Tag: Jessica Ramos

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.