Tag: COVID-19

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)

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 1/8/2022

Dear friends,

One of the many New Year’s celebrated in our neighborhood has just passed. This turning of the wheel of time also marks the return of Covid as an immediate and unequal threat. ‘How do we create solidarity during a global pandemic?’ JHISN asked in one of our first Covid-era newsletters in March 2020. At the start of this troubled new year, we want to honor all of our readers who have—in so many ways, seen and unseen—tried to answer that question with how you live, with what you love, with the kind of world you long to create.

Our newsletter looks at the mourning and mobilizing of NYC immigrant workers whose lives are literally on the line in the risky, low-wage business of food delivery. We then report on the most recent immigrant-led campaigns to protect essential workers in NY State, even as the visibility of their work starts to fade and their exclusion from government support continues.    

Newsletter highlights:

  1. NYC delivery workers mourn and organize
  2. Essential workers: still essential, still excluded

1. Deliveristas: Risking Death on Our Streets

In a more just city, in a happier time, immigrant food delivery workers would be in the mood for celebration. After all, after years of militant organizing, Los Deliveristas Unidos (LDU) and their allies have won a stunning victory, with the passage of new laws—effective starting this month—that finally give workers the use of restaurant bathrooms, minimum payments per trip, more disclosures about tips, and other crucial gains.

But bike delivery is a very dangerous job, and NYC deliveristas are still being killed and wounded in collisions and robberies. Half of all surveyed workers have been in an accident while working; more than half have been robbed or physically assaulted. Recent deaths within their ranks have hit deliveristas hard. And so satisfaction for progress made can only be mixed with grief, and with collective determination to keep organizing for better conditions.

Memorial for Adrian Coyotl De Los Santos, a Mexican immigrant and street vendor killed while riding his e-bike to work. Photo–Joseph Sciorra

In a December 18 Facebook post, the Jackson Heights-based group DRUM (Desis Rising Up and Moving) expressed sadness and anger about how New York treats the deaths of delivery workers: 

“On Thursday, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office released information about the arrest of the man who is charged with the death of Borkot Ullah—Delivery worker and DRUM member who was killed while making food deliveries this past July.

“Borkot was struck by the driver who ran the light while being chased by the police. The driver was speeding and is responsible for Borkot’s death. But it is also illegal for the NYPD to engage in high speed car chases within the city to prevent exactly these situations. There is still no word about the officers involved in the chase who are also to blame for Borkot’s tragic death….

“Why is there a difference between the speeding driver who killed Borkot (and is being prosecuted), the speeding driver who killed Xin Long Lin (not being prosecuted), and the speed chasing cops in Borkot’s case (also not being investigated or prosecuted)? Does the identity of the victim determine how the District Attorney will pursue a case?….

“What does justice look like for immigrants who are forced to leave their homelands and work long hours in unsafe conditions for corporations that treat them as disposable? Do we believe pursuing justice through a system that is defined by punishment and retribution is the way forward?

“We are mourning. Mourning the loss of Borkot Ullah and the loss of Xin Long Lin. We are hurting. Yet, in our hurt, we know that there has to be a better way.

“By coming together to encourage safety and strengthen the bond between each other, delivery workers are working to make sure no more workers die like this. They are building solidarity as Black, Latinx, South Asian, Arab, African, East Asian and other people of color to build collective power and change their conditions to fight for the future of all delivery workers.”

On December 31, more than 2,000 protesting members of Los Deliveristas Unidos rolled through the streets of Manhattan, fighting once again for better working conditions and pay. They are now bolstered by representation and legal support from service worker union SEIU Local 32BJ. One of the deliveristas’ main demands at the demonstration: more protected bike lanes.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

2. Does New York Still Care About Essential Workers?

In the early months of the pandemic, the term “essential workers” catapulted into popular consciousness. Disproportionately working-class, immigrant, and of color, essential workers were people who kept showing up for their jobs, while many of us worked remotely or remained locked down at home. Essential workers were people who got sick and died from Covid at higher rates because their labor conditions exposed them to higher risk. Essential workers were people whose labor was necessary to keep society going during a brutal pandemic, including workers in health care, transit, farm work, food production, delivery, sanitation, and grocery stores. Essential workers were unsung heroes who, in the throes of the Covid threat, society started to sing about.

What happened to our collective recognition of the food, care, and necessary production and services provided by essential workers? Almost two years into the pandemic, public consciousness—including a renewed class consciousness—of whose work is really essential seems to be fading. Even as the latest threat from a virulent Covid mutation once again puts essential workers, and their households, at greatest risk of exposure and sickness.

An estimated 74% of undocumented workers in the US are essential workers. The vast majority of them have been excluded from the government’s pandemic relief efforts, including enhanced unemployment benefits and stimulus payments. A recent analysis by the Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy spotlights the discriminatory financial effects of this exclusion: a family of four with two US citizen breadwinners earning a combined annual income of $24,000, would receive $35,470 more in government pandemic benefits during 8 weeks of unemployment than a similar family with two US children and two undocumented working parents.  

In response to this punishing aid gap, New York’s essential and excluded workers got organized. Led by the Fund Excluded Workers Coalition (FEW), including Make the Road New York, immigrant activists won a historic $2.1 billion fund for excluded workers in the state budget last spring. But the fund ran out in just two months. Thousands of eligible workers in upstate and rural areas didn’t even have a chance to hear about the fund and to apply. An estimated 40,000 applicants were denied simply because the fund had been exhausted. Now immigrant activists are calling on Governor Hochul to dedicate $3 billion in additional state funds to fully address the pandemic aid gap for undocumented workers. 

A new mobilization organized by the FEW Coalition, #ExcludedNoMore, has also been launched to create a permanent statewide solution to systemic inequalities in unemployment insurance for immigrant workers and others who labor in low-wage, precarious industries. #ExcludedNoMore calls for a separate and parallel NY State unemployment insurance program that would serve domestic workers, street vendors, day laborers, and other workers historically excluded from unemployment compensation.

On New Year’s Eve, the FEW Coalition tweeted out, “Thousands were left behind with no relief this season,” asking members to light a candle in solidarity with excluded workers everywhere. As 2022 begins, New York’s eviction moratorium is ending, along with Biden’s child tax credit that helped millions of families, including immigrant households, keep children fed and pay the bills. How can we support essential workers in the ongoing struggle for economic justice? What essential lessons from an unforgiving pandemic must never be forgotten? 

WHAT CAN WE DO?

  • Share tweets from #FundExcludedWorkers calling for $3 billion in additional support.
  • Listen to and circulate the podcast with FEW coordinator Bianca Guerrero on the need for a permanent NYS unemployment plan for undocumented and other marginalized workers. 

 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 08/07/2021

Dear friends,

Warm greetings in late summer to all our generous readers. We begin with two pieces of good news. On July 29, the City Council finally passed legislation that protects over 300,000 domestic workers in NYC—mostly immigrant women of color—from workplace abuses. And this week the Biden administration, under intense grassroots pressure, extended a pandemic-related rent moratorium in areas with ‘substantial’ or ‘high’ COVID risk (including all five NYC boroughs). The two-month extension defers the threat of eviction for 11 million people nationwide. In central Queens, thousands of immigrant households can, for now, breathe more easily.

This week’s newsletter features an in-depth article on the history of anti-Asian violence in the US. Even as the media spotlight dims, attacks on people of Asian descent continue. JHISN joins the collective call to #StopAsianHate.

Anti-Asian Hate: Roots and Resistance

Since the first wave of Chinese migrants came to the US in the 1850s, there has never been a single day that Asians have not experienced institutional and direct personal racism. But beyond this baseline level of white disrespect and systemic discrimination, US history has periodically witnessed particularly intense waves of social hatred against Asians and Asian Americans. We live in such a time.

There have been more than 6,600 reported attacks against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. But most attacks are not reported. Virtually every Asian family in the US has been subjected to verbal abuse or worse. Of reported incidents, the majority targeted women. The current wave of hatred is national, but it’s concentrated here, in New York City. According to a July NYPD report, this year anti-Asian hate crimes in the City increased by 400 percent from 2020. Queens, with its large Asian population, is a hotbed of these racist incidents. The 109th Precinct, which includes most of Flushing, has the second-highest number of reports in the City, after Manhattan’s Chinatown.

The statistics are brutal; the viral videos of street attacks are horrifying. But for AAPI people and those in solidarity with them, the challenge is to go below the surface of well-meaning “anti-hate” slogans. How to confront the deep social roots of anti-Asian racism and violence in this country, and find solutions based on building community power rather than increasing invasive policing and carceral trauma?

Asians make up about sixty percent of the world’s population, residing in some fifty countries, many of which have long and sometimes contentious interrelationships. Asian immigrants bring with them a wide range of histories, cultures, religions, and languages. But these complex realities mean little to many North Americans.

Fed into the meat grinder of white supremacy, Asians and Asian Americans emerge repackaged as a series of stereotypical identities to be slotted into the US racial hierarchy. In response, Asian Americans are fighting to construct a respectful, functional unity—unity that recognizes different national identities, repudiates racist stereotypes, and promotes mutual self-defense and power. 

In the mid-19th Century, as the US consolidated its hold on stolen lands in the West, and financial trusts laid the foundations for monopoly power, Asians were treated as exploitable, disposable workers by white capital. Chinese workers built the Transcontinental Railroad, working under abusive and incredibly dangerous conditions. Filipino workers’ arduous stoop labor helped turn California into an agricultural powerhouse. 

Today, in contrast, Asian Americans are often portrayed as an “almost white” “model minority,” who “prove” that there’s lots of opportunity for everyone in the US. And so if Black people or other people of color don’t succeed, it’s their own fault. This is pure mythology—not only because so many Asians continue to be exploited at the low end of the labor market in restaurant kitchen and delivery jobs, domestic work, sex work, salons, home health care, factory sweatshops, etc. But also because even “successful” Asian Americans endure routine discrimination and white aggression, as vividly described by writers like Cathy Park Hong and Viet Thanh Nguyen. And Asian Americans of all classes face abuse and threats of racist violence, both random and organized. 

The model minority myth is also dangerous. For Asians who buy into it, it promotes anti-Black racism, driving a wedge between African Americans and Asians, and making both more vulnerable to white power and white violence in the service of white hegemony.

Asians may have been assigned different functions within the US racial hierarchy over time. But of all the roles inflicted on Asian Americans by the white power structure, one has been consistent through the years: Scapegoat.

  • Chinese workers were blamed for low wages in the late 19th century. Scapegoating by white workers in California led to numerous riots, massacres, and the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882. The white labor unions that were first emerging at that time used anti-Chinese racism as a way to unify and organize white union members. The union label…was invented as a certificate on cigars, indicating that they had been made by White workers, as part of a campaign to force Chinese out of the cigarmaking industry.” –Berlet & Lyons, Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort.
  • Chinese Americans were scapegoated for the bubonic plague of 1900-1904. San Francisco police encircled Chinese neighborhoods with barbed wire, refusing to let residents leave, while white authorities burned down “infected” homes.
  • Japanese Americans were scapegoated after Pearl Harbor. Approximately 120,000 people, mostly citizens, half of them children, were transported at gunpoint to bleak concentration camps, where they were incarcerated for up to four years. Their personal belongings, property, businesses, and farms were snapped up at bargain-basement prices by speculators, or simply seized by gratified neighbors.
  • Southeast Asian refugees were blamed for the US defeat in Vietnam, even when they had fought for the US. In 1979-81, the Ku Klux Klan launched vicious attacks on Vietnamese fishermen in Texas, opening a new front in white supremacist warfare.
  • Japanese Americans were scapegoated for the export of US manufacturing jobs in the 1970s and 80s. An extreme expression of this sentiment was the murder of Vincent Chin—a Chinese American—in 1982.“The Japanese auto industry had begun booming then … [and] Ronald Ebens and his stepson Michael Nitz, had mistaken Chin to be a Japanese man, blaming him for the loss of jobs in the U.S. ‘It’s because of you little motherf**kers that we’re out of work,’ witnesses heard Ebens say. Chin died four days later” Huffington Post (June 2017)
  • Asian Muslims were scapegoated for 9/11: “In the aftermath of the Sept 11, 2001 terror attacks, Americans of South Asian and Middle Eastern descent – including Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim like Sikhs and Hindus – faced racial profiling, hate crimes, and discrimination. These groups were used as scapegoats for the attacks … One example of the violence these groups faced is the death of Balbir Singh Sodhi. He was a Sikh American from India who was shot days after 9/11 by a white man who thought he was Muslim.” –theskimm.com

And now, we have the coronavirus. Which Trump calls the “China virus” and the “Kung flu.” In the background, a growing US rivalry with China stirs dangerous nativist passions. Murdered massage parlor workers are blamed for white men’s “sex addiction,” just as Asian women were accused of “sexual deviancy” in the 1870s. Once again Asian migrants are turned away or threatened with deportation. In this perilous time, it’s crucial to acknowledge the deep structural nature of anti-Asian scapegoating in the US, and how fast it can grow to monstrous proportions.

Asian Americans are united in grief and outrage, but less united on how to respond politically or practically. Many “Stop Asian Hate” demonstrations have been held around the country, including in Flushing, where over a thousand people marched on May 2. Community street patrols have been set up here and in several other cities, while whistles and alarms are distributed by non-profit groups. There’s been a huge jump in sales of guns to Asians. But nobody really believes that these actions are enough.

In the past year, Asians have debated the role of police in stopping abuse and violence. Many progressive activists oppose giving cops more resources and insist on fully supporting Black Lives Matter. They argue that hate crime laws expand the criminal punishment system and are sometimes employed to prosecute Black people for “racial bias” against white people, or even to fabricate “hate crimes” against the police

When local Congresswoman Grace Meng and Senator Mazie Hirono introduced a federal bill in March aimed at amplifying the police response to Covid-19 hate crimes, grassroots organizations pushed back. Over a hundred Asian and LGBTQ groups signed a statement “reject[ing] hate crime legislation that relies on anti-Black, law enforcement responses to the recent rise in anti-Asian bias incidents.” On July 20, Meng announced she had secured $30 million to expand provisions in her COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act. Perhaps in response to criticism of the bill, the new funding supports community-based organizations that promote “non-carceral approaches to conflict resolution.” 

A deep grassroots strategy is epitomized by CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities, a group of working-class migrants, mostly from China, Bangladesh, and Korea. CAAAV, which opposed the Meng/Hirono bill, has defended Asians in New York for decades. They’ve become outspoken proponents of basing Asian safety on community power and transformative justice. CAAAV is currently focusing on building Asian Tenant Unions in Manhattan’s Chinatown and in Queens public housing, where they work closely with Black and Latinx allies. They are also building a CAAAV Youth Project. CAAAV is abolitionist—they oppose punitive hate crime enforcement. As one CAAAV organizer puts it, “There are no shortcuts to safety. The only safe community is an organized one.” 

Searching for effective solutions, some activists are studying a previous wave of Asian activism. Starting in the 1960s, anti-imperialist radicals inspired by the Black Panthers and Malcolm X were the first people to use the term “Asian American.” Working closely with Black and Chicano groups, they were part of the large, militant Third World Liberation Front student strikes of 1968-9 and left-wing formations of people of color. Asian activists set up community centers and clinics and “serve the people” free food programs. They fought gentrification of working-class Asian neighborhoods, notably in the decade-long militant resistance to the eviction of elderly Filipino and Chinese people living in San Francisco’s International Hotel. That generation of Asian American radicals also organized within unions and women’s organizations and promoted the development of Asian American culture, including Asian American literature.

In the face of surging anti-Asian violence, lessons from the past are indispensable. As historian Courtney Sato says, “This is really not an exceptional moment by any means…It’s really part of a much longer genealogy of anti-Asian violence that reaches as far back as the 19th century.” On the other hand, many things are quite different from the 1870s, or the 1970s. What combination of approaches—from coalition-building to street self-defense patrols to mass mobilizations to cultural interventions to patient community organizing—can best build power and defend Asian American communities from the most recent incarnation of white scapegoating? How to build lasting solidarities that support Asian-led organizing? The answers are being invented in struggle right now.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

  • Take Bystander Training or plan in advance how to intervene safely and effectively in hate incidents using the tactics of the Five D’s.
  • Check out the website Stop AAPI Hate for resources and safety tips in 11 languages. Look for news re: upcoming #StopAsianHate rally in NY’s Chinatown, co-organized by the Asian American Federation.
  • Keep informed about AAPI activism by visiting Movement Hub, which amplifies the work of Adhikaar, CAAAV, DRUM, and many other progressive community organizations.
  • Share the booklet, How to Report a Hate Crime, available in Chinese and English (plus seven other languages) and written for elder Asians in NY. 

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 07/10/2021

Dear friends,

Against the sounds of deep summer, there is a distinct buzz as local immigrant justice groups return—with strength—to in-person activities. Adhikaar traveled to the White House, where member Rukmani Bhattarai joined a roundtable discussion with Vice President Kamala Harris, advocating a pathway to citizenship for TPS and DACA holders. This week, Desis Rising Up & Moving (DRUM) launches its six-week Summer Internship Program for South Asian and Indo-Caribbean youth organizers. And Make the Road NY will host the 10th Annual Trans-Latinx March on July 12, starting off from Corona Plaza, with a celebration of trans and queer visibility and a demand for TGNCIQ rights.

Our newsletter today is inspired by the work of a coalition of groups fighting for passage of the Dignity Not Detention Act in New York State. We highlight how recent the practice of immigrant mass detention actually is, and the urgent need to abolish this carceral response to migration.

Ending Mass Detention of Immigrants 

“An economy based upon the confinement of people for profit is immoral and should be illegal.” 

—Tania Mattos, Queens-based Policy and Northeast Monitoring Manager, Freedom for Immigrants

In 2017, when California passed the Dignity Not Detention Act, the co-sponsor of the legislation, Freedom for Immigrants, intended the law to become a model for other states. On May 17, 2021 a New York State bill with the same name was introduced, to end NY State’s existing and future immigration detention contracts with ICE or any private entity. Six other states have made similar calls for Dignity Not Detention, trying to loosen the hold incarceration economies have on local communities. When passed, the laws will end the federal practice of paying for the detention of immigrants facing deportation and instead allow them to remain with their families and communities. 

During a recent visit to El Museo del Barrio, readers of our JHISN newsletter were struck by the collaborative work Torn Apart / Separados, a project that visualizes the financial influence of ICE. The project reveals ICE spending averaged $28 million a year in New York State over the past 7 years. The Mapping of US Immigration Detention Data shows the majority of ICE spending in NY State is for transportation costs; an 8th of transportation amounts were spent on translation services; half as much of translation amounts were spent on private security. Only after management, tactical & general supplies, and IT services, do medical spending costs feature—at a significantly lower amount. 

Immigrant detention at a massive scale wasn’t always a US tradition. When detention began on Ellis Island in the 1890s, only 10% of arriving immigrants were held, most briefly for medical checks, fewer for longer security checks, and then released. When Ellis Island closed in 1954, Eisenhower made confinement the exception, replacing it with conditional parole, bonds, or supervision. Only in the 1980s, under Reagan, did mass detention practices begin. Initially a deterrent to Haitian refugees escaping the Duvalier regime, they were also applied to Cuban and Salvadoran refugees and soon became the standard practice. These practices paralleled ‘tough-on-crime’ laws that grew the detention economy and, fueled by anti-immigration political rhetoric, also coerced detainee labor in for-profit facilities.

Congressional approval of DHS funding in 2009 required contracts with private detention facilities to include a minimum bed quota of 33,400 detention cells, to be paid whether used or not. Although Congress removed the Obama era’s minimum beds requirement in 2017, the number of guaranteed beds grew by 45% during the Trump administration because local contracts retained those guarantees and the count of immigrants in daily detention rose to over 50,000 by 2019. 


Graph by Carwil

In 2013, facing a possible government shutdown, ICE released 2,000+ detainees to lower costs, and the Senate reprimanded it for violating the 2009 statute. DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano argued that detaining should be based on known threats not numbers of beds; data from ICE’s detention statistics reveal they considered only 17% of people detained to be a severe threat level, while almost two-thirds posed no threat level. The charge “aggravated felony” was created specifically for immigration law—as recently pointed out by Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez, it describes offenses that are neither aggravated nor felonies. The language of “aggravated felony” is used to give the appearance of criminalized activity in our civil immigration process and minimize the ability to fight deportation and detention. 

When the pandemic struck, authorities released thousands of detainees which, combined with guidance under the Biden administration, has dropped the daily detainee population reportedly to under 15,000. The reliance on detention-first policies meant ICE used more than $3 billion to fund the detention of nearly 170,000 immigrants in 2020 and still has ICE paying more than $1 million per day for empty beds.

The economics of detention are complex and significant – as outlined by Worth Rises – but should not drive the continuing detention of immigrants involved in civil immigration proceedings.  Alternatives to Detention, ATDs, need to become priorities once again. Despite attempts by DHS to undermine their efficacy, ATDs can be 80% less expensive (under $5 per day instead of $130-$300 per day to detain an individual) and result in 90% compliance. In 2019, ICE received $184 million to develop an ATD called ISAP (Intensive Supervision Appearance Program) with over 95,000 participants. But ICE has implemented ISAP using for-profit private agencies that prioritize surveillance and onerous reporting requirements. Instead, advocates argue that ATDs succeed when trusted, community-based non-profits are involved.

When politicians submit bills like Dignity not Detention, or the ACLU calls for shutting down 39 facilities, or groups like Abolish ICE NY-NJ take actions to end ICE contracts in Hudson County, they expect detainees will be released to their families or local community. However, as we wait for Governor Murphy to sign a New Jersey law to prevent the renewal or development of new ICE contracts for detaining immigrants, the Biden administration is actually moving some detainees from NY and NJ to detention facilities as far away as Alabama, Louisiana, and Pennsylvania. The New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP) identified at least 22 detainees from New York who were moved to jails around the country, with unprecedented speed, in some cases without taking personal items including legal paperwork. They are further from their families, medical support treatments, and legal representatives. 

Activists in NJ protested for 3 days at Senator Booker’s Newark office this week, demanding these transfers stop and everyone who was recently transferred be brought back to NJ so they can be released to their families. It is time to eliminate detention from US immigration procedures.

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.