Tag: Governor Hochul

JHISN Newsletter 04/02/2022

Dear friends, 

With you, we are watching for spring to poke around the corner and bring us renewed warmth and urban bloom. This week we offer a review of the internationally-acclaimed documentary Flee (2021), which narrates one Afghan family’s story of escape, loss, and refuge. We then follow-up on a report in our last issue about the ‘March to Albany,’ as hundreds of immigrant activists arrived this past week in the capitol calling for budget justice, and a permanent fix to gaps in the safety net for tens of thousands of immigrant New Yorkers.   

Newsletter highlights:
  1. Review of 2021 film documentary on Afghan refugee family
  2. Immigrant activists march on Albany (Part 2)

1. Freedom Is Telling Your Story

“When you flee as a child, it takes time to learn to trust people. You’re constantly on your guard, all the time, all the time. Even when you’re in a safe place, you’re on your guard.”—Amin Nawabi in Flee (dir: Rasmussen, 2021)

The animated documentary Flee (directed by Jonas Poher Rasmussen and written by Rasmussen and Amin Nawabi) is the first film to be nominated in three different Academy Award categories: Best Animated Film, Best Documentary Feature, and Best International Feature Film. This captivating film, produced in Denmark, did not win any Oscars last Sunday. Award or not, the film is well worth viewing for its technical originality, and for how it starkly illuminates the decades of stress a refugee endures.

Flee recounts how Amin Nawabi (a pseudonym) fled as a gay teenager from Afghanistan to Denmark, and the consequences of his long and involved journey. Through an unusual combination of animated characters, television clips, historical film footage, photographs, and grey and white drawings, we learn how Nawabi’s family endured the trauma of life under the mujahideen, flight to a repressive and secretive life in Moscow, desperate failed attempts to get smuggled by boat to Sweden, and, finally, Nawabi’s successful illegal border crossing and asylum in Denmark.

What will stay with you from this film is the dramatic sacrifice of family members to save one another–a feature in so many refugee stories. The film also narrates the vile cruelty and greed of the traffickers, the corruption and brutality of law enforcement officers, and the fear and loneliness of being a refugee who yearns for “home” as a place of safety that is not temporary.

An essential part of Nawabi’s survival is the false story he had to tell to be assured of asylum in Denmark–that all of his family was dead. With the possible exception of his father, none of his family is actually dead. At the time Nawabi escaped, his eldest brother and two sisters were in Sweden and his mother and older brother were in Moscow. Now they are all in various places in Europe. Late in the film we learn how much of a toll his necessary lie has taken on him: he cannot share stories of his family without revealing that they are alive, and so he constantly fears exposure. “I couldn’t tell the truth. There were lots of consequences. I couldn’t be myself. It was really painful.”

In an interview on NPR between Nawabi, film director Rasmussen, and Ari Shapiro, Rasmussen tells how he and Nawabi became close friends in high school in Denmark. Nawabi recounts how Rasmussen is one of the few people he trusts, yet it took decades before he was comfortable enough to tell him his true story. He says the film has given him a sense of freedom.

Rasmussen and Nawabi want us to understand that “refugee” is a circumstance and not an identity. “Don’t define him as a refugee because he is so much more. He’s an academic, a homeowner, a husband, and a cat owner,”  Rasmussen explains.

Nawabi says it is amazing to see how Ukrainians today are being welcomed and helped, but how starkly differently other refugees were treated in 2015. The situation in Ukraine shows that displacement from your home and your country can happen to anyone. What is important is to help, and to be kind. 

To view Flee online: https://www.fleemovie.com/

2. March to Albany (Part 2)

“We came to Albany to tell the governor that we are awake, we are united, and we won’t stop fighting until our needs are met … This movement is an example to other states. Immigrants across the country are rising up. We are demanding that our rights be respected … ” Miguel Angel Flores (Democracy Now, 3-24-2022)

One thousand excluded workers—together with elected officials, faith leaders, and political allies—marched to the steps of the Capitol on March 23, demanding the state budget include billions in additional support to fund excluded workers and establish a permanent unemployment insurance program for undocumented workers.

Crossing the Rensselaer-Albany Bridge and briefly shutting down traffic on a four-lane highway, activists called for an economic safety net that won’t leave behind New York state’s essential, and still excluded, immigrant workers.

As we reported in our last newsletter, tens of thousands of eligible New Yorkers were shut out of the historic $2.1 billion Excluded Workers Fund, established in April 2021 after a year-long mobilization by immigrant workers. Alongside the demand for re-opening the Fund with additional monies, immigrant justice groups are calling for ‘Coverage for All’: a health insurance plan for undocumented New Yorkers and documented workers who are paid ‘off the books’ by employers. To address structural inequalities in the social safety net dramatically revealed by the pandemic, immigrant groups are also fighting for a permanent unemployment insurance program to support undocumented workers.

New York’s immigrant-led Fund Excluded Workers coalition (FEW) has helped launch campaigns for similar programs in at least five states across the US. State-level victories to fund excluded workers, and create permanent programs for health coverage and unemployment benefits, can help generate national momentum for changes at the federal level.

For now, the struggle is targeting Albany, Governor Hochul, and next year’s state budget. “We all want the pandemic to be over,” said Emma Kreyche of the Worker Justice Center of NY. “But it’s callous and irresponsible of lawmakers to act as if we can move on while tens of thousands of excluded workers in our state are still in the midst of a profound crisis. No New Yorker should be without a safety net—not now and not in the future.”

WHAT CAN WE DO?
  • Call Gov. Hochul (518-474-8390), press 3 then 1, and tell her to #FundExcludedWorkers!
  • Consider donating to the ongoing work of #FundExcludedWorkers.

In solidarity and with collective care,

Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network (JHISN)

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

 

JHISN Newsletter 02/19/2022

Dear friends,

Our newsletter this week illustrates the incoherence and political confusion of current US immigration policy. On the one hand, Democrats have just proposed a bill to remedy the 80-year old travesty of locating immigration courts in a federal law enforcement agency, subject to political interference from the executive branch. On the other hand, the Biden administration continues to embrace one of the most vicious anti-immigrant policies of the Trump years: the systematic expulsion of migrants at the US-Mexico border under the trumped-up authority of Title 42.

Both of these issues have intimate effects on the everyday lives of immigrant communities, including here in Queens. How to move beyond confusion to understanding and action? We hope our stories this week can help.

Newsletter highlights:
  1. New legislation targets the immigration court system
  2. Politicizing border-crossings in a pandemic 

1. Creating an independent immigration court 

“As long as the immigration courts remain under the authority of the Attorney General, the administration of immigration justice will remain a game of political football–with people’s lives on the line” –Alison Peck, Co-director, Immigration Law Clinic

On February 3, 2022, the Real Courts, Rule of Law Act of 2022 was submitted by three House Democrats to alter the US immigration court system. The national union for US immigration judges has long advocated for an independent court. If passed, judges would form an independent judiciary that no longer bends the whims of the executive branch;  immigration courts would be removed from the Department of Justice (DOJ) oversight. This would be the first significant change to the immigration court system since 1940 when Roosevelt moved it out of the Department of Labor. 

The way we house immigration courts within the DOJ is inconsistent with practices of justice, fairness, and due process. Today we talk of immigration judges, but the Immigrant Inspectors of the Treasury Department (also known as Inquiry Officers in the DOL and DOJ) were not authorized to use the title “judge” nor to wear judicial robes until 1973. These courts can order the indefinite detention of immigrants without meeting any burden of proof that detention is necessary—a foundational legal demand required of the government in all other court proceedings. This has contributed to a massive detention network in the US and advanced ICE’s extraordinary powers to confine. In the face of bipartisan acceptance of prolonged detention of immigrants without an opportunity for review by an immigration judge, activist campaigns like the Dignity Not Detention actions become critically important. 

The recently proposed bill was immediately criticized by Republican opponents as an expensive change that won’t significantly reduce the unprecedented backlog of 1.6 million immigration cases. The author of the bill, California Democratic Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, along with 148 organizations that support it, doesn’t claim it will directly reduce that backlog. They see it as a way to eliminate the presidential and political influences that add to the backlog regardless of which party holds the presidency. Under Obama, the backlog grew out of political pressure to process family hearings—with Trump a quota system was created to handle border hearings, which contributed to a record number of immigration judges leaving in 2019. 

In Alison Peck’s The Accidental History of the U.S. Immigration Courts, we learn, “The immigration courts are not really ‘courts’ at all but an office of the Department of Justice, the nation’s law enforcement agency.” Peck’s research reveals that the reason the courts report to the Attorney General in the DOJ is not based on rationality or best practice, but a history of paranoia and fear. 

The Secretary of Labor during The New Deal era was responsible for immigration adjudication—a responsibility at odds with her role to deal fairly and impartially with union leaders, many of whom were immigrants potentially subject to deportation. The Department of Justice was rejected in 1939 as an alternative federal agency to take on this authority: lawyers expressed concern about immigration management in the DOJ becoming politically charged, and advisors warned immigration would become associated with crime and law enforcement. But, by May of 1940, President Roosevelt grew fearful of a supposed Fifth Column Nazi plot to take over the US government from within. This paranoia resulted in a plan to “afford more effective control over aliens” by moving immigration responsibility to the DOJ. There was no Fifth Column, just fear-mongering propaganda that generated almost a century of immigration court proceedings without the constitutional principles of due process and separation of powers. 

After 9/11, fear further entrenched immigration courts within the DOJ and, in 2002, created the Department of Homeland Security. The DOJ’s Immigration and Naturalization Service agents, attorneys, intelligence analysts, and detention and removal officers merged with the United States Customs Service (USCS) into a new agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The focus of ICE is enforcement and security, not administrative immigration; DHS attorneys from ICE present evidence during removal proceedings in immigration court with a focus on ensuring removal. At the same time, immigration judges work for a prosecutorial agency (the DOJ) and leverage rulings such as In Absentia removal orders that seek to deny entry to immigrants. 

The Real Courts bill is the first opportunity in 80 years to separate immigration courts from law enforcement by creating a system similar to the tax courts. The American Immigration Lawyers Association reported that the bill was drafted to appeal to members of both political parties, with a promise that the scales will not be tipped toward either end of the political spectrum. But the bill may not de-politicize immigration courts entirely because it proposes a Presidential nomination and Senate confirmation process for judges, similar to the Supreme Court, and such nomination and confirmation processes can be heavily politicized

WHAT CAN WE DO?

2. Covid Borders 

On the US’s northern border this week, Canadian trucker blockades—having disrupted international trade and laid siege to several neighborhoods—were slowly and politely cleared by authorities. The blockades were sparked by the Canadian government’s mandate requiring Covid-19 vaccination for cross-border truckers (90% were already vaccinated). Well-funded protesters, virtually all white Canadian citizens, leveraged border choke points to advance a peculiarly right-wing version of “freedom”: freedom to undermine public health during a pandemic; freedom to infect others.

By contrast, on the other US border, some 1,500 miles to the south, hundreds of thousands of impoverished working-class migrants of color, seeking asylum from violence, economic crisis, and climate change, are being brutally abused and ejected from the US, in violation of international law, by an administration that had promised them dignity and respect. The administration’s excuse? Covid-19.

In March 2020, when Donald Trump weaponized Title 42 of the 1944 Public Health Services Law to expel asylum seekers because of “Covid risk,” he was denounced in many quarters. Title 42 does allow the government to prevent individuals from entering the US during certain health emergencies. But it doesn’t give the government free rein:

“U.S. law says that any person in the United States or at the border with the United States has a right to seek asylum…. There’s nothing in the law that allows the government to expel [migrants] without any due process.” Olga Byrne, International Rescue Committee

Several federal judges ruled that blanket Title 42 expulsions were illegal. Nevertheless, Trump forged ahead, carrying out hundreds of thousands of expulsions without hearings. The Biden administration is following in his footsteps. It announced last summer that it would continue to utilize Title 42, subject to review every 60 days. It was last renewed on February 2.

Covid-19 is a fake pretext for Biden’s mass expulsion of working-class people of color, just as it was for Trump. “Covid risk” hasn’t caused the US to prohibit millions of visitors and employees from routinely crossing the Mexican border every month. Neither has the administration bothered to test, treat, or vaccinate asylum-seekers—it simply rejects them all out of hand. DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkis strongly defends this practice, insisting that the agency will use Title 42 to its fullest extent to expel asylum seekers who arrive at the border. 

In September, shocking images of Border Patrol agents on horseback threatening to whip and trample Haitian migrants raised public awareness about the cold-blooded reality of Title 42 expulsion. Unlike asylum-seekers from some other countries, Haitians arriving at the border are generally not returned to Mexico to wait for an asylum hearing—a practice that is itself a radical violation of migrants’ human rights. Instead, most have been incarcerated without any hearing in Covid-infested detention centers in the US and then forced onto planes heading back to Haiti—and the same intolerable conditions that caused them to flee in the first place. As a result, many Haitian asylum-seekers have decided not to approach the US border, and remain trapped in Mexico.

Immigrant justice advocates and progressive Democrats condemned Biden’s Title 42 policy. “We speak out against the cruel, the inhumane, and the flat out racist treatment of our Haitian brothers and sisters at the southern border,” Rep. Ayanna Pressley said. Two top Biden appointees resigned in disgust. The United Nations repeatedly denounced Biden’s violations of international law. Just this past Monday, over 30 congresspeople demanded that the CDC explain how it could justify supporting such a policy. And yet, over 17,000 Haitians have now been expelled by this administration based on Title 42—and over a million migrants total. 

“I never would have predicted this White House, within Year One, would be expelling Haitians to a failed state. In December of 2020 we’re talking about a transformative vision. And in 2022, expelling Haitians without a meaningful asylum process. Wow.”  —Frank Sharry, America’s Voice

WHAT CAN WE DO?

In solidarity and with collective care,

Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network (JHISN)

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

 

 

JHISN Newsletter 1/22/2022

Dear friends,

The rich diversity of communities who call Jackson Heights home is well-known. Most of us living here value and celebrate that ‘another world is possible’ right here in JH. But the complexity of histories and languages, and of political issues that people face at every level, also makes it hard to always know what’s happening, even when our own communities are directly affected. Today’s newsletter looks at two issues that are urgent and immediate for immigrant households in central Queens: the lifting of a state eviction moratorium put in place to protect renters who are unable to make ends meet during the pandemic; and the resurgent threat of federal ‘public charge’ policies that would deny working-class immigrants access to assistance with food, housing, and health care needs.   

Newsletter highlights:

  1. What’s next as eviction moratorium ends in New York State
  2. New struggle over discriminatory public charge regulations

1. Eviction Moratorium Ends – What Now?

I think that this is a concerted effort by the rich and powerful … not just to force people back to work for profit’s sake, health be damned, but also to chip away at some of the victories that working class tenants have made in building a little bit of a sense of democracy during this pandemic.” – Joel Feingold, Crown Heights Tenant Union

Hundreds of thousands of renters in New York who owe back rent as a result of the pandemic now face the threat of eviction, as the state’s moratorium on evictions expired on January 15 – in the cold of winter and during an unprecedented peak of Covid infections. The majority of tenants facing eviction live in neighborhoods hardest hit by the pandemic, including working-class communities of color in Eastern Queens, Central Brooklyn, and Upper Manhattan. In our own community, most low-income, vulnerable renters are part of immigrant households. So rent relief and protection from eviction, like almost every political concern that cuts through Jackson Heights, is also an issue of immigrant justice.

In the days before the NYS eviction moratorium expired, housing activists mobilized. On January 8, tenants rights groups marched across the Brooklyn Bridge to the Manhattan Housing Court calling for an extension of the moratorium until June 2022. On January 11, activists blocked the steps of the Capitol in Albany, demanding that Hochul declare an extension. On January 14, more than 100 people marched through Midtown with signs calling Hochul the “Governor of Evictions”; 13 people were arrested outside her Manhattan office. But Hochul turned her back on renters, preferring to prioritize her ties to major real estate billionaires and lobbyists.

Even before the pandemic hit, an eviction epidemic was raging in New York, with nearly 100 families evicted statewide every day. In NYC, where one-third of renters spend over half their income on rent plus utilities, more eviction cases were filed in 2019 than in any other major US city. As the moratorium ends, there are more than 215,000 active housing court cases in NYC—over 190,000 of them involving non-payment of rent—which can begin moving forward this week. 

The national eviction moratorium ended in August 2021, when the Supreme Court blocked the Biden administration’s move to extend it. However, federal funding continued to support a nationwide Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP), aimed at tenants struggling to make ends meet during the pandemic. Here in New York state, federal ERAP funding totaled $2.4 billion. But in November 2021, Governor Hochul shut down the application portal for ERAP—which housing activists had credited with preventing a surge of evictions after the end of the federal moratorium—claiming the fund was almost exhausted. News reports suggest that the state has actually spent only half of the $2.4 billion, while putting aside the rest of the funds for ‘paperwork.’ 

When Hochul closed down ERAP applications, she also eliminated the safe harbor that ERAP was designed to provide: once a household applies for emergency relief they are temporarily protected from eviction as their application is pending. The Legal Aid Society sued in mid-December 2021 for ERAP applications to be reopened; on January 6, a judge ruled in their favor and issued a court order that forced NYS to reopen the application portal.

Activists are divided on the next steps forward. Some support the so-called “Good Cause” eviction bill, introduced in the NYS legislature, that would legally require landlords to have ‘good cause’ for evicting tenants, while also protecting them from rent gouging. Supporters argue that the Good Cause bill offers a permanent solution for vulnerable renters, in contrast to the emergency-based eviction moratorium. Several cities in NYS have already passed versions of the Good Cause bill, including Albany and Hudson, with bills pending in Kingston, Poughkeepsie, and New Paltz.

Other activists argue that the Good Cause legislation doesn’t go far enough. Given that one of the bill’s stated ‘good cause’ for eviction is non-payment of rent, the bill would not protect many of the 200,000 people in NYS at risk of eviction now that the moratorium has ended.

At the local level here in central Queens, we must remain informed, vigilant, and ready to act. The homes and livelihoods of thousands of immigrant households—and other mostly working-class renters—in our neighborhood are at stake.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

  • If you are facing eviction, apply to the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) here. You will immediately be protected from eviction once you show your landlord that you have applied. The ERAP website will say there are no more funds available–but you are still allowed to apply. New York state has requested additional funds from the federal government for the assistance program.   
  • If you need assistance with an eviction situation, contact Councilmember Shekar Krishnan at 929-293-0206 or Krishnan@council.nyc.gov
  • Know your rights! Under NYC’s Right-to-Counsel law, legal services are free for any tenant facing eviction in housing court, regardless of immigration status. Call 718-557-1379 or 212-962-4795 from Monday-Friday to get connected to a Right-to-Counsel lawyer. 
  • Share the above information with your neighbors, co-workers, religious communities, and political action groups. 

2. Ongoing Battle Over Public Charge

Public charge rules—federal regulations that disqualify immigrants from entry to the US or from becoming citizens if they use social benefits—have been a hotly-contested part of immigration law since 1882. Recent developments are bringing public charge issues back to the forefront of immigrant justice activism.

Newsletter readers will recall that we did a deep dive on public charge rules in a three-part series in 2020, shortly after Donald Trump engineered a radical expansion and toughening of their provisions. We investigated the racist and xenophobic functions of public charge laws, from their origins until today. We took a close look at which immigrants were at direct risk from Trump’s new restrictions, observing that many others were frightened or discouraged from using social programs because of his aggressive changes. And we showed that the biggest danger of Trump’s new regulations was that they gave immigration officials wide discretion to target immigrants who they claimed might use public benefits in the future.

Fulfilling a campaign promise, the Biden administration canceled Trump’s 2019 changes. But widespread confusion remains within immigrant communities about who is legally entitled to which public benefits. Many immigrants in New York and elsewhere don’t realize that they are fully eligible for many health and social services—including Covid-19 testing, vaccinations and care; food assistance; tenant protection; and free legal help.

To eliminate confusion, the Department of State (DOS) needs to clarify and finalize new public charge rules. So in November 2021, DOS solicited comments from the public. The comment period ends this month. The main issue at stake right now is whether to revert to pre-2019 rules or write new ones.

Protecting Immigrant Families (PIF) and its coalition partners have written to DOS asking that the rules return to the pre-October 2019 policies. They argue that Trump’s 2019 changes have had a persistent chilling effect as immigrant households remain uncertain to this day about their legal access to social benefits (including for US citizen children who are always eligible). They note that pre-2019 policies were clear, fair, and had worked well for more than a decade. Finally, PIF highlights how pre-Trump public charge rules would provide essential workers during the ongoing pandemic with “core health, nutrition, and housing assistance programs” that nearly half of all US citizens draw on to make ends meet. 

In stark contrast, the attorneys general of at least 12 Republican states, led by Arizona, have filed suit to reinstate Trump’s regulations, supporting the hardline public charge policy that primarily threatens poorer immigrants to the US. Ominously, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear this case on February 23. 

How this case is decided will have a profound impact on immigrant communities, including here in Central Queens, and on working-class immigrants’ access to a just and equitable pathway to citizenship.   

WHAT CAN WE DO?

  • Check out Protecting Immigrant Family (PIF) website, with comprehensive answers in multiple languages about who public charge applies to and which benefits are available. 
  • Know Your Rights! Here are the Top Five Facts on public charge.

 

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.