ICE, but carries on policy and funding decisions of the malevolent anti-immigrant Trump era. Legislation has been passed or introduced in California, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, Washington, and Virginia, restricting government collaboration with, and funding for, ICE’s detention infrastructure. In New Jersey, where most immigrant detainees from New York are incarcerated, political pressure grows to end detention programs in Essex, Bergen, and Hudson county jails. On June 8, fourteen protesters outside Bergen county jail were arrested while blocking an ICE van believed to be transporting immigrants to the airport for deportation.  

In New York, the recently introduced Dignity Not Detention Act calls on the state government and local communities to get out of the business of immigrant detention by ending ICE contracts and refusing to enter into new or expanded contracts. The bill would halt the jailing of New York immigrants who face deportation, allowing them to remain united with families and communities where they can more effectively fight deportation through legal avenues. 

A statement of support for the NY Dignity Not Detention Act was signed by over 75 activist organizations including local immigrant-led groups like Centro Corona, DRUM, The Street Vendors Project, NICE, and Emerald Isle Immigration Center. Tania Mattos, a local immigrant justice activist and co-founder of Queens Neighborhoods United, says: “We look forward to making New York the next state in the union that … fight[s] to end our costly, inhumane, and unaccountable detention system.” 

WHAT CAN WE DO?

  • Get your activist group to sign on as an organization supporting the New York Dignity Not Detention Act. 
  • Support the campaign to #FreeThemAll with Detention Watch Network’s toolkit.
  • Vote for local candidates who fight for justice for immigrants. Check out DRUM Beats (a new sibling organization of DRUM) endorsements for City Council races. Find Make the Road’s candidate endorsements here.
  • Use ICEWatch to report or keep track of ICE raids.

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 03/20/2021

Dear friends,

As we count the days toward spring, it is Day 5 in the hunger strike launched by immigrant New Yorkers who are calling for billions to fund workers intentionally excluded from pandemic emergency and unemployment benefits. And it is Day 59 of a new administration that promised, but has not yet begun, a 100-day moratorium on deportations. Spring will come. Let’s join forces to see that urgent funding for excluded and essential workers also arrives. Let’s demand that an indefinite moratorium on deportations ushers in a season of immigrant justice and radical changes to a damaging, racist US immigration system. 

If you are receiving a stimulus check in the new round of pandemic relief and have the resources, please consider a direct donation to one of the six local immigrant groups that are part of JHISN’s Neighborhood Emergency! fundraising campaign.

Newsletter Highlights:

  1. Hunger strike launches to support Fund for Excluded Workers
  2. JHISN calls for a ‘Deportation Moratorium Now!’

1. ‘Fast for the Forgotten’: Hunger strikers demand NYS pandemic relief 

“Because of the pandemic, I’ve lost all my savings and all of my income. I am eight months behind on rent and unable to support my family …. The government doesn’t ask me for my status when it wants me to pay taxes, but it bars me from receiving help. Excluded workers have been through enough this year. We need support now.”  Rubiela Correa, hunger striker, Jackson Heights

Activists are calling on state leaders to provide billions of dollars in relief for undocumented workers who have yet to receive assistance as the pandemic enters its second year. They’re urging lawmakers to set $3.5 billion aside in the state’s budget for workers excluded from federal pandemic relief packages. And they say they won’t eat until it happens.

With an April 1 deadline to finalize New York’s budget for the coming year, the State Assembly is considering allocating just over $2 billion for excluded workers. This fund would be the first of its kind in the nation. But excluded workers say that while it’s a start, it’s not enough.

On March 16, immigrants launched their hunger strike on the steps of St. John the Divine and other spots around Manhattan and Westchester, in a coordinated effort to pressure state politicians. About 75 people have signed on to participate in the Fast for the Forgotten, including members of Make the Road New York and other immigrant rights groups with the #FundExcludedWorkers coalition. On March 19, more than a dozen state politicians joined the ongoing hunger strike in solidarity. The $3.5 billion they’re calling for would retroactively distribute money to workers for the past year of unemployment. According to the coalition, this amount would be comparable to what other unemployed workers have received during the crisis.

“Workers who have been laid off or furloughed through no fault of their own should get the same support that has helped keep other New Yorkers afloat—especially because excluded workers themselves pay taxes to make unemployment insurance possible for other workers,” said Bianca Guerrero, coordinator of the Fund Excluded Workers coalition. The lawmakers’ current proposal is welcome, she said, but it won’t give workers what they need.

New York’s wealthiest residents continue to make billions of dollars during the crisis, Guerrero noted, and the state should tax them more to raise the needed revenue for those who have been economically devastated during the pandemic. A survey by Make the Road last August found that 98% of unemployed undocumented workers hadn’t received any federal or state government assistance. The Fund Excluded Workers coalition estimates 500,000 undocumented workers have been left out of relief packages. This past week, major unions and labor organizations declared their support for increasing taxes on the ultra-wealthy in New York.

This isn’t the first time excluded workers are striking: Last summer, immigration activists in Madison Square Park fasted for 24 hours to bring visibility to the lack of assistance for excluded workers. In the fall, they formed a mock bread line outside Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office. And in December, activists unveiled a three-block-long scroll in Central Park to bring attention to the wealth gap exacerbated by the pandemic, with the state’s richest residents increasing their wealth by tens of billions of dollars while the poorest continue to go into debt.  

“This is not a game,” said Ana Ramirez, a hunger striker and member of New York Communities for Change. “Our lives and the lives of our families are on the line. We’re here for two days, for three days, for 10 days, for 100 days—until we are heard and treated with dignity.”

WHAT CAN WE DO?

  • Volunteer to support NYC hunger strikers. If you are an artist, educator, dancer, writer, musician or have other skills—you are needed! See Strike Volunteer Sign-up Form.  
  • If you are able to, donate to the Hunger Strike Support Fund to cover meal stipends for hunger strikers’ families, and to provide PPE and sleeping materials for onsite strikers. 
  • Follow the Fund Excluded Workers coalition and Make the Road New York on social media to stay up to date on the progress of the hunger strike.
  • Add your name to the petition to Governor Cuomo to establish a $3.5 billion relief fund for excluded workers.

2. Moratorium Now!

“All deportations and immigrant detentions must stop while the current immigration system is abolished and re-imagined.” —JHISN leaflet

The early days of the Biden administration demonstrate that the long-standing demand for a complete moratorium on immigration detentions and deportations is more urgent than ever. Since the election, right-wing anti-immigrant forces have mobilized to stop the new administration’s reform efforts. For their part, leading Democrats show signs of sliding back into an unprincipled “good immigrant vs. bad immigrant” approach to immigration legislation. Without a groundswell of support for a real moratorium, millions of undocumented immigrants will continue to be threatened by arrest and expulsion. JHISN joins the call for a Deportation Moratorium Now!

Biden started his term by proudly announcing a 100-day limited “pause” on many deportations and detentions. Within days, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued to stop the new policy. He succeeded, obtaining a temporary restraining order against the moratorium from a Trump-appointed U.S. District judge. This has now become an indefinite temporary injunction.

ICE has openly defied the enforcement policies and priorities Biden spelled out, and has actually accelerated deportations. For instance, in an act of racist child abuse, agents deported 22 Haitian children, including an infant, on February 8. This is exactly the kind of injustice Biden had pledged to stop. On February 18, ICE issued a memo affirming that its agents have wide powers of enforcement—in effect, undercutting Biden’s moratorium and the provisions of his proposed Citizenship Act.

News media are currently full of stories casting doubt on the new administration’s ability to carry out fundamental immigration reform at all. Biden now says he’s “flexible” on what legislation to fight for; his officials urge “patience.”

The obstacles are certainly daunting: the Immigration Tracking Project has found over 1,000 Trump-sponsored immigration policies that are now embedded in regulations and executive orders. At the southern border, large numbers of migrants hoping for consideration by the new administration pose logistical and political challenges for Biden. “As of Wednesday, more than 3,700 children were reportedly being detained in Customs and Border Protection temporary holding facilities…for longer than legally permitted—a record high” (N. Narea, Vox, 03/15/21)

Meanwhile, in a discouraging retreat from Biden’s broad immigration bill, Vox reports that some House Democrats are falling back on “piecemeal immigration reform.” The bills they have introduced “narrowly address immigrant populations perceived as sympathetic by members of both parties.” Passage of these bills, which is far from assured, would certainly help many farmworkers, TPS holders and Dreamers. But it would leave millions of other immigrants under continued threat of detention and deportation while reinforcing the toxic discourse of “worthy” vs. “unworthy” immigrants.

Responding to the current moment, immigrants are making their own voices heard:

Movimiento Cosecha, a national movement fighting for undocumented immigrants in the United States, has presented President Biden and Democrats with a deadline for action in protecting the undocumented community. The group has vowed to mobilize in D.C. on May 1st if Biden fails to provide permanent protection for the 11 million undocumented workers and families living in the states. —WGVU, 03/11/21

On March 14, Cosecha sponsored a rally in front of Democratic leader Chuck Schumer’s Park Slope home, protesting his “empty promises.” Later, they projected messages onto the triumphal arch at Grand Army Plaza, including “Schumer: Do Your Job.”

Immigrant justice groups including DRUM, Chhaya, Make the Road and the New York Immigration Coalition have been calling for a complete moratorium on deportations and detentions for years. JHISN has also made this a central demand. In our new moratorium leaflet, we call for abolishing and re-imagining the current immigration system, and replacing it with a system based on human rights, international law, and decriminalization. 

We recognize that transitioning to a just system will be difficult and complicated. It will require, among other things, a thorough purge of the white nationalists inside DHS. But it can be done, especially if Biden and the Democrats are sincere about a path to citizenship for all 11 million undocumented migrants. During the process of abolition and restructuring, however long it takes, there’s no excuse for continuing to criminalize, detain and deport more of our family members, friends, co-workers and neighbors. 

A symbolic or temporary moratorium is not enough. Along with other immigrant justice organizations, we demand a complete moratorium on deportations and immigrant detentions until there’s a system in place based on human rights for all immigrants.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

In solidarity and with collective care,

Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network

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

 

 

JHISN Newsletter 2/20/2021

Dear friends,

Snow has fallen on Jackson Heights and the rest of the nation – JHISN hopes that you and those close to you are well. It is Black History month and The Immigration Coalition has shared 7 Facts reminding us of the history of Black immigrants in relation to national policies which unjustly incarcerate and vilify. This week’s newsletter offers two stories on the politics of incarceration and decarceration for US immigrants. First, the repeal of a NY State criminal statute that benefits transgender immigrants in Jackson Heights. Second, our ongoing challenge to demolish the powerful fiction of ‘good’ vs. ‘bad’ immigrant, as a new Democratic administration must face its own history of criminalizing immigration.

Newsletter highlights:

  1. Repeal of “Walking While Trans” Ban Celebrated by Immigration Groups
  2. Refusing the Narrative of ‘Good’ vs. ‘Bad’ Immigrant 

1. ‘Walking While Trans’ repeal marks a turning point for New York trans immigrants

Racial justice, LGBTQ, and immigrants’ rights advocates scored a long-awaited victory early this month when Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a law lifting a decades-old rule that posed a threat to many of the state’s Black and Latinx residents. Among the chief complaints raised was the way it had been used by police to target New York’s transgender residents, including here in Queens.

Advocates say repeal is especially important for trans people of color and immigrants. It could also create momentum for more change, including decriminalization of sex work.

The new law repeals a statute passed in 1976 that became known as the “Walking While Trans Ban.” It allowed police to stop people for loitering, ostensibly to stop prostitution. But critics said the “notoriously vague” law permitted police to arrest, without evidence, anyone they presumed to be engaged in sex work. In a 2016 civil rights class-action lawsuit arguing that the law was unconstitutional, the Legal Aid Society wrote that a “woman can be improperly arrested and detained simply because an officer takes issue with her clothing or appearance.”

“This statute has been utilized at the discretion of law enforcement to profile, harass, and criminalize women of color, particularly trans women of color, not only creating a pipeline to unjust incarceration, but creating potential immigration hurdles and barriers seeking employment and housing,” said a February 1 letter to the governor from Make the Road New York, signed by more than 150 organizations, including JHISN. 

The letter is part of Make the Road’s broader campaign to secure the dignity and safety of translatinas: “Our deep ties in the translatina community in Queens, and to the larger immigrant organizing community, allows us to address the unique and multifaceted challenges facing immigrant, undocumented, and Latinx trans people.”

Aside from the psychological and physical impacts of being detained, arrest leaves many trans immigrants in a potentially dangerous position. An arrest on sex work-related charges could lead to deportation under U.S. immigration law. Many trans immigrants are asylum seekers who face dangerous persecution in their home countries. Having arrest records sealed, as the new law mandates, could prevent deportation and reopen the opportunity for asylum.

But some advocates say the repeal is only one necessary step toward destigmatizing trans and gender-nonconforming people. The next big hurdle for many is decriminalizing sex work. Supporters of decriminalization, like Make the Road New York, say it would allow for safer working conditions for all sex workers, including many of the people who were arrested under the recently repealed law.

A bill introduced in the New York legislature in 2019 with support from the New York Immigration Coalition and Make the Road New York would allow consenting adults to trade sex and to patronize sex workers. It also aims to combat trafficking, rape, assault, battery, and sexual harassment. A competing bill, crafted by Senator Liz Kreuger and New Yorkers for the Equality Model, would also decriminalize people doing sex work. But, in contrast, it would treat buying sex, sex trafficking, and brothel owning as illegal. It would also increase access to social services for sex workers.

The debate on how to decriminalize, and how to increase safety for sex workers, is not new. But decriminalization is gaining momentum now, with greater focus on racial justice and immigrant rights, particularly for LGBTQ people. The Walking While Trans repeal adds even more fuel to the movement.

“It feels like it’s so powerful to know that the advocacy of a community so disenfranchised like the trans community was able to lead this groundbreaking change in the state of New York,” Cecilia Gentili, founder of Transgender Equity Consulting, told NPR. It’s “very refreshing for the trans community and the immigrant community, especially Black and brown trans people…and knowing that they will be able to walk in the streets without having that nervousness of being stopped and frisked by police.”

WHAT CAN WE DO?

  • Read and share the original letter to Governor Cuomo from Make the Road New York urging repeal of the Walking While Trans ban. Then read differing views about the push for sex work decriminalization.
  • Support Make the Road’s platform promoting TGNCIQ (transgender, gender non-conforming, intersex, and queer) Justice, and the empowerment of TGNCIQ community members.
  • Listen to the Season 9 Launch of the Immigrantly Podcast (Episode 108). An interview with the editors of the recent publication, “Queer and Trans Migrations: Dynamics of illegalization, Detention, and Deportation”.
  • Watch the Queens Public Television video about Lorena Borjas, the Jackson Heights Latina transgender undocumented activist who died last year.

2. Challenging the politics of ‘good’ vs. ‘bad’ immigrants 

Picture the scene: a 23-year old DACA recipient is asked to embrace an immigration system that would finally grant her secure residency in the U.S. … while that same system targets for deportation her mother, an undocumented immigrant who has lived and worked in NYC for 20 years, and her younger brother with a ‘criminal’ record for a minor drug offense. Multiply that scene across millions of immigrant families in the U.S., and you start to have a feel for the brutal power behind the narrative of ‘good’ vs. ‘bad’ immigrants.

That narrative is being directly challenged as immigrant justice groups nationwide build their blueprints and collective dreams for post-Trump immigration legislation. Activists are calling for a new immigration system that can address—with dignity and justice—the need for a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented residents. For an end to the criminalization of migration. Will the Biden/Harris administration listen?

[T]his story of the “bad hombre” has been weaponized over the decades to punish entire immigrant communities. By contrasting the, quote-unquote, “bad hombre” with the, quote, “good” immigrants, who work unnaturally hard and never break any rules, essentially what politicians are doing is they’re reducing immigrant lives to caricatures who can be exploited and expelled from the country. (Guerrero, Democracy Now, 1/26/21)

Much of the responsibility for the dangerous framing of good vs. bad immigrants can be attributed to the Clinton administration’s simultaneous pursuit of ‘tough on crime’ and ‘tough on immigration’ policies in the mid-1990s. Several Clinton-era laws dramatically expanded the population of immigrants vulnerable to mandatory detention and deportation (see Loyd & Mountz, 2018, Ch. 6). The 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) helped cement the legal infrastructure for the massive deportation machine operating today: immigrant deportations increased from 70,000 in 1996 to 400,000 by the Obama administration’s first term.

The figure of the “criminal alien”—contrasted with images of the legal, ‘good,’ and contributing immigrant—was popularized in these years. By 2009, almost 50% of immigrants detained by ICE were channeled through the ‘Criminal Alien Program,’ a nationwide and semi-secretive web of federal, state, and local law enforcement that is responsible for hundreds of thousands of immigrant removals. CAP operates in all federal and state prisons, and hundreds of local jails, where immigrants who have been arrested (including those not yet convicted) are subject to removal proceedings. This collusion between federal immigration authorities and the historically anti-black US criminal justice system also disproportionately affects Black immigrants, who are removed at rates five times their representation in the US population.

[C]ruel policies of immigration enforcement are a pillar of Democrats’ governance. The rhetoric of “productive” and “legal” immigrants, with the simultaneous demonization of “criminal” and “illegal” immigrants, has been the cornerstone of the party’s immigration platform for three decades. (Harsha Walia, The Intercept, 2/7/21)

As a new Democratic administration takes the reigns of DHS and immigration policy, the brief history offered here becomes terribly relevant. With even a limited 100-day moratorium announced by Biden stopped in its tracks by a Trump-appointed federal judge, and with recent headlines that the Biden administration is ready to be ‘flexible’ re their promised overhaul of immigration—can the dreams and demands of immigration activists be meaningfully realized? Can a ‘good’ immigration system finally be constructed, in the face of a very ‘bad’ history of both Republican and Democratic governance?

In solidarity and with collective care,

Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network

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