Tag: COVID-19

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. 

 

 

JHISN Newsletter 06/26/2021

Dear friends,

With you, we welcome the arrival of summer and its promise of warmth, and green shade, and shared gatherings that one year ago seemed dreadfully out of reach. Food will be at the center of so many of our renewed gatherings this summer, and this week’s newsletter takes a deeper look at the intersection of food politics and immigrant justice. From farmworkers to restaurant workers to street vendors, immigrant labor is a huge force in the harvesting and production of our food. We look at one essential sector of that labor: the tens of thousands of food delivery workers in New York City.

Delivering Justice: Immigrant Workers Fight Back

The bitter truth is that many food delivery workers can work 12 hours a day in the cold or rain for multiple food service apps and still not make enough to feed their own families.   —Los Deliveristas Unidos

Restaurant delivery workers helped keep New York alive during the worst days of the pandemic. They are celebrated as “heroes,” and as “essential.” Yet every time we accept a food delivery at our front door, we are interacting with one of the most exploited workforces in the city–almost all immigrants, and almost all people of color

For years, delivery workers have fought for justice against their employers and a callous city government, determined to improve unacceptable pay and working conditions. Now these skirmishes are turning into an outright battle, as delivery workers gain allies and move to a new level of unity and organization.

Restaurant delivery in the U.S. is a massive industry, worth tens of billions of dollars. And New York City is its epicenter. Just a few years ago, food delivery in New York was arranged mainly by individual restaurants, usually paying undocumented immigrants “under the table.” In parts of the city, this notoriously harsh model continues. Many delivery people work up to 16 hours a day, for a few dollars an hour with no overtime.

However, the advent of delivery apps like UberEats, Seamless/Grubhub, and DoorDash, has rapidly transformed the industry. The app services hire people as “independent contractors”; workers must now supply social security numbers, and are usually given basic English language tests. 

When Covid-19 closed down much of the city, unemployment and demand for food delivery both skyrocketed–and so did “gig” delivery work. Before the pandemic, New York had an estimated 50,000 app delivery workers. In just one year, ending in March, UberEats alone added 36,000 more “couriers” locally. Other app companies had similar exponential growth.

 The app services have upended the old business model in many ways. What hasn’t changed is the relentless oppression experienced by delivery workers, mainly immigrants from Latin America and Asia. App workers are poorly paid, with no benefits. They work long hours in bad weather. They buy their own e-bikes, which cost upwards of $2,000, and also pay for batteries, parking, and supplies. Their jobs are dangerous–not just because of traffic, but because delivery people are often assaulted and robbed. There’s a long history of tips and wages being stolen by restaurants and app companies. Delivery workers are subjected to racist disrespect: denied use of bathrooms (which especially impacts women workers), harassed by police, forced to use “poor doors,” insulted on the street. Referring to restaurants that won’t allow the use of their bathrooms, delivery worker Williams Sian comments, “We’re what’s driving their income right now, but…they treat us like insects.”

New York has seen a series of struggles by delivery workers and their allies to combat such abuses in recent years. When Mayor de Blasio and the NYPD started ticketing e-bike riders and confiscating thousands of bikes in 2017-18, grassroots groups like Make the Road and the Chinese Mutual Association helped pressure them to back off. Widespread public outrage about credit card tips being ripped off by restaurants and app services forced some of the big companies to improve their policies. (Grubhub, Seamless, UberEats, Postmates, Caviar, and DoorDash now promise that 100% of customer tips will go to the workers.)

When the pandemic hit, and thousands of laid-off restaurant workers started streaming into app delivery work, the Workers Justice Project, which was already meeting with delivery workers, decided to organize Los Deliveristas Unidos (LDU)–United Delivery Workers. Worker leaders soon emerged to run the LDU collective. Many of the founding members are indigenous Guatemalans or Mexicans. Their demands are simple:

  1. The right to use restaurant bathrooms
  2. A living wage and hazard pay
  3. Protections from e-bike robberies, wage theft, and health and safety hazards
  4. A place to eat, rest, and escape bad weather
  5. The right to organize

Last fall, deliveristas held a series of rallies and gained wide press coverage of their problems. In October, some 800 delivery workers demonstrated in lower Manhattan. In April, thousands of delivery e-bikes snarled traffic in a protest near City Hall, demanding justice from the mayor. On June 8, deliveristas rallied in support of a series of six reform bills introduced in the City Council by LDU allies. SEIU Local 32BJ, one of the largest unions in the city, has been actively supporting LDU, as has outgoing Comptroller Scott Stringer. The deliveristas movement, it appears, is emerging rapidly as a powerful force for immigrant worker justice in New York.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

  • Tip well, and in cash, unless you’re sure that the full credit card tip will get to the delivery person. 
  • Donate to the Workers Justice Project/Los Deliveristas Unidos
  • Support the legislative package introduced in New York City Council to secure delivery worker protections and economic justice. 

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 05/29/2021

Dear friends

For lots of us, this is a time for optimism, as Covid-19 slowly loosens its grip on our lives and our nightmares. But for too many of us, the nightmare continues–this is a time for worrying, for mourning, for reckoning. The coronavirus still surges in South Asia, Latin America and so many other places where immigrants have loved ones. Here in New York, vaccination rates are starting to taper off, and the familiar wound of inequality continues to characterize “the recovery.” In this week’s newsletter, we consider some of the factors that have held back vaccine use in our community, and efforts by activists to overcome those obstacles. We also spotlight a moving public art tribute to essential immigrant workers who were lost to the pandemic. For the communities they helped save, fully honoring their humanity is a test of our own.

  1. In Memoriam to Essential Workers
  2. Vaccine Access @ Jackson Heights 

1. Memorial Art in Covid Times

“We have to remember exactly who has been affected. We have to remember the communities who have lost people needlessly …. Those losses have to be mourned, they have to be acknowledged, and they have to be honored.”  —Mourners Walk video (P. Mendoza, 2020)

The violinist, in a black mask, plays at the intersection of 35th Avenue and 95th Street. White roses are laid on the steps of Elmhurst Hospital. In October 2020, artists, activists, and community members gather after dark in Jackson Heights to mark the beloved dead, and call attention to the unfathomable loss and unacknowledged grief borne by communities like ours ravaged by COVID-19.

Six months later in the windows of an empty storefront in Manhattan’s SoHo, a memorial exhibition appears honoring seven undocumented immigrants who have died during the pandemic. Each beloved loss is marked with a huge poster of their image, and a QR code linked to an oral history of their life. The street installation is designed by artist-activist Paola Mendoza, who also co-organized the Jackson Heights ‘Mourners Walk’ last October. She names the public art memorial Immigrants Are Essential:

“The word ‘essential’ has become an identity during this crisis, of the people and places that keep our society moving even when everything else is on pause, of those that are too often in the background but without whom we would fall apart … This is exactly who immigrants have always been and will continue to be in the United States: essential. May their stories inspire and ignite change…” Paolo Mendoza (April 2021)

To date, over 9,800 people in Queens have died of COVID, disproportionately working-class, of color, and undocumented. The intimate stories featured in Mendoza’s public art exhibition narrate just seven out of tens of thousands of undocumented lives ended by a virus that fatally tracks unequal structures of vulnerability and social suffering. 

On Memorial Day weekend, a nationalist holiday dedicated to remembering US military lives lost, how to also honor the undocumented dead? How to continue the collective task of memorializing our community’s incalculable loss from this pandemic?   

2. Pop-up sites and worker protections vital to getting people vaccinated

While COVID-19 vaccinations lag across the country and around the world, several efforts have been launched to get shots into the arms of Jackson Heights and neighboring communities.

“We’re in a pretty good news period around the effectiveness of pop-ups, and going where people are to make this more convenient,” S. Mitra Kalita said on a recent episode of WNYC’s “Brian Lehrer Show,” speaking about the mobile vaccination sites showing up in New York’s working class communities.

Kalita founded Epicenter NYC, a news site that aims to highlight pandemic-related developments in Central Queens, often focusing on issues that immigrant communities face here. In addition to delivering news, Epicenter NYC offers help booking vaccine appointments. The website has important resources for both people looking to get vaccinated and those who want to help others in their community do so.

Neighborhoods with high populations of Latinx residents continue to face high barriers to vaccination, often due to the inability of employees to miss work so they can get the shot and recover. Restaurant workers, in particular, have had difficulties getting time off for a vaccination, Kalita said.

She recently demanded that the city transform its signage at pop-up sites to make it immediately clear, in multiple languages, that the vaccines are free and, especially, that immigration status will not be questioned. According to New York protocols, any ID will be accepted to confirm an appointment–even an old phone bill. But this fact is not widely known in some communities.

Several organizations are working in our neighborhood to help people get vaccinated easily. They show up on street corners, under tents, and in front of stores. It’s quite possible you’ve seen them around.

If you or anyone you know has questions about how, when, or where to get vaccinated—and if you’re wondering whether it’s a good idea (many people are understandably concerned)—these organizations will likely be able to provide helpful information. Whether it’s online or on Roosevelt Avenue, there are many places to go to learn more. Here are just a few:

  • NYC Health + Hospitals provides vaccines at its sites and sponsors many of the local mobile vaccination clinics.
  • The city of New York has information on its website about where vaccinations are available.
  • Epicenter NYC has updates and vaccination appointment help.
  • City Council Member Francisco Moya has hosted virtual vaccine town halls in English and Spanish to help increase confidence in the vaccine.
  • Voces Latinas frequently hosts pop-up vaccine sites in partnership with other organizations near 83rd Street and Roosevelt Avenue.

Vaccination is critical to protect health and lives, for people to be able to gather with communities and family, for businesses to reopen safely, and to prevent the spread of new coronavirus variants. If more people in the United States and around the world can get vaccinated, we may be able to truly begin the long road to recovery from COVID-19.

In memoriam and in hope,

Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network (JHISN)

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JHISN Newsletter 04/17/2021

Dear friends,

As spring starts to bloom around us, we offer a newsletter with a hopeful eye on the future, and a giant hurrah for immigrant workers’ victorious struggle to secure pandemic relief. ‘Casa de Futuros’ (‘A House of Futures’) is how Centro Corona describes their collective space and cultural center, built in the heart of Corona. We share a history of Centro Corona’s vibrant immigrant-led space and invite your support of their fundraising campaign to cover rent for 2021. And for a third newsletter in a row, we report on the historic—and ultimately successful!—fight to include billions of dollars in the New York state budget for undocumented workers, including tens of thousands of Queens residents.

Newsletter highlights:

  1. Help keep Centro Corona thriving!
  2. Victory for the Fund Excluded Workers coalition

1. Centro Corona — a house of futures

Long before COVID-19 descended on us and ‘mutual aid’ suddenly became a common phrase, Centro Corona already seemed to echo the Mutualistas tradition from another time and culture (Texas and Mexico of the 1800’s). Like those Mutualistas, which provided for working class families, this Central Queens community house places cooperation, and community protection and support as guiding principles of action. Their action recently has been running a fundraising campaign to ensure that Centro Corona can continue operating within and for the community for the rest of the year.

Born of the creative arts, Centro Corona has emerged from multiple pasts. In 2006, Tania Bruguera conceived of the Immigrant Movement International (IMI); an artist’s examination of the political representation and conditions facing immigrants in various cities in the world. With funding from the Queens Museum in 2011 her “arte útil” concept was finally implemented as a storefront called IMI-Corona on Roosevelt Avenue. The local community was invited to use the space, with the intent that the cultural arts site would become a civic agent as a host of workshops. 

Local artists and culture bearers with longstanding ties to the largely immigrant community In Corona began making their own work within the space. By 2013, they pushed to create a community council aiming to develop independence from the IMI. Their reimagining process was interrupted when the landlord displaced them in 2018. For a non-capitalist community space to be ousted by a landlord seeking financial benefit was contemptuous, but the volunteer members came together and rebuilt Centro Corona at 47th ave at 104th Street. They continued using the experience, leadership, and knowledge of people from the working-class, migrant, youth, women, gender non-conforming, trans and queer communities to generate a self-determined and collectively-imagined future.

Some of Centro Corona’s coordinators and volunteers note that when people meet and gather, there is a lot of celebration as well as social justice education. Half of the equation of their success is when someone shows up with certain skills and interests to share. The other half is when those same people come back to support the homework help, or sex education, or community safety training programs. People come back to continue being together.

“During the year, the space is full of political organizing meetings & cultural events, film screenings, poetry readings, celebrations, and discussion groups. Many campaigns have been born there, many more will be born. This space constantly generates new ideas and connections.” Jenny Akchin @jennyaction

COVID forced doors to close in March 2020. Joining with Queens Neighborhoods United and Project Hajra, Centro Corona developed a Mutual Aid network which, in just 13 weeks, assisted over 80 families. Providing food deliveries, supporting health needs, and giving cash assistance, volunteers also conduct well-being check-ins, offer death and grief support, as well as joining virtual hangouts for conversations as a break from daily problems. They supported hundreds of families in the community during a time when federal and state government programs refused. 

The winter brought concerns of a second wave of COVID, financial stressors from more lost work, and worries about their kids’ emotional and mental health. But recently the conversations seem to have changed as people are starting to think of new futures. Families in the Mutual Aid program have shifted from talking about uncertainty about COVID vaccination news to discussions about people getting vaccinated. And Centro Corona is looking at what its future holds. How will they use their garage/garden space for community gatherings? Will they be able to re-open as they hope in the summer? What will it mean to reopen while COVID is still with us? They know it will not look exactly the same as before … with direction from the community they are determining the best ways to use the space. 

Unlike the Mutualistas that were almost entirely shuttered by the Great Depression, we have an opportunity to ensure Centro Corona continues to be a house of futures for our community. Their primary expense is not the programs they run, but the monthly $3,800 they pay in rent for their space. Last week, as part of a fundraising campaign to raise $50,000 to keep their space for the rest of the year, Centro Corona entertained their community on facebook live events. We encourage our readers to donate what you can to support Centro Corona as a shared community space of collective reflection, encouragement, mutual aid, artistic expression, political action, popular education, cultural thriving and survival—a place of nourishment for the body, mind, and spirit. 

WHAT CAN WE DO?

2. $2.1 Billion towards Budget Justice for Excluded Workers

“Today, our work has been recognized. Our dignity has been recognized, and our dignity has been lifted by passing this fund …. It is more than $2.1 billion dollars. It is actually a recognition of undocumented workers. This is the future. This is the future that we’re leaving behind for our kids, and a reminder for those who doubted us. This is proof that we did it.” Ana Ramirez, original hunger striker (QNS.com, 4/8/21)

 In what is being hailed as an historic victory, New York State passed a budget on April 6 that includes a $2.1 billion fund to support workers—mostly immigrant and undocumented—who have not yet received one dollar in federal or state support since the start of the pandemic. Over 192,000 undocumented New Yorkers, who pay an estimated $1.4 billion in annual taxes, lost their jobs during the crisis and will now be eligible for a one-time payment of up to $15,600 in retroactive unemployment and stimulus benefits. For undocumented workers in Jackson Heights and beyond, the fund is a lifeline to help cover missed rent payments and accumulated debt as workers struggle to avoid economic devastation. The Fiscal Policy Institute estimates that 290,000 workers statewide will benefit from the Excluded Workers Fund, including up to 58,000 Queens residents.

 The first-in-the-nation fund for excluded immigrant workers is the result of months of mobilization and strategizing by immigrant justice groups and their allies, including Make the Road NY, New York Immigration Coalition, and New York Communities for Change. In mid-March, the Fund Excluded Workers coalition launched a 23-day hunger strike by undocumented immigrants, which ended only after successful passage of the workers fund.

 The hunger strike did not secure the full $3.5 billion fund that would have provided equity with what other workers have received in benefits and stimulus checks over the past year. Recently incarcerated people were excluded from accessing the fund. And last-minute restrictions introduced by Governor Cuomo’s team threaten to exclude many undocumented workers from the highest tier of benefits. Activists were careful to affirm the huge victory for immigrant workers, while condemning the inequities that continue to plague working class communities of color that have been most ravaged by the pandemic. 

 [W]hile we celebrate today’s news, the fact that workers even needed to fight for this funding is a travesty. The pandemic has made clear that the well-being of our communities is interconnected and the exclusion of some people hurts us all. It has also laid bare racist exclusions in our social safety net that keep some workers from basic support that’s essential to survival. We hope that people across the country will be inspired by the bravery of workers in New York to end this unjust system once and for all.” Bianca Guerrero, coordinator, Fund Excluded Workers coalition

 And, indeed, inspired by New York, over 30 undocumented workers in New Jersey are now on a hunger strike demanding that the state provide unemployment and stimulus benefits for essential, but excluded, immigrant workers. 

 WHAT CAN WE DO?

  • Celebrate. Worker and immigrant struggles can and do win! Support the hunger strikers in NJ, and follow Make the Road New Jersey here. Si se puede!
  • Share this guide re: accessing the fund with neighbors, activists, and community members.

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 3/06/2021

Dear friends,

As we approach the one-year mark of pandemic life in the US, with vaccine distribution promising hope and also delivering predictable class- and race-based inequality, JHISN offers a look at history and the near future. Behind the recent headlines reporting the horrific number of Filipino health care workers who have died from COVID-19, we recount a less talked about history of US colonialism and the out-migration of health care workers from poorer to richer countries. We then examine how immigration activists are reacting to the new administration’s sweeping proposal for future immigration legislation.

Like us, you may be looking for a path toward spring, without forgetting the pandemic season we have dwelled in together—and which is not over. We hope the newsletter can provide a few useful signposts.

Newsletter highlights:

  1. Understanding the Disproportionate Deaths of US Filipino Health Care Workers
  2. Biden’s 2021 Citizenship Act: Immigrant Justice Groups Respond

1. Colonial History Behind COVID Deaths Among Filipino Health Care Workers

Three times as many Filipino health care workers have died here in the US than in the Philippines. So right away we know there’s something wrong.Jollene Levid, founder of the memorial website Kanlungan

A tide of grief is washing over Filipino communities around the country, as COVID death and illness falls relentlessly and disproportionately on their members working in health care. Four percent of nurses in the US are of Philippine ancestry, but they make up almost one-third of all nurse deaths from the pandemic. So far 178 Filipino healthcare employees are known to have died, dozens of them in New York City alone. Serious COVID illness is widespread among Filipinos working in health care, including doctors, hospital staff, and home health aides. This heavy toll is another bitter inflection point in the long history of colonial rule and racist discrimination inflicted on the Filipino people.

The US wrested the Philippines away from a fading Spanish Empire in 1898, initiating “one of the most brutal military occupations in American history” (J. Ditz, HuffPost). Intent on crushing the Filipino independence movement, US occupiers cemented their ownership through a vicious 15-year counterinsurgency war, employing widespread summary executions, torture, and concentration camps. Estimates of Filipino deaths at the hands of the US invaders range from hundreds of thousands to as many as a million people.

Colonial administrators combined vicious repression with paternalistic social programs to “uplift” the population. Catherine Choy’s definitive book about the complex history of healthcare colonialism in the Philippines, Empire of Care, reports that the imperialists called the occupation “benign assimilation.” They insisted that the colonized population needed US intervention to overcome ‘uncivilized’ dirt and disease. Starting as early as 1907, English language nursing schools were established to train Filipinos according to Americanized medical protocols, targeting the recruitment of women students. 

The training schools helped launch an enduring pattern of emigration by Filipino nurses, who left home to staff health care systems around the globe. After Philippine independence in 1946, nurses eventually became one of the country’s main ‘exports,’ praised by the government as “national heroes” for the money they sent back home. Remittances by migrant workers—mostly healthcare workers—now make up roughly 10% of the gross national product of the Philippines, to the tune of 15 billion dollars a year. At times, including during the current COVID crisis, this out-migration has created devastating and deadly nursing shortages back home.

Large numbers of Filipino nurses first came to the US after 1965, when an explicitly racist, anti-Asian immigration quota system was replaced by the Immigration and Nationality Act, which included “skills-based” provisions. Demand for nurses accelerated with the passage of Medicare and Medicaid, and again during the 1980s AIDS epidemic. Many white women in the US left nursing and fought their way into previously male-dominated professions, creating a further shortage. Meanwhile, economic crisis, devaluation of the peso, and the rise of political violence in the Philippines pushed more workers to migrate. By 2018, there were 145,800 Filipino registered nurses, along with many other Filipino health care workers, living in this country.

As migrants of color in the US, and mostly women, Filipino health care workers have been concentrated in the “front line of the front line” health care jobs: critical care, acute bedside care, elder care, surgical care, etc. This is a source of pride to many of the workers, but has had dire results during the pandemic, made even worse by the criminal withholding of adequate personal protective equipment by a profit-hungry medical system. The disproportionate death statistics, in other words, are no accident.

Last June 12—Philippine Independence Day—residents of Woodside’s “Little Manila” district unveiled a mural on the wall of Amazing Grace restaurant to honor Filipino health care workers. Incorporating a traditional Tagalog salutation—’Mabuhay!’ (or ‘to life!’)—it was painted by local artists and community members using details and themes from Philippine culture. Activist Sockie Laya Smith read the names of Filipino healthcare workers who had died from COVID-19. Speaking of the mural, Smith said, “This is to remember them as human beings—not simply as a labor percentage, a deceased statistic, or an immigration number. We thank you, say thy name. Mabuhay!”

WHAT CAN WE DO?

  • Visit the Kanlungan memorial website for healthcare workers of Philippine ancestry around the globe who have died from COVID-19. If you are able, consider donating to help maintain the online memorial.
  • Support and employ care workers from the local Damayan Workers Cooperative, managed by Filipino immigrant worker-owners.

2. Beyond the 2021 Citizenship Act

Last month, the White House presented a Bill to Congress promoted as a ‘new’ system of immigration and border control. But the Citizenship Act of 2021—with its clumsy official title, ‘To provide an earned path to citizenship, to address the root causes of migration and responsibly manage the southern border, and to reform the immigrant visa system, and for other purposes’—reads partly like pre-Trump business as usual. 

Any bill that is not a fear-mongering, immigration-halting, proudly racist policy crafted in the malevolent spirit of Stephen Miller is a step forward. But that alone doesn’t guarantee a real course correction from decades of problematic immigration policies. Some of the proposed changes, like replacing the word ‘alien’ with ‘noncitizen’, are minor steps toward addressing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)’s systemic dehumanizing policies and procedures. And yet there is still no clear legislative path to eliminating the rampant racism, white supremacy, and misogyny inside DHS’s Border Patrol and ICE. 

Non-governmental organizations have done their best to summarize the details of the Citizenship Act and explain the scope of its changes. The centerpiece of the Act is an 8-year ‘earned path’ to citizenship for all 11 million undocumented US immigrants, and an expedited 3-year path for Dreamers, Temporary Protected Status holders, and some farmworkers. The New York Immigration Coalition celebrates the activist work that inspired many specific features of the bill. Angeles Barrancos, member leader of the NJ chapter of Make The Road, notes that the “introduction of the Citizenship Act of 2021 demonstrates the strength of our movement.” Frank Parry, founder of “America’s Voice” which created DHS Watch in 2018, states: “We have to give credit to the people who have been organizing from the ground up for the last 20 years” for the existence of the Biden Bill— their work made “what once seemed a little radical seem common sense.”

At the same time, immigration and other progressive groups have made clear that there is more to be done, and to be demanded. Well-known activist Ravi Ragbir, co-founder of NYC-based New Sanctuary Coalition, said in early February, “Even though the Biden administration wants to stop deportations, an enforcement agency like ICE has the unchecked authority and power to continue doing so.” Members of the Congressional Black Caucus have expressed outrage that DHS is blatantly ignoring new White House directives, as ICE continues to terrorize Black immigrant communities. For instance, ICE deported a New York immigrant to Haiti, although he was not born there and had never lived there.

South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), which includes local groups like Adhikaar, Chhaya CDC, and DRUM, acknowledges the “possibilities this legislation presents.” They also urge Congress to address some of its “harmful provisions” like the exclusion of immigrants harmed by a racist criminal legal system, or discouraging immigrants from accessing vital services as they move toward citizenship. SAALT also calls on President Biden to “transform the immigration system to explicitly account for climate change, religious persecution, and growing right-wing fascism.”

Looking at the foreign policy elements of the 2021 Act, Alberto Velázquez Trujillo of Faith in Action in Central America says that the $4 billion in promised ‘investment’ in the region must also have accountability checks. “If Biden wants to help Central America, he needs more discernment about where the money is spent. If he just gives money to the governments [as administrations have done in the past], things will remain the same.”

In sum, there is no settled summary of the ambitions, gaps, and dangers in the proposed 2021 Citizenship Act. All that is unfolding, in real-time. The ACLU notes “This legislation provides one of the most far-reaching pathways to citizenship and legal residency in recent history.“ But importantly they voice concerns too:

[W]e must … ensure that Congress passes legislation that does not import the wrongs of the broken and racist criminal legal system, nor lead to more wasteful funding for technology at the border that would undermine everyone’s right to privacy.” —N. Shah, ACLU Statement, 2/18/21

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.