Tag: ICE

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 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 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 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. 

 

 

JHISN Newsletter 06/12/2021

Dear friends,

On Tuesday, June 22, a very small percentage of registered NYC voters will head to the polls for the Democratic Party primaries which, in a city like ours, basically decide the outcome of next November’s municipal elections. We encourage all of you who will vote to take immigrant justice issues with you to the voting booth (or absentee ballot!). The pandemic brought many of us into new intimacy with our streets, our small businesses, our neighbors, our park, our local issues, and our differences in class, race, citizenship status, vulnerability to disease, and access to care. We hope that intimacy carries over into a sustained commitment to participate in local forms of self-government and community-based power. 

Several immigrant justice groups that JHISN deeply respects are focused on the upcoming primaries. Make the Road New York has co-authored a report, Dignity, Community, & Power, laying out an election-year vision for immigrant communities’ collective dreams and demands; their candidate endorsements can be found here. Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM) has offered specific endorsements of City Council candidates who support participatory working-class, immigrant-centered politics for economic, gender, and racial justice. Adhikaar and members of the NYC Care Campaign hosted a Candidate Forum for the District 26 City Council race. And to see what NYC mayoral candidates are saying about immigration politics–and why they need to say more, in a city of over 3 million immigrants–check out this recent article

In the meantime, we offer you an update on what’s up with ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) several years after the cry, ‘Abolish ICE!’, was raised by tens of thousands here in New York, and beyond.  

ABOLISHED ICE? Not yet …

Street Arrest – Story 1738
Jackson Heights, NY 11372
March 17, 2021

“ICE agents arrested LN on the street near his home in Jackson Heights around 10am as he was walking with his laundry to his local laundry mat. ICE agents left LN’s laundry bag on the street as they drove away with him.”  —  ICEwatch raids map / Immigrant Defense Project

As ‘Story 1738’ makes poignantly clear, ICE is still on the streets of Jackson Heights conducting arrests that disappear immigrants from our neighborhood as they go about their daily life. ICEwatch’s invaluable map of verified ICE raids, launched in July 2018, also shows that ICE arrests in Queens County appear to be dropping off since the latest peak—right before the November 2020 election. Six months into a new federal administration, what is ICE actually doing? How are people continuing to resist ICE’s key role in the criminalization of migration, and the harassment and terrorizing of immigrant communities in the US?

At first glance, some of the numbers seem promising: ICE arrests are reportedly plunging nationwide. “Interior arrests” by ICE (arrests not conducted at the border) are down to about 2500 per month, compared to an average of 6000 arrests in the last months of the Trump regime, and a grotesque 10,000 per month before the pandemic. In April, ICE deported 2962 immigrants, the lowest monthly number on record. 

In addition, Biden has ordered a full review of ICE priorities (not yet released). New interim rules prohibit ICE agents from arresting anyone who is not a national security threat, an aggravated felon, or a recent border crosser, without written authorization from senior ICE supervisors. And the new director of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, has finally placed significant limits on ICE’s ability to arrest immigrants at or near courthouses–something immigration activists have fought for for years. 

But beneath the numbers and temporary rule changes is a more disturbing reality. As ICE pulls back on ‘interior arrests,’ Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) under the Biden administration continues to expel migrants at the southern border in huge numbers, including those legally seeking asylum or refuge. Using an obscure CDC public health regulation called Title 42, activated in March 2020 by the Trump regime, over 750,000 migrants have been ‘returned’ to Mexico as public health threats, without any recourse to legal proceedings. Approximately 350,000 of those expulsions have occurred since Biden took office, including at least 50,000 families who have been turned back. Challenged by the ACLU as unlawful and opposed even by public health scientists, Title 42 remains in place with the new administration, keeping ICE deportation numbers low while in fact choking off migration across the border.

Even more tellingly, Biden’s proposed $7.9 billion budget for ICE in 2022 echoes the Trump regime’s funding levels, with about 50% dedicated to detention and deportation of immigrants, also in line with fiscal 2021 priorities. 

Several state-level legislative initiatives aim to press further than a new administration that claims to support immigrants and reign in ICE, but carries on policy and funding decisions of the malevolent anti-immigrant Trump era. Legislation has been passed or introduced in California, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, Washington, and Virginia, restricting government collaboration with, and funding for, ICE’s detention infrastructure. In New Jersey, where most immigrant detainees from New York are incarcerated, political pressure grows to end detention programs in Essex, Bergen, and Hudson county jails. On June 8, fourteen protesters outside Bergen county jail were arrested while blocking an ICE van believed to be transporting immigrants to the airport for deportation.  

In New York, the recently introduced Dignity Not Detention Act calls on the state government and local communities to get out of the business of immigrant detention by ending ICE contracts and refusing to enter into new or expanded contracts. The bill would halt the jailing of New York immigrants who face deportation, allowing them to remain united with families and communities where they can more effectively fight deportation through legal avenues. 

A statement of support for the NY Dignity Not Detention Act was signed by over 75 activist organizations including local immigrant-led groups like Centro Corona, DRUM, The Street Vendors Project, NICE, and Emerald Isle Immigration Center. Tania Mattos, a local immigrant justice activist and co-founder of Queens Neighborhoods United, says: “We look forward to making New York the next state in the union that … fight[s] to end our costly, inhumane, and unaccountable detention system.” 

WHAT CAN WE DO?

  • Get your activist group to sign on as an organization supporting the New York Dignity Not Detention Act. 
  • Support the campaign to #FreeThemAll with Detention Watch Network’s toolkit.
  • Vote for local candidates who fight for justice for immigrants. Check out DRUM Beats (a new sibling organization of DRUM) endorsements for City Council races. Find Make the Road’s candidate endorsements here.
  • Use ICEWatch to report or keep track of ICE raids.

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.