Tag: Jessica Ramos

JHISN Newsletter 04/08/2023

Dear friends,

We offer two stories this week of immigrant justice struggles here in New York City. First, we report on Mayor Adams’ betrayal of a hard-won agreement between street vendors and the City to decrease harassment and increase new permits for vendors. We then take a brief look at the brewing battle for a fair and equitable 2024 NYC budget that protects essential services for all New Yorkers.  

Finally, with grief and outrage, we mark the deaths of 39 migrants in a blaze inside a detention center just across the border from El Paso, Texas, on March 27. The fatal fire is the latest evidence of the inhumane conditions in which growing numbers of asylum seekers and refugees are being held in Mexico, under pressure from the US government to stall their entry into the US.  

Newsletter highlights:
  1. Adams administration undermines agreement with street vendors
  2. A People’s Budget for NYC fiscal year 2024

1. Street Vendors Under Attack

“We are not a public safety issue. We are vendors, and we are what makes New York City great.” Guadalupe Sosa, longtime Harlem street vendor

Street vendors’ epic struggle for economic survival and respect on NYC streets has recently suffered a sharp setback. The bad news for vendors—almost all immigrants—began with a March 8 news conference, at which Flushing City Councilmember Sandra Ung launched a petition in English, Chinese, and Korean demanding strict enforcement of city street vending regulations. In particular, Ung called for clearing out a downtown Flushing no-vending zone approved by the Council in 2018. Standing alongside the executive director of the Flushing Business Improvement District (BID), with a group of like-minded brick-and-mortar business people, Ung characterized Flushing’s crowded street vendor scene as a threat to public safety. She described “out of control” street vending as a vector for counterfeit goods, live seafood, and illegal cannabis.

Quickly seizing the opening provided by Ung, the Adams administration suddenly transferred enforcement of street vending regulations from the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP) to the Sanitation Department (DSNY) and its police force, effective April 1. DSNY has been heavily criticized in the past for summarily crushing street vendor property in its garbage trucks.

Putting vendors at the mercy of the DSNY Police undermines a careful agreement reached by vendors, the City Council, and Mayor de Blasio in 2021. This plan included the formation of a Street Vendor Advisory Board with a range of stakeholders, de-emphasis on police action, and substantial increases in the number of vending permits, which have been almost impossible to get for decades. Before April 1, the spirit of this agreement had already been violated by the Adams administration, which implemented major increases in inspections and ticketing. New permits, meanwhile, have been repeatedly delayed.

Street vendor advocates responded to the latest development with shock and anger. “What message is the administration sending us? Are they considering us trash that needs to be picked up?” asked Mohamed Attia, executive director of the Street Vendor Project (SVP). Vendors complained that neither the Advisory Board nor the City Council had been consulted about Adams’ change.

Shortly after the mayor signaled his intentions, a March 16 demonstration at City Hall promoted a different path: full and immediate implementation of the 2021 street vendor agreement. This event was attended by many politicians, including Councilmembers Shekar Krishnan, Oswald Feliz, Shahana Hanif, and Tiffany Cabán. At another protest on March 22, after Adams’ plan was formalized, protesters demanded its reversal. Organized by Councilmember Sandy Nurse, chair of the Sanitation Committee, the demonstration included Alexa Aviles, Pierina Sanchez, and Queens reps Jennifer Gutierrez and Julie Won. Street vendors also have elected allies at the state level, where Assemblymember Jessica González-Rojas and state Senator Jessica Ramos have been promoting matching bills that would uncap vending permits, create a fair and equitable street vending licensing program, and expunge the records of vendor violations.

The issues surrounding street vendors have exposed differences along class and ideological lines within NYC immigrant communities. While members of the City Council’s Progressive Caucus from immigrant families have strongly supported the vendors, other immigrant Democrats, like Sandra Ung and her predecessor Peter Koo, have taken the side of brick-and-mortar businesses and “law and order.” Ung, elected in 2021, is carefully navigating the political cross-currents in her district. Speaking about changes in Asian voting patterns in the city, she commented, “I recognized at the very early stage that my constituents, the community, their views are probably not going to be aligned with the progressive caucus stances.”

Immigrant street vendors have more immediate concerns. They are worried about becoming enmeshed in the legal system. And they feel that their economic survival is imperiled. As vendor Guadalupe Sosa puts it, “It’s traumatizing and heartbreaking when you spend your savings and all your time preparing your merchandise or cooking what you sell just for the health department to come alongside with NYPD to dump or confiscate your merchandise into a garbage truck.” 

WHAT CAN WE DO?

2. Immigrant Justice Groups Support a People’s Budget

“Budgets are moral documents.” attributed to Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Financial budgets are maps of action priorities, worldly statements of what will be valued and what will not. In February, Mayor Adams released a preliminary fiscal year 2024 NYC budget that defunds and devalues core city services including libraries, education, CUNY, and pre-K for 3-year-olds. Just days ago, on April 4, he ordered another round of 4% cuts for almost all city agencies—on top of two previous rounds last year of mandatory 3% cuts. One of the administration’s justifications for the new cuts is the unexpected costs of the city’s migrant crisis.

Local immigration groups including DRUM (Desis Rising Up and Moving) and Make The Road NY are fighting back with the People’s Budget #CareNotCuts. The coalition of groups supporting a People’s Budget campaign state clearly:

“These harmful cuts most deeply impact low-income New Yorkers of color who rely on the City’s public safety net, schools, and institutions. The Mayor’s budget cuts are unacceptable for a city that is home to the most billionaires in the world …. In the long run, divesting from these necessities will make NYC a less safe, stable, healthy, and desirable place to live.”

In response to the Mayor’s proposed cuts in the preliminary $102.7 billion budget, the City Council announced this week that they’ve identified $1.3 billion in taxpayer monies that the city can use to avoid additional cuts to core services. A budget agreement between the Mayor and the City Council must be reached by July 1. Join immigrant justice and local progressive groups in demanding a fair and just budget that meets the needs of all New Yorkers.

WHAT CAN WE DO?
  • Use this Action Network link to send an e-letter to Mayor Adams and the City Council in support of a People’s Budget.

 

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 12/03/2022

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 07/09/2022

Dear friends,

As we enter the thick of summer, we wish you all extra ease and an expanded sense of what’s possible. Our newsletter takes a look at the complicated situation of Dreamers and the tenth anniversary of DACA. And we offer a cautiously hopeful report on changing city policies around street vending in NYC. As we collectively re-dream what immigrant justice might feel like, we are grateful for your support of JHISN. Please put our newsletter to good use!

Newsletter highlights:
  1. Reflecting on DACA Ten Years In
  2. Street Vending Re-structured in NYC?

1. DACA – Still temporary after 10 years

In 2022, it is time to appreciate the good outcomes from ten years of DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, while recognizing the limitations that urgently need to be overcome. Congress failed to pass the DREAM ACT in 2010, refusing to legislate a path to citizenship for even a narrowly defined group of youth who came or were brought to the United States as children. As DACA recipient from Yonkers, Brian Aguilar Avila, commented, “They always say they have a plan, that congress has a plan, and that Trump had a plan, but it always dies.” 

Joana Toro created a photographic journey of DACA activism in Queens from 2012 to 2022, highlighting both Make the Road New York – which initiated a class action lawsuit to protect DACA-eligible immigrant youth – and the MinKwon Center in Flushing. One of MinKwon’s current Immigrant Justice Organizers, Woojung “Diana” Park, a DACA recipient, stated that being undocumented can make you more a bystander than an activist.  Even so, after the DREAM ACT failed to pass, it was undocumented youth that took action to influence Obama (who was deporting in greater numbers than any president before him) into signing the executive order creating DACA on June 15, 2012. Janet Napolitano, the former Homeland Security Secretary, said she did not expect the policy would still be in place 10 years later. 

Many DACA stories reveal that the eligibility to work without fear of deportation presented the opportunity to obtain a higher education. Although DACA youth were not eligible for state-provided financial aid and had to pay out-of-state tuition costs charged to international students, they could now work to obtain a degree. NY State, seven years after DACA began, passed the Jose Peralta Dream Act, giving undocumented students the ability to qualify for NY state aid for higher education.

Diana Pliego was living in South Carolina, where undocumented people were prohibited from attending public institutions to study. She had to apply to private institutions and, although she received a full-tuition scholarship to Columbia University, could not afford the additional housing expenses. But she and her DACA recipient siblings could now all work, and so could cover those costs. Pliego now works at the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) and was conflicted by the 10-year anniversary because, while DACA has changed lives for the better, the renewal process is problematic: “The past 10 years I’ve kind of had to live my life in two year increments, not knowing if one day someone is going to take this away from me and I won’t have any control over that decision.” 

DACA renewal, required every two years, is perhaps manageable for a college-age student, who can tackle life in short increments. But there are now more DACA recipients over the age of 36 than there are under the age of 20, and over 300,000 US children now have one parent who is a DACA recipient. Bruna Sollod notes, “Now that I’m a mom, now that I have a career that I really love, thinking in two year increments doesn’t work anymore.

Family insecurity is an outcome of bipartisan political dysfunction and anti-immigrant sentiment in mainstream U.S. political discourse. The Trump administration failed, thanks to a court order, to end the DACA program – not because there were issues with the proposed termination but because the change was implemented by an improperly appointed acting secretary of Homeland Security. Ending DACA now would create another US government attack on immigrant families, just like separating families at the border, and would directly impact US citizen children. 

This week a Federal court in Louisiana heard testimony from New Jersey’s state solicitor urging 3 Republican-appointed judges to rule against a lawsuit brought by 9 Republican-led states claiming DACA was improperly created by the Obama administration. If the lawsuit is successful it would shut down the entire program based on administrative procedural rules not on the program’s value or purpose. Terminating DACA would ignore these economic benefits: 94 percent of the DACA-eligible population in the labor force are employed; 45,000 own their own business, and in 2015 working DACA recipients boosted local economies by over $655 million. It would set up the deportation of 542,000 DACA-eligible essential workers, 62,000 of whom work in health care, and almost half of which were employed on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic

As NILC stated, “DACA has served as a lifeline, but DACA recipients need lasting stability. Voters across the political spectrum overwhelmingly favor a permanent solution, and lawmakers have a mandate to deliver.Surveys of the US public show consistently that three-quarters of the population are in favor of granting a path to citizenship for young people brought to the US illegally as children. Esder Chong, who received DACA at 15, and had experience at NILC as she worked towards her two Masters degrees, said, “If and when DACA is rescinded, we need a plan for the undocumented community at large. Congress has no plan. Immigrant rights organizations are not in agreement on what the plan should be.” Chong suggests giving up the idealistic “citizenship for all” solution and pushing instead for “a pathway to residency — a legal status for all” in order for people to stay in the country, to pursue education and a good life, and be able to work and contribute to local and national economies.

WHAT CAN WE DO?
  • Sign the NILC petition to Pass Permanent Protections for Immigrant Youth.
  • Attend the Off-Broadway show ¡Americano! about a DACA recipient who learned of his undocumented status when he tried to become a US Marine after the attacks of 9/11.
  • Retweet the four op-eds that United We Dream created with media company Popsugar to highlight personal stories of DACA.

2. Justice for Street Vendors in NYC

“Just let us work with dignity. We are immigrants, we’re not hurting anybody … We’re out working and trying to provide. All I want is a place to work safely.” –Maria Falcon, street vendor arrested April 2022 

Maria Falcon was born in Ecuador and now lives in Queens. For over ten years, she has worked selling goods from a street cart. On April 29, Maria was on an outdoor subway platform in Brooklyn selling mangoes and melons from a laundry cart when two NYPD officers handcuffed and arrested her. She spent two hours in a police station.  She was partially strip-searched for weapons and drugs, her cart and goods were confiscated, and she was ticketed and released for ‘unauthorized commercial activity.’ Her daughter’s video of the arrest went viral.

Maria’s story is a snapshot in the political panorama of NYC street vending. As an informal sector of the local economy, largely fueled by the work of immigrants and people of color, street vending is regulated through city permits for carts and trucks. NYC caps the total number of permits granted, creating a huge waitlist and an “underground black market” in permits. For years, immigrant justice groups like The Street Vendor Project, and elected officials like Jessica Ramos, have fought to decriminalize street vending and empower street vendors, establish a fair and equitable permit process, and end police harassment of vendors.

In a promising step forward, a report and set of recommendations developed by a new Street Vendor Advisory Board (SVAB) are being embraced by the City Council and Mayor Adams. The SVAB, created in 2021 by City Council mandate, aims to balance the interests of street vendors, small businesses, community organizations, and consumers. It also recognizes that the street vending ecosystem in New York is a vibrant part of neighborhood life and a vital support to the economy.  

In May, the Mayor publicly announced that the city will start implementing several SVAB recommendations including: repealing criminal liability for mobile food vendors; exploring the expansion of street vending opportunities in pedestrian plazas, city parking lots, and metered parking spots; and introducing business supports for street vendors through city agencies.

 Mohamed Atia, director of The Street Vendor Project and a member of the Street Vendor Advisory Board, sounded an optimistic note: 

“For centuries, street vendors have been an essential part of the fabric of New York City. From the Bronx to Queens, street vendors ensure under-resourced communities have access to fresh, affordable food, commercial corridors have diversity of business, and tourists get the iconic New York City experience. And now, for the first time ever, street vendors are stakeholders in deciding the future of the industry … We look forward to continuing to work with Mayor Adams and the City Council to modernize the vending system, ensuring all street vendors are permitted, and cutting the red tape so our city’s smallest business can truly thrive.”

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 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.