Tag: Dignity Not Detention

JHISN Newsletter 03/05/2022

Dear friends,

This week, on the eve of President Biden’s State of the Union address, hundreds gathered in Washington DC, for a counter-event addressing the true #StateOfOurLives. Immigrant justice groups came together demanding that the administration fulfill its promises to end Title 42, extend TPS (Temporary Protected Status) for vulnerable immigrant groups, and create a path to citizenship for millions.

Our newsletter this week reports on the #StateOfOurLives among immigrant communities close to home – from the Valentine’s Day of Action mobilized by Jackson Heights-based NICE, to the recent hunger strike among 50 detainees incarcerated just north of NYC, to Adkhikaar’s activism focused on low-wage, women of color workers in the nail salon industry. We honor these vibrant, necessary, ongoing local justice struggles. 

Newsletter highlights:
  1. NICE in solidarity with ‘A Day Without Immigrants’
  2. Detainee hunger strike at Orange County Jail 
  3. Adkhikaar’s ‘All Hands In!’ for nail salon workers 

1. NICE Joins ‘A Day Without Immigrants’

There are tens of millions of immigrants living and working in the United States. New York City alone is home to 3.1 million immigrants and more than half a million undocumented residents. What would happen if for one day they didn’t go to work or school, and didn’t spend any money?

Carlos Eduardo Espina, a 23-year-old immigrant from Uruguay with 2.5 million followers on TikTok, wanted to find out. So he encouraged immigrants to use February 14, 2022, as the day to skip work or skip school, and not spend any money. People in the U.S. typically spend $23.9 billion on Valentine’s Day; an action on that day would be a graphic illustration of how important immigrants are to the U.S. economy.

More than 2,600 businesses across the U.S. pledged to close for the day in solidarity with the protest, including 66 New York-based businesses. Members of New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE), located here in Jackson Heights, participated in A Day Without Immigrants by sponsoring a full day of events in Union Square and an evening rally in Times Square. 

In Union Square, NICE held a press conference demanding an end to workers’ exclusion from government assistance, including unemployment insurance, followed by a Know Your Rights presentation. The lively Times Square rally had close to one hundred participants, most wearing NICE’s signature yellow T-shirts. Their leaflet called for the right to decent housing, life without fear of deportation, and dignified union jobs. Impassioned speeches by members of NICE and other participating groups were interspersed with energetic chants and drumming.

Similar demonstrations took place in fifteen other U.S. cities. Protests in Washington, DC, and Ogden, Utah, were especially large, and the United Farm Workers (UFW) organized walkouts in five California locations emphasizing that much of our food is produced by immigrants.

According to the American Immigration Council, in 2019 immigrant-led families in the U.S. controlled about $1.3 trillion in spending power, paying approximately $331 billion in federal taxes and $162 billion in state and local taxes. Undocumented families alone contributed $19 billion in federal taxes and almost $12 billion in state and local taxes.

 The recent Executive Director of NICE, Manuel Castro, is now Commissioner of Immigrant Affairs, appointed by Mayor Adams. This is a good omen for immigrant affairs in our city.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

2. Hunger Strike at the Orange County Jail

“[P]eople arrested for immigration offenses are supposed to be individually evaluated as to whether they are a flight risk or threat to public safety. If not, they are supposed to be released on bond or their own recognizance. But the New York ICE field office is jailing virtually everybody …. According to the NY Civil Liberties Union, ‘ICE has secretly decided to detain thousands of New Yorkers unlawfully, inflicting enormous and entirely unnecessary harms.’”  –JHISN Newsletter (12/19/2020)

We wrote these words during a courageous hunger strike by immigrants detained at the Bergen County Jail in New Jersey. Supported by vigorous demonstrations outside the facility, striker demands included an end to inhumane conditions, and release while waiting for their immigration hearings. 

A year later, at the end of 2021, the immigrant decarceration movement celebrated its success in forcing New Jersey to close all immigrant detention facilities. Unfortunately, as we reported at that time, many of the ICE detainees were simply transferred to NY State jails instead of being released to their families.

 The Orange County Jail in Goshen, NY, about 65 miles from Jackson Heights, is a known hellhole. In 2018, a detainee hunger strike protested out-of-control practices of solitary confinement. In 2020, another hunger strike was launched over denial of visitation and lack of hot meals. 

Now comes word that more than 40 immigrants detained at the OC Jail started a new hunger strike on February 17, provoked by widespread racist abuses. The strikers also complained about religious discrimination and “spoiled, stinking food.” Some of the strikers reported intense retaliation for the strike. A coalition of community groups denounced the jail’s “racist and retaliatory abuse, violence and medical neglect,” calling for the termination of its ICE contract and release of all immigrant detainees. The immigrants’ protest seems to have ended on February 20, after an ICE official visited the facility. Two corrections officers were transferred out of the ICE unit soon afterward.

This week there was a flurry of new activity by detainee allies, partly inspired by the hunger strike. A Dignity Not Detention week of action featured a City Council hearing on conditions in immigrant detention facilities, as well as testimony in Albany supporting legislation to close detention centers. On Thursday there was a rally in Foley Square to demand the release of all immigrant detainees. 

 WHAT CAN WE DO?

​​3. #AllHandsIn for Nail Salon Workers

As the only community and worker rights center in the US dedicated to the Nepali-speaking community, Adhikaar is familiar with breaking new ground. In January 2022, the Woodside-based immigrant justice group introduced a first-in-the-nation bill to raise industry standards for nail salon workers across New York. As they launch an ‘All Hands In’ campaign to support the bill, Adhikaar is committed to member leadership and worker-led organizing by immigrant women of color. 

 The legislation would create a statewide council bringing together government officials, employers, and nail salon workers themselves to identify ways to improve the industry. Adhikaar member leader Sweta Thakali explains:

 “If anyone knows what needs to be changed it’s us who are in the industry. Our income is not stable, we face discrimination, we work without breaks, we are guaranteed no benefits and we work in unhealthy conditions. This council will give us the chance to be heard and win the ability to come to the table and speak up for what we need.”    –S. Thakali (1/26/2022)

 Partnering with State Senator Jessica Ramos of Queens and the NY Healthy Nail Salon Coalition, Adhikaar aims to redress decades of labor rights violations, wage theft, and unsafe working conditions for nail salon workers that have only worsened during the pandemic.

 New York State has over 5700 nail salons, with the largest concentration in New York City. At the same time, NYC has some of the lowest prices in the country for a manicure ($13.70 on average in NYC and Long Island). Immigrant women of color make up the vast majority of salon workers, with 73% of all nail technicians in New York identifying as Asian or Pacific Islander, and 21% as Latinx.  

 In 2015, Adhikaar helped win the fight for a NY Nail Salon Workers’ Bill of Rights – another first in the US. As a powerful, local, women-led immigrant justice group, Adhikaar is poised to continue breaking new ground for workers’ rights and economic justice in the nail salon industry. 

 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 12/18/2021

Dear friends,

The days grow short as the winter solstice approaches. At this darkest time of year, we celebrate the power of community and the promise of collective warmth in our immigrant neighborhood here in the heart of Queens. We celebrate the political promise of hundreds of thousands of immigrants now enfranchised to vote in local elections, as NYC joins over a dozen US communities where non-citizens have the right to vote.

In this issue, we offer you a local story of how the historic fight to fund excluded workers in New York State has been curated into a museum exhibition in Queens. And we report on the statewide campaign to end ICE detention of immigrants, in the context of the 20th-century criminalization of immigrants of color in the US.  

Newsletter highlights:

  1. ‘Nuevayorkinos: Essential and Excluded’ at PS1
  2. Shutting Down ICE Detention 

1. Immigrant Activism Meets Museum Space: Art & Politics @MoMA PS1

The room is sunny, spacious, and quiet. The white museum walls are adorned with colorful banners in Spanish, and photographs of immigrant activists taken last spring at Corona Plaza. In the middle of the room is a comfortable couch and chairs circled around a table with Spanish- and English-language books on immigration history and politics, including a neatly stacked pile of tales of resistance for children.

The exhibition in the “Homeroom,” a community-engagement space at MoMA PS1 in Queens, invites reflection: What is the place of community activism in a museum that contributes to gentrification and community displacement? How can we build popular memory of immigrant struggles using the tools of art and visual culture? Who is this exhibition created for, and who may be excluded by ticket price and social class?

PS1’s exhibition Nuevayorkinos: Essential and Excluded (on view through January 10, 2022) brings together the work of artist Djali Brown-Cepeda and local immigrant groups Make the Road NY, the Street Vendor Project, and NY Communities for Change. At the center of the exhibition is the historic struggle of the Fund for Excluded Workers, and their 23-day hunger strike in spring 2021 that culminated with an unprecedented victory: a $2.1 billion fund in NYS dedicated to immigrant workers excluded from federal programs of pandemic relief and emergency support.

In a corner of the exhibition, providing a rolling soundtrack, are two videos by Jose Armando Solis, filmed on Day 5 and on Day 17 of the hunger strike. As visitors wander in and out of the exhibition space, the voice of hunger striker Ana Ramirez cries out, over and over, “It is not just me but thousands of families—families that went to the bakery to bake the bread so that the rich can eat during this pandemic comfortably. I am forgotten, I am one of the excluded. We are house cleaners, construction workers, restaurant workers, retail workers, laundry workers, all of whom have worked hard for this nation…”

For those of you unfamiliar with the Fund for Excluded Workers, the hunger strike, or the cultural power and beauty of immigrant justice struggles, we encourage you to visit the exhibition. To not forget those who were systematically forgotten. For those of you who have participated in the victorious fight for essential and excluded workers – a fight that is ongoing – we honor your power and the possibility that this exhibition can help strengthen community support and solidarity. For the struggles ahead.


2. ‘Dignity Not Detention’: Decriminalizing Immigration 

“This hard-fought victory reflects the resilience and tenacity of our communities – and reaffirms that our vision of a world without detention is within reach.” Tania Mattos, Freedom for Immigrants (August 2021)

Sustained activism on the part of immigrants, their families, and immigrant justice activists has succeeded in shutting down ICE detention in the state of New Jersey. The Hudson County Jail processed out its last immigrant prisoner in October. And the last 12 immigrant detainees in the Bergen County Jail were transferred out on November 12. Ending the use of these jails for immigrant detention was a result of militant protests outside the facilities, hunger strikes by prisoners, and an intense publicity and organizing campaign run by activists including the Abolish ICE NY-NJ coalition. 

Unfortunately, while some immigrants have been released, most of the New Jersey detainees have been transferred to New York State jails such as the Orange County Correctional Facility in Goshen and the Buffalo Service Processing Center in Batavia. This puts them hundreds of miles farther away from friends, family, and lawyers.

New York State activists hope to keep the anti-detention momentum going with the “Dignity Not Detention Act”  now making its way through the state legislature (it is currently in committee in both houses). The Act would require the termination of all existing ICE contracts for immigrant detention in public jails in New York, including the Goshen and Batavia facilities. Local groups including Centro Corona, DRUM, Queer Detainee Empowerment Project, NICE, and Street Vendors Project are supporters of the statewide mobilization for the Act. Similar legislation has already become law in Maryland, California, Washington, and Illinois. Activists in New Mexico launched their own Dignity Not Detention movement in 2019.

But as the ICE detainee transfers from Bergen County make clear, passing state-by-state laws isn’t a panacea. In fact, some immigrants may find themselves transferred even farther away from where they were arrested, to completely different parts of the country. They might also end up in brutal private for-profit jails –  still widely used for ICE detention, despite pledges by the Biden administration to eliminate them.

Nationally, ICE continues to detain tens of thousands of immigrants. Most of these people are simply waiting for their backed-up immigration hearings, which they could do without being jailed. The number of undocumented migrants imprisoned has increased 50% since Joe Biden took office. Conditions in the facilities are often brutal. When immigrants speak out about rampant abuses, they face severe retaliation and ongoing surveillance

The criminalization of migrants to the US began in the 1920s with a wave of reactionary anti-immigrant politics that led to a series of quotas, exclusions, and other restrictions on immigration, mainly targeting immigrants of color. In 1929, the Undesirable Aliens Act – authored by an avowed white supremacist and pro-lynching advocate – epitomized the hardening of immigration policing. Entering the US illegally–which had been processed as a civil complaint–suddenly became a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year’s imprisonment and a fine. Returning to the US after deportation was now defined as a felony, resulting in up to two years imprisonment and a $1,000 fine. The Act was intended specifically to control and regulate Mexican labor. In the years after the passage of this law, Mexicans made up as much as 99% of the newly-criminalized immigrants filling just-built federal prisons in El Paso, Tucson, and Los Angeles. (Today, Latinx immigrants still make up 92% of people prosecuted for illegal entry and re-entry to the US.)

The 1929 law was eventually updated by the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952. This legislation cut the sentences for crossing the border in half but continued to criminalize migrants through its notorious Sections 1325 and 1326. During periods when Mexican labor was in demand, immigrant detentions and prosecutions fell. But starting in 2005, as the “war on terror” ramped up during the Bush and Obama administrations, the federal government once again began prosecuting tens of thousands of migrants and jailing them until their cases could be heard. Donald Trump used Section 1325 as a basis for his infamous “zero tolerance” and family separation policies.

The most effective means of stopping the large-scale detention of immigrants would be a national law that overturns the criminalization of border crossing. (For example, by returning illegal border crossing to its previous status as a civil offense.)  Hundreds of immigrant justice groups have been demanding this kind of federal legislation for years, including local groups like DRUM, Adhikaar, and JHISN. However, decriminalization of border crossing is not included in the current Build Back Better draft legislation. A 2019 decriminalization proposal introduced by Representatives Pramila Jayapal and Jesus Chuy Garcia, has been stalled in Congress, despite the fact that it is endorsed by many immigrant justice groups and has 44 co-sponsors – all Democrats.

And so the end of immigrant detention in New Jersey must be seen as only one hopeful step in a long struggle. Local activists have turned their full attention to fighting against the abuses of immigrant detention in New York State, including punitive transfers, detainee mistreatment, and deportations. At each step, they raise the need for the Dignity Not Detention Act. 

Last Sunday, December 12, a small demonstration took place outside the Bergen County Jail. It commemorated the one-year anniversary of a violent clash with cops that led to the arrest of ten immigrant justice activists. Protesters carried signs saying “Releases Not Transfers,” “Close the Camps,” and “Abolish ICE.”  As Shamz Azanedo, one of the organizers, said, “We didn’t feel right just letting today pass. Today was a huge day last year, and we needed to be here together.”


WHAT CAN WE DO?

In solidarity and with collective care,

Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network (JHISN)

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

 

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.