Tag: immigrants

JHISN Newsletter 01/28/2023

Dear friends,

We are excited to bring you news about recent changes, and accomplishments, at Damayan—a local immigrant justice group that some of our readers already know well. With Woodside now home to ‘Little Manila’ and over half of all Filipino New Yorkers living in Queens, Damayan’s grassroots work is vital to our community. We also introduce you to public events organized by the Zolberg Institute on Migration and Mobility housed at The New School, with a summary of their recent webinar on US border politics and Biden’s new asylum policy.  

Newsletter highlights:
  1. Damayan celebrates 20 years of Filipino organizing
  2. Public webinar on Biden’s betrayal of asylum seekers

1. DAMAYAN at 20

“Sa loob ng 20 dekada, nanatili ang Damayan na matatag sa pananaw na anti-imperialista, bumuo ng malinaw na vision at mission, at mga strategies para gumabay sa mga tulad nating domestic workers… [For 2 decades, Damayan has remained steadfast in its anti-imperialist vision, developed a clear vision and mission, and strategies to guide domestic workers like us…] Rose Alovera, Damayan Board Member

Damayan Migrant Workers Association’s mission is to “organize low-wage Filipino workers to combat labor trafficking, promote human and worker’s rights, and develop social justice leaders.” At the end of 2022, Damayan—many of whose 1500+ members live in Queens—made several major announcements at their 20th Anniversary and Annual Holiday Party.

Perhaps the most important news was that Riya Ortiz, a long-time organizer with Damayan, has been selected as the group’s new Executive Director. Ortiz said, “My family’s experience of forced migration and years of organizing and activism convinced me to embrace the vision and mission of Damayan.” Co-founder and outgoing ED Linda Oalican will transition out of office in the first quarter of this year, after two decades of what Damayan praised as “providing critical services, educating, organizing, and mobilizing Filipino migrant workers in New York and New Jersey.”

One of Damayan’s key accomplishments in 2022 was to help more than 200 Filipino workers receive a total of over $3 million from the New York State Excluded Workers Fund. Last year, Damayan assisted a record number of workers to gain visa approval, and secured financial assistance for 26 trafficking survivors through the federal Trafficking Victims Assistance Program. In a display of the group’s broad community support, Damayan’s recent holiday fundraiser easily surpassed its goal, raising over $22,000 from more than 170 donors.

JHISN congratulates Damayan and outgoing ED Lina Oalican on 20 years of impressive achievements in the fight for social justice. We extend our solidarity to new ED Ortiz, and to all Damayan’s Directors, activists, and members. 

WHAT CAN WE DO?
  • If you are able, please donate to Damayan!
  • Attend the tribute to outgoing Executive Director Linda Oalican on February 25th.

2. Asylum Betrayed: Biden’s Border Politics and Title 42

On January 13, The New School’s Zolberg Institute on Migration and Mobility here in NYC hosted an important webinar, “Asylum Betrayed: Biden’s Border Politics and Title 42.” The Institute offers courses, sponsors lectures, and events, and supports critical scholarship on all aspects of migration. The webinar discussion featured Eleanor Acar, director of the Refugee Protection Program at Human Rights First, Alexandra Delano Alonzo, professor and chair of Global Studies at The New School, and Lee Gelernt, Deputy Director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. 

Participants reviewed multiple aspects of US immigration policy and highlighted problems with President Biden’s January 5 announcement of a new “parole” plan for migrants from Nicaragua, Cuba, and Haiti. This scheme will allow up to 30,000 migrants per month to enter the US for a period of two years and receive work authorization, but will require everybody to apply from their home country, have a sponsor in the US, and pass background checks. Anyone trying to enter in any other way will be expelled under the controversial “pandemic emergency” authority of Title 42 and will be disqualified from the program in the future. Mexico has agreed to accept 30,000 of those expelled each month. 

All webinar participants appreciated the value of providing migrants with a legal path for entry, but rejected the use of Title 42 to punish those unable to meet the requirements of parole. The Biden program is designed to favor people with family connections in the US and with financial resources. Some migrants with good cases for asylum will likely be expelled–-a violation of international law.

The webinar offered updated information about cross-border immigration to the US: 

  • Of the “2 million migrants” said to have recently crossed the southern border, many are actually people who were expelled and who then re-crossed, getting counted two or more times. Ms. Acer explained that the restrictive policies of former president Trump are the main cause of the ballooning numbers, not the weaknesses of Democrats’ border policy.
  • Among migrants recently expelled to Mexico under Title 42, some 13,400 are victims of kidnapping or rape. 
  • For the past three years, there has effectively been a halt to asylum—a clear violation of international law and stated US values, according to Mr. Gelernt.
  • The Mexican asylum system is already overburdened and underfunded and will have difficulty absorbing 30,000 additional migrants per month. It is not known why Mexico has agreed to accept people expelled by the US, but Dr. Delano Alonzo said the Mexican administration might be anticipating some sort of economic quid pro quo.

Biden’s new parole plan has been strongly criticized by many immigrant justice and advocacy organizations as well as by four Democratic senators who are usually White House allies—Senators Alex Padilla (California), Bob Menendez and Cory Booker (New Jersey), and Ben Ray Luján (New Mexico). One biting public statement against “parole” came from Murad Awawdeh, Executive Director of the New York Immigration Coalition:

“President Biden’s plan to expel those who attempt to cross the border … is an attack on the humanitarian values and obligations of the United States. This plan needlessly endangers the lives of those crossing the border in search of basic freedom in our country, and succumbs to the fearmongering espoused by anti-immigrant conservatives. . . . Rather than limiting humanitarian parole for just a select few with family connections and financial privilege, the Biden administration must expand additional protections for all asylum seekers, so that our country can fulfill its humanitarian obligations and provide opportunity and freedom for all.”

 

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 01/14/2023

Dear friends,

As winter brings colder weather and our search for warmth, the realities of economic inequality and financial insecurity become all the more stark. Our newsletter looks at two local struggles to generate security and empowerment for immigrant workers often left out in the cold: day laborers, and those who are systematically excluded from the unemployment system. Our first article reports on the growing importance of Worker Centers in organizing immigrant day laborers, and the leading role of NICE (New Immigrant Community Empowerment), based here in Jackson Heights. Our second article announces a new movement launched by the Fund Excluded Workers Coalition to permanently expand unemployment compensation to cover many of the most vulnerable workers in New York state.  

Newsletter highlights:
  1. Day laborers and worker centers: NICE organizing
  2. Statewide campaign to secure unemployment insurance for all 

 

1. Jornaleros: Pushing Out of the Shadow Economy

On a recent afternoon in Woodside, more than fifty men wearing work clothes and backpacks have spread out along 69th Street, from Roosevelt Avenue to Broadway. Hanging out in small groups or alone, they scan the passing traffic intently, hoping that a van or car pulls over with an offer of work.

These workers are among an estimated 10,000 day laborers, gathered at about 70 sites around the city, who play an indispensable role in the NYC economy. Day laborers are hired for a variety of jobs, including domestic work. But the greatest demand for day labor comes from the city’s sprawling, $86 billion dollar a year construction industry. 69th Street has long been known as a stop—parada—where employers can find construction day laborers.

Immigrants make up 63% of the city’s construction workforce. Most are from Latin America. Their pay and conditions differ greatly depending on immigration status and union membership, with undocumented day laborers at the bottom of the construction labor hierarchy. Struggling just to get a one-day job, they tend to work for small, non-union contractors and landlords, some of whom are notorious for low pay, wage theft, and unsafe conditions. Now a new wave of migrants, many from Venezuela, is trying to establish a foothold in the industry, hustling jobs on city streets. Early morning crowds at 69th Street and other paradas have grown.

Day laborers—jornaleros and jornaleras in Spanish—have always engaged in an uphill struggle for dignity and fairness in the US. In recent decades, a nationwide network of “worker centers” has been at the heart of this struggle. In our own community, one of these worker centers is organized by New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE), whose offices on Roosevelt and 71st Street are buzzing with day laborer activity. NICE is part of a citywide day laborer coalition of worker centers fighting to “improve workplace conditions in unregulated industries, defend their civil rights, and to end wage theft.”

Although worker centers were once seen as unwanted competitors by the construction unions, in recent years it’s become clear that worker centers are organizing workers who the unions themselves can’t reach, and that they are helping lift up standards in the whole construction industry. Relations between worker centers and unions vary around the country. But today there is often cooperation, which sometimes includes the funding of worker centers by unions, and has even involved a few joint unionization efforts. In New York, Local 79 of the Laborers Union and other unions work closely with local worker centers on the #FundExcludedWorkers campaign, including the recent mobilization to expand unemployment insurance.

NICE and the other worker centers often protest and lobby for legislation needed by day laborers, such as Carlos’ Law, a major NY State workplace safety bill signed by Governor Hochul in December. Workers victimized by wage theft or who face unsafe conditions can count on NICE to use its collective strength to intervene—sometimes side by side with unionized workers. NICE runs a continuous series of Occupational Safety and Health classes, which are legally required for work on most construction sites. The waiting list for these classes has grown long, as the recently arrived wave of asylum seekers searches for work. NICE also teaches construction skills such as framing, plumbing, and painting, as well as “soft skills” like English and technology. Women are encouraged to investigate careers in construction. All of the classes and workshops are free.

NICE’s effort to build solidarity among jornaleros is exemplified by their day laborer hiring hall. Employers looking for dependable day labor contact the Center. (“Hire NICE Workers,” the Center’s website says.) Workers who are registered with NICE get dispatched without favoritism, with an agreed wage, and with a formal work order. This system protects workers from unscrupulous bosses and job agencies. The Center’s workers make decisions democratically about minimum pay and other aspects of dispatch. The Worker Center doesn’t have the number of jobs or the physical capacity that would allow them to dispatch the whole local day laborer workforce today. Most jornaleros are still looking for work on 69th Street at least part of the time. But the hiring hall model is known in labor history to be a potential kernel of powerful worker organizations. For instance, in the 1930s, the demand for a hiring hall was central to eliminating the competitive “shape-up” of day laborers that ruled the longshore industry at that time. Winning the demand for a fair hiring hall helped create longshore unions in the US, mobilizing a mostly-immigrant day labor workforce that had been considered unorganizable.

To amplify its day labor activism, NICE developed a cell phone app in 2016 that helps workers track their hours and pay, rates employers, and shares warnings and alerts. Omar Trinidad, a construction worker, was the lead organizer for the app, which was named, appropriately, Jornalero/a. The app has spread to day laborer stops and among delivery workers in the city and beyond.

WHAT CAN WE DO?
  • Sign the petition, by NYC’s Day Laborer Coalition, calling on the city council to fund the Day Laborer Workforce Initiative. 
  • Hire a NICE worker if you need construction, day labor, domestic work, or a dog walker.

 

2. #ExcludedNoMore Launches Campaign for Unemployment Compensation

Immigrant justice groups and the Fund for Excluded Workers (FEW) Coalition won a historic struggle here in New York in 2021: $2.1 billion in state funding for immigrant workers systematically excluded from federal pandemic relief programs such as unemployment insurance and stimulus payments. The NY Department of Labor (DOL) distributed the money to 130,000 eligible applicants, with most recipients receiving the maximum funding amount of $15,600. Last month, the NYDOL made final payments of another $30 million to an additional 1,900 New Yorkers.

But immigration activists and community organizers didn’t stop after this unprecedented victory. The pandemic revealed brutal inequities in government support for workers in precarious times:

“[T[here are hundreds of thousands of workers across New York who have no way to access financial support when a crisis hits, be it a pandemic or an economic recession. That’s because our unemployment insurance system shuts out many of our state’s most vulnerable workers, especially Black, Brown, and immigrant workers in precarious low-wage industries …. We need a permanent solution that will remedy the need for an Excluded Workers Fund in the future.”Nisha Tabassum, FEW Coalition Manager

This week, #ExcludedNoMore launches a statewide Unemployment Bridge Program campaign to secure economic justice for all workers excluded from unemployment compensation due to their immigration status, or the kind of job they hold—including coverage for up to 750,000 domestic workers, day laborers, freelancers, and street vendors. “We need to do the structural work of matching our state’s unemployment system to the realities of the labor force,” said Queens-based State Senator Jessica Ramos, “The Unemployment Bridge Project is an update that aims to create a 21st-century safety net to match our 21st-century workforce.”

On January 11, the new campaign officially launched in NYC with a march and press conference near the Brooklyn Bridge. Rolling launch actions will take place this week in Westchester, Long Island, Upstate, and Albany. The struggle is just beginning!

 WHAT CAN WE DO?
  • Follow the Unemployment Bridge campaign on Fund Excluded Workers Coalition’s  Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, where future actions and rallies will be announced.

 

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 12/31/2022

Dear friends,

As the year 2022 comes to a close, we invite our readers to look back on some of the recent activism of local immigrant groups, and look ahead to the ongoing struggle to dismantle the US detention and deportation system. We feature the recent activities of three vibrant organizations—NICE, DRUM, and Make the Road NY—that each have a base here in central Queens. And we report on what a ‘true’ alternative to detention might be while remembering that, as the new year approaches, over 23,000 immigrants are currently in detention, and over 377,000 people are being monitored under ICE’s ‘Alternative to Detention’ (ATD) programs.

As we usher in 2023, we wish you joy, and community, and collective imaginings of a more just world for all.

Newsletter highlights:
  1. Year-end activities of local immigrant-led groups
  2. Implementing real alternatives to detention

1. Local Immigrant Justice Groups@End of Year 2022

As the calendar year turns, we take a look at three immigrant-led groups based here in Central Queens, and report back on some of their recent activism and advocacy. 

NICE (New Immigrant Community Empowerment) held a demonstration with City Council member Shekar Krishnan in front of City Hall on November 22, advocating for more resources to fight against wage theft. Undocumented workers are especially vulnerable to not being fully paid for their work, or not being paid at all. 

NICE’s commitment to protecting workers includes their support for Carlos’ Law. Named for Carlos Moncayo, a 22-year-old undocumented Ecuadorian construction worker killed on the job in 2015, the bill was proposed in 2018 and passed the NY State Legislature in August. It would raise the maximum fine for criminal liability for worker injury or death from $10,000 to no less than $500,000, or, in the case of a misdemeanor, no less than $300,000. The bill has been sitting unsigned on the desk of Governor Kathy Hochul, even though three more workers were killed this November, for a total of at least 24 construction worker deaths this year. Over 80% of construction workers who die in New York are employed at non-union work sites, and immigrant construction workers are disproportionately vulnerable to dying on the job. 

On December 13, members of NICE together with CUFFH (Churches United for Fair Housing), CASA, Make the Road NY and Center for Popular Democracy rallied in Washington, DC, to demand climate, health, economic and immigration justice. NICE met with six different congressional offices: Senator Bernie Sanders and Representatives Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Grace Meng, and Nadya Velazquez.

The Omnibus federal budget bill recently approved by Congress allots $500,000 to NICE.

DRUM (Desis Rising Up and Moving) joined more than 100 organizations on November 15 calling on Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to designate Temporary Protective Status (TPS) and Special Student Status (SSR) for Pakistani nationals working and studying in the US. The devastating floods of 2022 have created ongoing health and economic crises in Pakistan, with at least 33 million people (1 in 7 Pakistanis) directly affected by the disaster. No safe return of Pakistani immigrants to their country of origin is currently possible. Support TPS and SSR for Pakistani by signing this petition

DRUM’s director of organizing, Kazi Fouzia Kabir, joined Grassroots Global Justice Alliance’s delegation in November at the United Nation’s COP27 meetings in Egypt. Kabir works to connect with civil and government representatives from countries that DRUM’s members come from, in order to coordinate their demands for climate justice.

On November 22 and again on December 7, DRUM participated in a Care Not Cuts rally at City Hall demanding that Mayor Adams protect city services for working-class New Yorkers—threatened by Adams’ proposed budget cuts in fiscal 2023—and roll back the Mayor’s dangerous plan to forcibly detain New Yorkers deemed by the NYPD to have a mental illness. The proposed budget cuts and hiring freeze will affect vital city services, including a proposed cut to the extension of the universal 3-K Child Care Program. DRUM is fighting for housing, childcare, education, and care, instead of cuts and criminalization.  

DRUM is also working with ICE Out! NYC, Make the Road NY, African Communities Together (ACT), and other immigrant justice organizations to advocate for three crucial bills being considered by the City Council. The proposed legislation would further restrict the city from funneling people into ICE custody and detention by: ensuring accountability and compliance with existing detainer laws; limiting the Department of Corrections from communicating with ICE about a person’s release; and limiting the NYPD’s ability to hold a person for ICE.

Make the Road NY’s (MTRNY) Trans Immigrant Project (TrIP) held a vigil on November 19 in Corona Plaza to honor the lives of trans and gender-diverse siblings lost in 2022 and previous years. They renewed their commitment to protecting those who are still with us, and the generations that come after us.

MTRNY also held a series of Town Halls for members to meet with Queens legislators ahead of the 2023 legislative session. The November 16 Town Hall included State Senator Jessica Ramos, and Assembly members Catalina Cruz, Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas, Juan Ardila, and Steven Raga. Two more events were held on November 17 in Brooklyn and November 29 in Westchester.

On November 16, MTRNY launched its 2023-24 Respect and Dignity for All state policy platform to address the persistent inequities across NY State and improve the lives of immigrant, Black, and brown families. Proposals include:

  • Permanent inclusion in the unemployment system for all. Excluded No More.
  • Ensure immigrant healthcare access. Coverage for All.
  • Pass Good Cause Eviction legislation to bring renter’s rights to tenants in smaller buildings.
  • Pass the Solutions Not Suspensions Act for youth.
  • Pass the Stop Violence in the Sex Trades Act

The just-passed federal budget allots $400,000 to MTRNY which will help them implement their policies.

WHAT CAN WE DO?
  • Sign the petition supporting TPS for Pakistani immigrants.
  • If you are able, make a donation to any of the local immigrant activist and advocacy groups mentioned here–check their website for donation information!

2. The Real Alternative to Detention is No Detention

“The point is not to provide an alternative to electronic monitoring, an alternative to probation …  and so on—but to look instead at the actual problems we face, and to take lessons from projects around the country that are addressing these problems in effective ways.”Prison by Any Other Name, by Maya Schenwar and Victoria Law (p.241)

Immigrant advocates including Mijente, Detention Watch Network (DWN), the National Immigrant Justice Center, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops with the Center for Migration Studies have each issued reports opposing ISAP (Intensive Supervision Appearance Program), an Alternative to Detention (ATD) program run by ICE agents. They highlight the many problems of ISAP, and the value of community-based support programs as true alternatives to detention. ISAP, launched in 2004, is run by prison corporations and has been renewed four times despite sustained criticism by immigrants and activists. 

The government has piloted a few community-based ATD programs. In 2000, the Vera Institute for Justice worked with the INS (Immigration and Naturalization Services) to run one such ATD called the Appearance Assistance Program (AAP). The AAP was a break from the carceral approach to immigration policy which ramped up after Cuban and Haitian refugees arrived on Florida’s shores in the late 1980s, prompting Congress to amend the Immigration and Naturalization Act to require mandatory detention for immigrants with specific criminal convictions. The association of immigration with criminality was expanded by the 1996 Illegal Immigrant Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) which increased the scope of mandatory detention and captured legal permanent residents as well. 

Despite the AAP’s non-carceral success, with 90% of participants attending their court hearings, the aftermath of September 11, 2001, reconfigured immigration policy as a national security issue. The creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2002 prioritized immigrant surveillance, deportation, and the escalation of detention. ISAP became the primary ATD program supported by DHS, which leverages smartphone and facial recognition software, ankle monitors, and telephone check-ins with ICE agents with a focus on discipline and supervision, not community support.

The chart below shows the increase over time of funding allocations to ATD programs, including ISAP, as daily enrollment in those programs grew, spiking at almost 225% under President Biden in one year. The chart clearly shows government spending is not reduced with ATDs because they continue to spend on detention. The data reveal that ATDs like ISAP are not a real alternative, but an addition to detention. The chart also illustrates how bed quotas in private detention facilities keep detention costs consistently high even though the actual detention population recently dropped due to the unjustified use of Title 42 as an immigration enforcement tool during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some claim that the ISAP program is better than detention as a more humane way to approach the problem of immigration management. Participants in the program have agreed that given a choice between detention or not, then ISAP is preferred. But the report Tracked and Trapped: Experiences from ICE’s Digital Prisons shows the direct human impact that ISAP has on people (not by comparison with detention): 

  • When there are problems with the technology, ICE case officers will not blame the technology, instead punishment will fall on the participant. Because the ISAP program is run by a prison subsidiary company, the threat of detention is immediate for non-compliance.
  • Smartphone monitoring data constantly tracks people with no restrictions on how that data will be used. In fact, ISAP data was used in 2019 to assist in a Mississippi ICE raid to arrest 680 immigrant workers in meat processing plants, 300 of whom were later released. 
  • Ankle monitors have notably caused irritation, bleeding, or even electro-shocked the wearer—possibly because they are being worn for over 10 times longer than the intended length of time. 
  • 97% of people surveyed reported feeling social stigma or isolation, and two-thirds reported job-related issues. 
  • Black immigrants are given the ankle shackle twice as often as others. 

Detention Watch Network criticizes these ATD approaches as Alternatives to Freedom, but there are programs that can be community-based true alternatives, and ISAP is not the sole approach that ICE takes with ATDs. Parole allows people to live freely while they navigate their immigration cases—95% of Ukrainians were granted this option to escape the war with Russia, but only 11% of non-Ukranians were given this option during the same timeframe. In January 2016, ICE set up the Family Case Management Program (FCMP), an ATD without punitive and restrictive measures which did not use ankle monitors. The program successfully maximized court hearing attendance and ICE appointments. It was also significantly cheaper than the detention costs at just $38 each day per family unit instead of $320 per detainee per day. President Trump chose to eliminate this successful program after just one year. He also adjusted the Risk Classification Assessment (RCA) algorithm used to advise if someone can be released from detention and placed into an ATD—as a result, the continued detention of low-risk individuals rose from around 50% to 97%. When later seen by a human case officer, about 40% of people were released on bond. In 2020 the Bronx Defenders and the ACLU brought a lawsuit against ICE for adjusting RCA as a violation of due process and federal immigration law that calls for “individualized determinations” about a person’s release. 

Much immigrant justice work has tried to ensure that legal representation is provided to protect due process. However, as with the criminal justice system, the guarantee of due process does not always lead to a better outcome, which would be no detention and no deportation. But there are community programs working independently of the government that offer prime examples of successful ATDs: the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project, NYIFUP, is a coalition of groups with a process that strives for a different outcome from all the rest. It resulted in a 48% non-deportation outcome–a different measure than ensuring participation in court appearances and ICE meetings. That is a real alternative with a valuable outcome for immigrants.

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 12/17/2022

Dear friends,

We offer you this week two articles focused on people of Asian descent in New York City, where the Asian community numbers over 1.5 million residents. We take a look at the shifting political affiliations of Asian-American New Yorkers, as the Republican party makes inroads with promises of ‘law and order’ for a community targeted by growing anti-Asian violence. And we briefly introduce you to a recent series of public podcasts, featuring the voices and storytelling of people of Asian descent here in Queens.  

As the winter solstice and longest night of the year approaches, we wish you the seeds of new beginnings–and the warmth of local solidarity.

Newsletter highlights:
  1. Rise of conservatism among Asian New Yorkers?
  2. Queens Library podcasts: local histories of Asian immigration

1. Conservative Asian Mobilization Alarms NYC Democrats

Conservatives are gaining influence in a number of Asian American communities in New York City. This rightward shift has significantly impacted recent elections in the city, shocking a Democratic Party leadership that some accuse of taking the fast-growing Asian vote for granted. 

A conservative trend, particularly among recent Chinese American immigrants, was clearly evident in the 2020 mayoral contest. Hundreds of mostly-Asian voting districts—including many in Flushing and Elmhurst—voted for Republican Curtis Sliwa over Eric Adams, often by substantial margins. Although Adams still prevailed overall in mainly-Asian precincts, the Democratic margin of victory in those neighborhoods was cut in half compared to the De Blasio margin in 2017. 

This trend continued during the latest midterm elections. Asian American voters, actively courted by Republicans, contributed to right-wing candidate Lee Zeldin’s unexpectedly strong challenge to Kathy Hochul. Crossover Asian votes in Brooklyn and Queens helped flip House seats to the Republicans. An aggressive campaign by Lester Chang—a conservative Republican endorsed by the likes of Rudy Guiliani—unseated Peter Abbate, a Brooklyn Democrat who had been in the State Assembly since 1986.

The electoral trend is just one manifestation of the energetic grassroots mobilization and organizing happening among local Asian American conservatives. For example, a demonstration protesting a center for homeless people in Sunset Park drew about 1,000 conservative opponents; similar protests have happened in Flushing. The Chinese American Citizens Alliance of Greater New York (CACA), a conservative group with satellite offices in Elmhurst and Flushing, is at the forefront of Republican-supported campaigns to prevent changes in the gifted-and-talented programs in city schools, which have largely excluded Black and Latinx students. Characterized by an unquestioning pro-police stance, CACA also led a movement against the prosecution of police officer Peter Liang, son of Chinese immigrants, after he fatally shot Akai Gurley in the stairway of a NYCHA building in 2014. A number of the Asian activists spearheading these campaigns are registered Democrats, but are now openly speaking about their lack of party loyalty and the possibility of becoming Republicans.

There have always been conservative trends among immigrants—sometimes based on religion, political experiences in their home countries, or simply class interests. But the failure of Democratic elected officials to make convincing progress on issues critical to Asian Americans seems to have enabled conservatives to gain a wider audience. The Republican Party has moved quickly into the vacuum, just as it has with some Latinx voters.

Among the key issues exploited by the Republicans are the twin dangers of street crime and anti-Asian violence. Racist violence against Asian Americans in New York continues at a very high level, and the unfocused and divided response by Democratic leaders hasn’t improved things. For instance, efforts by New York Democrats to ramp up community mental health systems and remove potentially violent people from the streets are of questionable value, highly controversial, disorganized, and have resulted in no practical improvement for Asian communities so far. Even the funds meant to generate new community-based public relations campaigns opposing anti-Asian hate have fallen into a black hole, with no public announcement of recipients and no accountability from the city.

On the other hand, Sliwa’s Guardian Angels set up well-publicized street patrols in Manhattan’s Chinatown, Bay Ridge, Flushing, Middle Village, and other neighborhoods, promising to protect Asian residents. Even though the patrols were more performative than substantive, they were at least a visible street-level response. For some Asian Americans living in constant fear, the Republican program of harsh policing and “law and order” may seem like a possible way out, even though they are aware of the Trump administration’s role in whipping up anti-Asian hate. 

Asian Americans are also being courted by the Right on the issue of affirmative action in jobs and education. During the recent midterm campaign, Asian New Yorkers received mailings attacking Joe Biden and the Democrats for supporting affirmative action, which was characterized as discrimination against Asians as well as whites. One flyer mailed to JH residents came from the America First Legal Foundation, founded by notorious anti-immigrant white nationalist and Trump advisor, Stephen Miller. Conservative groups have also initiated well-publicized national lawsuits, sometimes involving Asian plaintiffs, aiming to overturn affirmative action at universities.

Prominent Asian Democrats express frustration that their party isn’t maintaining strong, active relationships with Asian communities. When the disappointing results of the 2022 New York midterms started rolling in, Congresswoman Grace Meng angrily tweeted, “Our party better start giving more of a shit about #aapi voters and communities.” But more promises and a better campaign organization aren’t likely to change the current slippage to Republicans. Democrats will have to come up with practical solutions to Asian American concerns and follow through on their pledges if they want to keep their current majority among local Asian voters.

Nevertheless, there are some positive countertrends for Democrats. Taiwanese immigrant Iwen Chu just became the first Asian American woman elected to the NY State Senate. She ran a progressive campaign, listed on both the Democratic and Working Families ballot lines, in a Brooklyn district that is 46% Asian. In our local City Council District 25, three Asian Americans emerged as leading vote-getters in the Democratic primary, with progressive candidate Shekar Krishnan eventually prevailing. A new survey from the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families (CACF) shows that there is strong sentiment in favor of racial diversity and desegregation in education among Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) students and parents. Nationally, Asian Americans continue to vote Democratic by a significant margin; this might eventually help weaken the conservative electoral organizing here.

An entirely different model of Asian American politics is exemplified by CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities. Rather than starting with electoral politics, CAAAV works from the bottom up to build bases among working-class and poor Asians living in Queens and Manhattan housing projects. They organize residents to protect each other and improve their conditions, insisting on close collaboration with African American, Latinx, and Native activists.

“Rarely do public institutions and government care about what happens to us. They think of our well-being as an afterthought. They speak pretty words but fail to give us what we need. In many cases, these institutions contribute to our harm. We know that Asian, Black, Latinx and Indigenous communities face the same threats, and that these forces against us grow more powerful when we fight against each other…. These conditions are why we must fight and organize for resources to make our lives safer. We respond to anti-Asian violence by organizing with our neighbors to fight for true safety for the working class every single daysafe housing, dignified work and the right to live without fear.” CAAAV

WHAT CAN WE DO?

2. Asian Voices Animate Queens Memory Project (QMP) Podcasts 

“Listening back to all eight episodes, I realize we’ve created a multi-lingual memory book that speaks to how far we’ve come as a borough. And how far we still have to go.”  J. Faye Yuan, Queens Memory Curator, Season 3 Episode 10, “Things That Brought Us Together” 

We urge our readers to check out the wonderful podcast series, featuring stories from neighbors of Asian descent, produced by Queens Memory Project (QMP) and the Queens Library. All ten episodes of the new Season 3, “Our Major Minor Voices,” center the voices, histories, and personal narratives of Asian and Asian-Americans in Queens. Thoughtfully curated and skillfully produced, the series is a gem for all kinds of local listeners: from long-standing members of Asian communities to newcomers to Jackson Heights. Eight of the ten episodes are bilingual, featuring the many languages of Queens including Nepali, Bangla, Korean, Mandarin, Hindi, Tagalog, and Tibetan. 

Three public events were held in Jackson Heights to launch three different podcast episodes with special resonance for our neighborhood. To mark the release of Episode 9, “The Greatest Inheritance,” featuring the stories of two New Yorkers from Bangladesh, a live celebration of Bengali poetry, music, and dance was held last June on 34th Avenue and the Open Street.  

 In a borough where one in four residents identifies as Asian American, the podcasts’ local histories of “minoritized” communities are a major contribution. Listen, explore, learn, and enjoy.  

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 12/03/2022

Dear friends,

An unprecedented drama is unfolding here in NYC, as thousands of recent migrants land in the city after being bused north by Republican governors in Texas and Arizona. Media coverage of the everyday lives of the newcomers—many of them families with school-age children—has focused on the cascade of challenges they face and the scramble of efforts to support them. Some of you, our readers, along with other Queens neighbors and organizations, have mobilized to address the unfolding political and humanitarian situation.

This week’s newsletter offers a report on how the city is handling the unexpected influx of an estimated 5–7000 newly-enrolled students in NYC public schools, the majority of them recent immigrant arrivals. 

Newsletter highlights:
  1. NYC public schools & new migrant students 


Welcoming New Immigrant Students in NYC Schools

This is a humanitarian crisis …. we just want the children to feel safe. 

Natalia Russo, Principal at PS 145, interview on ‘60 Minutes’ (11/6/22)

 

In 1982, the Supreme Court ruled in Plyler v. Doe that migrant children can attend K-12 public schools in the US regardless of their legal status. In May 2022, Texas Governor Abbot suggested he might challenge that ruling, citing the high cost for educating migrant children. He then started busing recent migrants and asylum seekers to NYC, including thousands of school-age children. During the summer the NYC Department of Education (DOE) budgeted for just over a thousand new students, but that number has now grown to an estimated 7,200 children who were placed with their parents in shelters or repurposed hotels throughout the city. One-third of those were enrolled in Queens schools. Immigration status is not tracked by the city’s DOE but student enrollment from homeless shelters is; officials believe the majority of them are newcomer immigrants, many of them bused to NYC by Texas officials. 

The city created Project Open Arms to support new migrant families with children entering the school system by bringing together services from various city agencies. One highlighted concern about late-enrolling students is that although they may have higher needs, they are often sent to lower-performing schools. The Project tried to place the newcomer students in a limited number of districts and schools, preferably in close proximity to shelters where families were living. Vanessa Luna, a co-founder of ImmSchools, a national, immigrant-led non-profit that helps schools support immigrant families, also stressed the need for school staff to be trained on the legal rights of immigrants, especially those who are undocumented.

By August, the city was still making adjustments to support the schooling of migrant children unexpectedly bused to New York by Republican governors. Rita Rodriguez-Engberg, the director of the Immigrant Students Rights project with Advocates for Children New York (AFC), highlighted two issues: first, there are not enough bilingual programs in the city for all the eligible students; and second, many schools fail to inform families of their right to elect bilingual education for their children. 

To help support the existing few hundred Spanish-language bilingual teachers in NYC public schools, the Department of Education launched a new partnership with the Consul General of the Dominican Republic. It will bring 25 bilingual teachers from the DR on cultural exchange visas this year to support staff and students, and 25 more next year. These new staff would boost the Dream Squads and Immigrant Ambassador Program already in place to support English Language Learners (ELLs). 

In addition to instruction, it was apparent that school staff were working to provide basic needs like clothing and food for the new students. The city responded by forming “borough response teams,” asking parents to join them and help organize clothing and food drives, as well as supporting resource fairs. The response from volunteer organizations and individuals has been inspiring and well-documented. These grassroots actions highlight the capacity for compassion and social solidarity, in contrast to the dehumanizing US immigration proceedings created by our stagnant national policy-making. Principal Russo of PS 145 noted on 60 Minutes that she was doing laundry for some of the new students as well as getting them school uniforms and—as a pro bono lawyer—looking to provide some with legal representation. 

Queens is the borough enrolling the most newcomer students, and many are in District 30, which includes Jackson Heights, Woodside, and Corona. Whitney Toussaint, president of District 30’s community education council, estimates about 500 children are newly enrolled there. That is almost a quarter of all newcomer students estimated to be enrolled throughout 107 Queens schools. An interactive map using DOE data shows the student distribution around the city.

Students from Families Seeking Asylum: Update on the City’s Response

At the end of August the city began distributing $12 million to schools that had welcomed new students who are homeless. But it came with restrictions like it “cannot be used to hire full-time staff” such as sorely needed bilingual educators. According to NY State Senator Jessica Ramos, one school received a grant to open a food pantry and turned an old cafeteria space into a store with free clothing and supplies. The school that got the most money from the program was PS 143 Louis Armstrong in Queens which already had a dual-language program. The $194,000 it received suggests the school had enrolled nearly 100 students from temporary housing since the summer. About 50 other schools that enrolled six new arrivals were to receive just $12,000 while those with five students or less didn’t receive any extra funding

In September, NYC Comptroller Brad Lander began to acknowledge that DOE cuts over the summer from the Fair Student Funding (FSF) school budget allocations were looking problematic. Of the $7 billion to spend through 2024-25, only $79 million would go to social workers, guidance counselors, and school psychologists. Schools that had enrolled many new students had lost a half-billion dollars in FSF cuts. Given the new enrollments, Lander recommended these schools should receive, at minimum, an additional $34 million in funding to “staff up to serve their new students”. In November, the DOE announced it would not carry out the original budget plan cuts and also would use $200 million in federal stimulus money to maintain school budgets.

Staten Island is the NYC borough that received the smallest distribution of newcomer students this year. The borough’s Republican President Vito J. Fossella asked the Independent Budget Office to do an analysis of all spending costs associated with assisting asylum-seeking families, including and beyond education. The IBO estimated around $580 million would be required annually for just under 6,000 Asylum Seekers/Households. 

Fossella then held a media event on November 15, with Ellis Island in the background, to complain that taxpayer money would be better spent on projects that would benefit all those who live in the city. He concluded with a tired trope about Ellis Island being a reminder of a time of “good immigration”, where people came to this country legally, “the right way”. Does he know the island’s true history? Only two percent of immigrants at Ellis Island were denied entry to the United States. During its peak processing time in 1907, over a million immigrants passed through the port in just a few hours; no passports or visas were required. If Fossella recognizes that as legal and good immigration, then by all means let him advocate for this same approach with current asylum seekers, and grant the parents of these new school children the ability to work immediately.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

  • Support the work of Advocates for Children of New York.
  • Elevate the news that ImmSchools shares.
  • Track down any program that you trust to which you can donate supplies to children and their families who are in need.

 

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 11/12/2022

Dear friends,

One of the joys of living in Jackson Heights is our vibrant street life, animated by a rich array of food carts and a lively culture of street vending. But behind this sidewalk cheer lies the reality of struggle for immigrant vendors, whose numbers have increased during the pandemic as economic life becomes more precarious. We report this week on the current impasse in NYC street vendors’ fight for legal rights and municipal support.

We also take a look at the housing justice work of Chhaya—a Jackson Heights-based organization serving local South Asian and Indo-Caribbean communities—in the wake of the fatal storm last year that killed 11 basement tenants, including families here in Central Queens.  

Newsletter highlights
  1. Street vendors’ struggle continues
  2. Chhaya works to legalize basement apartments 

1. Street Vendors: Justice Delayed

Despite the passage of City Council legislation aimed at protecting their rights, NYC’s street vendors—almost all immigrants—continue to face daily harassment and disrespect by the city administration. Politicians’ solemn promises to provide new permits and fairer law enforcement have gone unfulfilled.

There are an estimated 20,000 street vendors in the city. Some envision street vending as a step towards a brick-and-mortar store—perhaps following the footsteps of the Arepa Lady of Jackson Heights, Maria Piedad Cano, who is legendary for parlaying a cart on Roosevelt Avenue into a popular restaurant on 37th Avenue. Many more vendors are just trying to survive, including thousands who lost jobs during the pandemic. A vendor in Flushing, who asked to be called Wong, told Documented:

“It’s really tiring and to be honest I don’t really want to be doing this but I can’t do anything else…. I’m pretty old and I looked for another job, but no one would take me. I just want to make some money to pay my living expenses and to operate in a legal way but I can’t get a license.”

Wong, like most other immigrant women street vendors, faces extra risks and burdens. Fifty-two percent of these women are primary breadwinners for their families; 32% are sole providers. Forty-four percent report feeling unsafe at work, because of fear of police or health inspectors, robberies, assaults and race or sex harassment.

Most food vendors are already licensed to serve and sell food; they’ve paid an application fee and passed an eight-hour health and safety course. Yet it’s almost impossible for these licensed vendors to get a license for their cart, because of a rigid cap imposed decades ago in the time of Mayor Koch. The long waiting list for a cart license has been closed for years. Nevertheless, with casual cruelty, the city is dispensing scores of $1,000 tickets for unlicensed carts or stalls. Many local vendors have also been arrested or had their property trashed by the Department of Sanitation.

When we last wrote about the street vendor struggle at the beginning of July, there was a feeling of cautious optimism among activists. Vendors had become better organized. Mayor Adams had endorsed recommendations by the Street Vendor Advisory Board, validating the vendors’ concerns and committing the city to a series of practical improvements. City Council legislation increasing the number of permits was due to take effect that month. The Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP) was supposed to take over the enforcement of street vending regulations, replacing the heavy-handed NYPD.

But since that hopeful time, aggressive ticketing of vendors has only intensified—now performed by two agencies instead of one. In an analysis of data from June 2021 to May 2022, City Limits reports that DCWP and NYPD together have issued nearly 2,500 fines, a 33% increase from 2019, the year before policies went into effect to supposedly reduce ticketing. City Limits also noted that Jackson Heights was the most ticketed zip code for vendors during the first year of DCWP enforcement. 

On September 29, street vendors and supporters, led by the Street Vendor Project, marched to City Hall to once again demand justice. State Senator Jessica Ramos told ABC News that the vendors “are not criminals, they are hard-working people looking for dignity and looking for the legalization of their businesses.” In response, a DCWP spokesperson alleged that “unlicensed vending and vendors who flout the rules put New Yorkers at risk of everything from food borne illness to traffic crashes.” 

 As vendors struggle to maintain their livelihoods on the streets, Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) bureaucrats botched and delayed the release of desperately-needed cart licenses mandated by the City Council. DOHMH claims it will make the first batch of cart permits (now called “supervisory licenses”) available next year—the ones that were scheduled to be released last summer. 445 supervisory licenses will supposedly be released annually for nine years after that—a meaningful improvement, but still far below demand. 

“One septuagenarian member of the Street Vendor Project recently got an application for a Green Cart permit after 15 years of waiting….The permit would allow her to sell fruits and vegetables in the South Bronx making a modest living for her family. But before she could become a legal vendor, her husband died. ‘I get to see this day that has finally come where I got a permit…and my husband wasn’t able to see it happen.’”Mother Jones (October 2022)

WHAT CAN WE DO?

2. The Aftermath of Hurricane Ida—Chhaya Responds

“We need to start viewing extreme weather events not only as climate change issues, but also as public health crises that most severely impact low-income communities.” Tom Wright, Regional Plan Association report (July 2022)

Just over a year ago, six inches of rain fell in a few catastrophic hours, as the remnants of Hurricane Ida passed through New York City. Eleven people drowned in their flooded basement apartments, many of them in Central Queens and most of them immigrants. Hundreds more basement dwellers lost their belongings and their only home.

Today, some of us have already forgotten the horror of the unprecedented flash flooding in early September 2021. But every household affected by the storm remembers. And the local immigrant-led organization Chhaya has, in the past year, amplified their fight for affordable, safe housing, and for the legalization of basement units that are brought up to code and secure. An estimated 31,000 buildings in Jackson Heights, Woodside, Elmhurst and Corona have “below grade” basement units, many of them rented out to immigrant workers and families, and many of the buildings owned by immigrant small homeowners/landlords.

Chhaya recognizes these basement apartments as a “vital part of the city’s affordable housing stock” that have been criminalized by the city’s archaic housing laws. Fighting for well-regulated, safe, and healthy basement dwellings is part of Chhaya’s broader commitment to housing justice for working-class South Asian and Indo-Caribbean New Yorkers. As founder of NYC’s Bangladeshi Tenant Union, Chhaya has been at the forefront of community organizing and political strategy to empower low-income tenants in immigrant neighborhoods like Jackson Heights—where their main office is located.   

In March 2022, Chhaya and coalition partners in the BASE (Basement Apartments Safe for Everyone) campaign released a new policy initiative calling for:

  • a citywide basement legalization program;
  • $85 million in state funding to support low-income homeowners’ conversion of basements into affordable and safe apartments;
  • new investments in climate-resilient infrastructure (including expanded stormwater capture systems);
  • an “amnesty” program for existing basement apartments that commit to upgrading to legally-recognized units.    

Working-class immigrant communities in NYC are living at the intersection of climate change, a crisis of affordable housing, and radical health inequalities—including unequal vulnerability to displacement and death during extreme weather events like Hurricane Ida. Echoing Chhaya and the BASE campaign’s demands, a July 2022 report released by the Regional Plan Association calls for legalization of basement dwellings to increase safety and security, and for immediate investments in green infrastructure to mitigate storm damage and flash flood events. Both strategies are potentially life-saving transformations for immigrants living, literally, underground in Central Queens.

 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.