Tag: DACA

JHISN Newsletter 05/14/2022

Dear friends,

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

1. Here We Go Again: Democratic Party Failing Immigrants

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is corrupt political theater, not progressive politics.

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

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

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

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

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

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

In solidarity and with collective care,

Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network (JHISN)

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

 

 

JHISN Newsletter 04/30/2022

Dear Friends,

Our neighborhood trees have begun to bloom as the weather warms, providing us with hopeful signs of Spring. This week’s newsletter highlights the press conference and demonstration by several immigrant justice groups in front of the IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center on Tax Day. Participants emphasized that they pay taxes for government programs but rarely receive any benefits from those programs. They continue to insist on a path to citizenship. We also offer you a specific way to help asylum seekers fill out applications and access resources by volunteering with SAFE (Seeking Asylum & Finding Empowerment).

1. Immigration Reform Fight Continues

Several months have passed since Congress closed the conversation about immigration reform that was part of the Build Back Better package. But immigrant justice organizations continue to push legislators to provide a pathway to citizenship for 11 million immigrants. Last Monday, April 18th–Tax Day, about 75 immigrants and supporters gathered for a press conference and demonstration at 290 Broadway, in front of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Taxpayer Assistance Center. Among the groups represented were Make the Road NY, New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE), UnLocal 79, and Churches United for Fair Housing (CUFFH). They were there with a message for the government: after paying taxes for years, and doing essential work that benefits everybody, they are tired of being marginalized and disrespected. 

Demonstration slogans included,  “We pay taxes and we are excluded!” and “Included when taxes are due, but excluded from immigration reform!” Speakers highlighted the risks that undocumented immigrants face—from both Covid and from deportation.

“We are tired of being forgotten…of being part of a political game while our lives, and the lives of our family continue being at risk. We are tired of feeling afraid to be deported and being separated from our families. For these reasons we ask for immigration reform. We need to be included in the budget of the [Congressional] Reconciliation Package and we need it now.” —Dolores Juarez

At election time politicians offer all kinds of promises to undocumented immigrants, but most of them are never fulfilled. As Joanne Ibanez said at the press conference:

“I have 4 children and fight to belong to this country that has changed my life, where my children belong. And I accepted to pay taxes for more than 20 years. We want promises [to] be fulfilled. We follow the rules and the government doesn’t. We want freedom! We live in jail; prisoners are getting free after finishing their time in jail. And for us when?! We want immigration reform now.”

This is a crucial time to apply pressure on Congress since politicians are starting to talk again about immigration on Capitol Hill. According to press reports, Democratic Senator Dick Durbin is finding support from GOP legislators to pass a narrowly crafted bipartisan immigration reform bill this year. A Republican in Washington and a Democrat from California are urging the Senate to take action. The Hill wrote on April 27th that Senators Durbin and Tillis have said at the beginning of April that “they intended to convene an immigration gang after the two-week April break.”

The immigration reform being discussed follows a well-worn path: amnesty for Dreamers, “balanced” by increased funding for border enforcement. The bill may also include a “guest worker” program that would help relieve worker shortages in restaurants and other industries. It isn’t clear if such a proposal would have enough votes to pass both houses of Congress. But even if it did, it would fall far short of what the Democrats promised and would leave most undocumented immigrants without a pathway to citizenship.

2. Volunteer Opportunity at a Weekly Clinic

Seeking Asylum & Finding Empowerment (SAFE) helps run a pro se legal clinic (for people representing themselves) with Congregation Beit Simchat Torah and RUSA LGBT.  The model they follow is similar to the one used by the no longer operating New Sanctuary Coalition. The volunteers help immigrant “friends” fill out asylum applications and connect to resources; JHISN newsletter readers are invited to join the team of volunteers at the weekly clinic called the Ark. 

What is it? A weekly clinic where volunteers help primarily LGBTQ asylum seekers complete their asylum applications and find out what other legal and social services are available to them. 

What kind of volunteers are needed? Anyone who can make a regular weekly commitment. They need lawyers, law students, computer-savvy people, notetakers, and interpreters (Spanish and Russian speakers especially). 

Are volunteers mostly lawyers? Some volunteers are lawyers, but most are not. There are lawyers present every week who can offer support and guidance, but they do not provide representation. 

When? Every Wednesday and/or Thursday from 6-8:30 pm 

Location: ZOOM 

I’d love to volunteer for the first time. What should I do? Email sanctuary@cbst.org – They will send you training materials to review before joining to begin volunteering. 

Will volunteering at the Clinic count toward my NYS pro bono hours for law students? Yes! The volunteer supervising attorneys and clinic coordinator are happy to sign off on your hours.

 

In solidarity and with collective care,

Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network (JHISN)

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

 

JHISN Newsletter 04/03/2021

Dear friends,

Since we sent our last newsletter two weeks ago, immigrant workers have continued their hunger strike demanding inclusion of a Fund for Excluded Workers in the New York state budget. The ‘Fast for the Forgotten’ has brought together workers, mothers, aunties, brothers, husbands, sisters, grandmas, elders, and our neighbors, who are putting their bodies on the line to get emergency pandemic relief for undocumented workers. We continue to cover the historic strike below.

We also report on a recent legislative victory celebrated by local immigrant justice groups. House passage of the American Dream and Promise Act 2021 is a major step toward creating a possible citizenship path for Dreamers, TPS holders, and other immigrant residents. 

Newsletter highlights:

  1. ‘Fast for the Forgotten’ enters its third week 
  2. Legislation promises citizenship path for over 4 million immigrants  

1. Hunger strike continues as state budget talks drag on

“We are here because we have suffered enough. We have already endured a year of hunger. What difference does it make to endure two or three weeks more with the purpose of getting something that we deserve…Our stomachs ask for food, but our hearts ask for justice.”  —Veronica Leal, hunger striker (Documented, March 31, 2021)

Now in its third week, with individual hunger strikers in wheelchairs and facing increasing health risks, the ‘Fast for the Forgotten’ is a challenge now for us. What will we do, as immigrant and undocumented workers refuse to end their strike until the New York State legislature passes a ‘just budget’? How to measure our own hunger for justice against the ease of forgetting that almost a quarter-million undocumented immigrants in New York State have been excluded for over a year from any federal pandemic emergency relief? What does it mean to remember that many of the workers who have stocked grocery shelves, delivered take-out food, served meals and washed dishes for folks who venture out to eat, are hungry? And have families and children who are hungry too.

The #FundExcludedWorkers coalition, led by immigrant New Yorkers, has been mobilizing political pressure since last summer to tax the rich and raise state revenue to financially protect undocumented workers devastated by the pandemic. On March 16, as JHISN reported, the coalition launched a hunger strike now in its 19th day, with immigrant strikers staying in Judson Church in the West Village, and dozens more participating statewide in the strike in Westchester, Syracuse, and Albany. They aim to secure a $3.5 billion workers fund in the New York State budget. The initial proposed budget contained a suggested $2.1 billion fund, but activists insist that anything less than the full $3.5 billion is not enough to retroactively make up for the lost emergency support to excluded workers over the past year. 

The state budget was scheduled to be finalized by March 31. But that deadline has come and gone, with negotiations dragging on through this weekend. Hunger strikers continue to drink water and refuse food. Day 20…21…22?

Since the launch, elected officials and NYC mayoral candidates have joined the hunger strike on select days; immigrant justice groups and their allies have organized virtual hunger strikes in solidarity; rallies have been held in front of Governor Cuomo’s office; supporters have been arrested for civil disobedience in the streets; local politicians have washed the feet of hunger strikers in a symbolic Holy Thursday action; and musicians, dancers, artists, and storytellers have put their creativity in service of funding excluded workers.    

How has Governor Cuomo responded to this historic mobilization? By March 29, Cuomo’s team had introduced new barriers to workers’ ability to access the multi-billion-dollar fund included in the state assembly’s original budget proposal. The ‘poison pills’ proposed by Cuomo would require immigrant workers to present federal ITIN numbers, or bank account and payroll stubs, in order to access funding. “We cannot move forward with an Excluded Workers Fund that excludes the excluded workers,” noted Jessica Maxwell of the Central New York Workers Center. Immigrant workers and their allies rallied in Washington Square Park to decry the new barriers and demand a ‘flexible application’ process for undocumented workers. If Cuomo’s restrictions are put in place, most of the individual hunger strikers will not be eligible for the funds they starved for. 

As we remember the ‘Fast for the Forgotten’ and the urgent need for government support of all workers caught in the pandemic catastrophe, the words of Ana Ramirez—a hunger striker speaking at a public rally on Day 5—can inspire and haunt us:

“I want to make it clear to this nation, the most important nation in the world, that we will no longer conform to being told ‘Good Job.’ We want the laws to be just, because it is then that we can work with love, with honor, with dignity…  

“It is not just me but thousands of families—families that went to the bakery to bake the bread so that the rich can eat during this pandemic comfortably. I am forgotten, I am one of the excluded. We are house cleaners, construction workers, restaurant workers, retail workers, laundry workers, all of whom have worked hard for this nation… 

“When the body is depleted of its minerals, the vitamins that it needs, you begin to tremble. But this gives me more strength. Because that is the hunger that thousands of working families face…

“And the rich, the powerful, the thieves that don’t pay taxes, they were able to go through the pandemic with comfort and ease. But we the poor don’t ask for anything given. 

“I want to tell you all that my hunger strike is only beginning. Because if they want to see me die of hunger, they will.”

Ana Ramirez, hunger striker since Day 1

(translated from Spanish)

WHAT CAN WE DO?

  • Immediately contact your state legislators to voice support for the $3.5 billion Excluded Workers Fund.
  • Follow daily Hunger Strike updates, solidarity events, and social media campaigns at Fund Excluded Workers website and Instagram
  • Check out the Allies Action Toolkit with instructions on how to organize your own solidarity hunger strike, and amplify via social media.
  • Donate to the Strike Support fund here.

2. Path to citizenship could open for millions

“Yesterday, yet again, we made history with the passage of the Dream and Promise Act (H.R. 6). This legislation, which passed with bipartisan support yesterday by a vote of 228-197, is a historic step towards correcting the injustices in America’s immigration system. … This is truly a grassroots win.” Pabitra Khati Benjamin, Adhikaar (email, March 19, 2021)

More than 4 million undocumented immigrants could get a path to citizenship under a bill passed last month by the U.S. House of Representatives.

While it faces a potentially steep uphill climb in the Senate—and it would leave millions of other people still without a path to legal status—the new bill has been supported by many immigrant advocacy groups, including Queens-based Adhikaar.

The American Dream and Promise Act of 2021 would provide conditional permanent residence for up to 10 years to people who came to the United States as children, including recipients of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). By meeting certain requirements—for example, going to school or getting a job—those individuals could then gain permanent resident status (a green card), which could eventually lead to citizenship.

They’d be ineligible for conditional status if they have certain criminal offenses on their records, and they’d lose their status if convicted of a serious crime. Additionally, the Department of Homeland Security would have authority to deny applications if officials have “clear and convincing evidence” that the applicant was involved in gang activity in recent years or is otherwise a public safety threat. These provisions have been criticized by several groups, including The Bronx Defenders and Human Rights Watch, who cite the disproportionate effect the stipulations could have on immigrants of color.

Certain other immigrants, including those with Temporary Protected Status and those protected under a program called Deferred Enforced Departure, would also be eligible for permanent status under the new bill.

The Migration Policy Institute estimates that about 4.4 million of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States could become eligible for permanent status if this bill becomes law.

“The passage of the American Dream and Promise Act within the first 100 days of the 117th Congress signals the overwhelming support for the legislation and a commitment to make good on overdue promises,” Amaha Kassa, executive director of African Communities Together, said in a statement. “We call on the Senate to take up and swiftly pass this legislation into law.” President Joe Biden has already voiced his support for the bill.

The so-called Dreamers—young people who were brought to the United States as children, many of whom have been protected by DACA—are probably the most often discussed group that would be covered by the bill. Less often talked about are TPS holders.

Temporary Protected Status grants temporary legal status to immigrants who would face humanitarian emergencies like war or fallout from natural disasters if sent back to their home countries. (Deferred Enforced Departure, which currently covers people from Liberia and Venezuela, is similar to Temporary Protected Status, and DED holders are also covered by the new bill. But whereas DED is at the discretion of the president, TPS is under the supervision of the secretary of Homeland Security.)

Nepal, Syria, Haiti, and Somalia are among the countries whose citizens have gained TPS protection in the United States.

“TPS holders are critical essential workers on the frontline of our economic recovery from the ongoing COVID-19 crisis,” said Pabitra Khati Benjamin, executive director of Adhikaar. The group advocates for the rights of the Nepali-speaking community here in Central Queens and has been a leader in the fight to maintain protection for TPS holders. (Nepal received TPS designation after the massive earthquake and aftershocks that hit the country in 2015.)

The Trump administration tried to rescind TPS protection for hundreds of thousands of immigrants from several countries, including Nepal, but the policy was stalled amid litigation over the issue, which is still pending. Adhikaar has called for the Biden administration to redesignate Nepal as a protected country. At the same time, the group has advocated for Congress to provide permanent residency to TPS holders.

If passed into law, the new bill would be a significant step in that direction. It wouldn’t create the pathway to citizenship for all undocumented individuals that Adhikaar and other groups want, but advocates say this is still a victory.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

  • If you are able, consider a donation to Adhikaar to support their ongoing fight for Nepali-speaking TPS holders.

In solidarity and with collective care,

Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network

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

 

 

JHISN Newsletter 2/20/2021

Dear friends,

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

Newsletter highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT CAN WE DO?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In solidarity and with collective care,

Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network

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