Tag: Justice

JHISN Newsletter 04/17/2022

Dear friends,

Our newsletter arrives this week after a mass shooting in the large, working-class Asian and Latinx community of Sunset Park; a community that created an ICE Watch during the Trump administration and rallied to support its elder population during the pandemic—when city resources were lacking and xenophobic scapegoating about the causes of the virus were severe. This strong community successfully fought for tenants’ rights and recently united to defeat a developer-led plan to rezone and replace the working-class waterfront. We know it will rally in recovery once again. 

We also write as a ferocious war still rages in Ukraine. Our first article reports on the red tape that Ukraine’s refugees face if they do make it to the US. The newsletter ends with a lively review of the many podcasts you can listen to that will broaden your understanding, and social and political awareness, about immigration issues. We conclude with an invitation to share with us what you are listening to if we have missed a favorite podcast of your own!

Newsletter highlights:
  1. Ukrainian migration to the US: slow and fraught
  2. A wealth of immigration-related podcasts

1. Refugees, red tape, and race

As large numbers of refugees first started to flee the brutal Russian invasion of Ukraine (the total so far is over 4.6 million), the Biden administration promised that up to 100,000 would be given shelter in the US. Many Ukrainian refugees will eventually arrive in NYC, which has the largest concentration of Ukrainian-Americans in the country. But the process of actually allowing them into the US has barely begun. Key decisions about the status of Ukrainian migrants remain unresolved while the administration weighs practical and political factors. The current gridlock illustrates the complicated, bureaucratic, and politicized nature of US immigration law, even in the case of refugees officially welcomed by the president. 

The Biden government quickly granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Ukrainians already inside the US, which protects them from being deported for at least 18 months. But this doesn’t help Ukrainians who are not yet admitted. In addition, most Ukrainians are legally ineligible for ordinary asylum: fear of persecution by one’s own government is usually a requirement.

The two main pathways that Ukrainians will probably use to gain entry to the US are visitor’s visas and “humanitarian parole.” Neither type of entry provides access to long-term residency or social welfare benefits. A visitor’s visa is normally used for tourism or business, for up to six months. It might be a viable option for some refugees, depending on specific family circumstances and the discretion of immigration officers, but many Ukrainian families have already been turned down for visas.

Humanitarian parole is supposed to be available for “urgent humanitarian reasons.” However, “it is not that easy to qualify,” according to a recent article in Forbes. “Success often depends on family ties to U.S. citizens prepared to support the migrants on arrival or other such willing sponsors with financial means.

So far, there has been minimal direction from the federal government to guide the immigration bureaucracy or local authorities. The processing of applications has been painfully slow. The stakes are high: Ukrainian migrants whose visa applications are rejected or who aren’t approved for humanitarian parole could face deportation or detention. 

In recent weeks, thousands of Ukrainians have tried to get faster access to humanitarian parole by flying to Mexico—which doesn’t require a visa—and then traveling to the US border at Tijuana. This has led to a steady trickle of admissions, greatly facilitated by Ukrainian American civic and church groups that provide material support and run interference with both Mexican officials and the Border Patrol. But the journey from Ukraine is arduous, processing is slow, and success isn’t guaranteed.

The circumstances of Ukrainian migrants gathering at the southern border are disturbing on a number of levels. They are camping out at the same sports complex formerly occupied by a caravan of migrants from Central America, who were forcefully turned back by the Border Patrol. We sympathize with anyone fleeing violent conflict. But while Ukrainians are slowly gaining admittance to the US, Black and Brown refugees from violent conflicts in Africa, Haiti, Latin America, and elsewhere are being excluded at the border, after their own arduous journeys. They are currently denied entry largely through the use of “Title 42”–-a false pretext of Covid public health control carried over from the Trump administration and strongly protested by human rights activists. 

Yet Ukrainians have immediately been given special exemption from Title 42. As legal advocate Blaine Bookey puts it, “President Biden’s decision to welcome Ukrainian refugees seeking safety in the United States is the right thing to do. [But] there is no way to look at what’s happening at the southern border other than along racial lines.”

Title 42 will eventually be lifted for everybody. Biden plans to repeal it in May, despite active attempts by Republicans and some Democrats to keep it in place indefinitely. If that happens, Ukrainians in Mexico may actually find their admission process drastically slowed, as migrants of other nationalities are finally allowed to press their own claims for refuge. 

2. A podcast for every listener

Podcasting seems like a perfect way for grassroots activists to raise awareness about immigration. As an open and distributed platform, it allows stories and information to be broadcast widely without needing the resources of a radio station. The local activist groups that JHISN regularly reports about have not yet established their own shows. Instead, they appear as guests on the episodes of podcasts created by other groups or radio shows which makes it possible to reach an already existing and relevant listener base instead of creating a new one.

  • Damayan appeared on This Filipino Life to bring attention to human trafficking.
  • DRUM joined the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence on Let’s Be Real after their successful campaign against Amazon’s HQ move to New York.
  • In Out of the Margins, Make The Road NY discussed the 35,000 children who immigrate to the United States every year as unaccompanied minors.
  • Brian Lehrer, on WNYC, had a conversation with CHHAYA CDC revealing how small homes were being bought by investment companies rather than families. 

Some individuals and organizations have created podcasts dedicated specifically to immigration issues. Hendel Leiva, based on Long Island, began interviewing immigrant activists in 2015. He gave each person an opportunity on Immigration Mic to tell their personal story as well as talk about their activist work. After 5 years and just over 100 episodes, his series came to an end, but the benefit of the podcast media is that the archive remains. Archives are also great for binge-listening: 

  • Immigration nation examines misconceptions about immigrants and tells listeners about the reality of immigration policy in the United States in just 20 episodes.
  • Indefensible is a quick 5-episode podcast by the Immigrant Defense Project about people who resisted deportation. 
  • Memories of Migration was the first series created by the Queens Memory Podcast and shared ten oral histories of immigrants found in the archives of the Queens Public Library.
  • Real People. Real Lives. Women Immigrants of New York 2020/2021” is a 12-episode collection of stories of frontline workers, journalists, stay-at-home moms, artists, and entrepreneurs produced by New Women New Yorkers.

Ali Noorani hosted the long-running podcast, Only In America; he created over 200 episodes of interviews from all over the US covering policy, social, and geopolitical situations surrounding immigration. Although Noorani’s podcast ended recently when he gives up his role at the National Immigration Forum, there are several other organizations and think tanks in the capital with a focus on immigration issues:

Then there are the storytelling podcasts that advance inclusiveness or promote empathy by simply sharing the stories of human beings. The Immigrant Story invites immigrants to share their experiences, while The Immigrant Experience in America, Why America? and The Immigrant Voice have curated gatherings of stories about people choosing to come to this country. Nestor Gomez is a prolific storyteller, originally from Guatemala and now living in Chicago, who created 16 binge-able Immigration Stories, half of which feature New York City immigrants. Radio Cachimbona adds storytelling from Arizona about migrant resistance in the borderlands. Immigrantly is entirely produced by women and began as a podcast called The Alien Chronicles. It aims “to deconstruct stereotypical narratives of immigrants, their second-generation kids, people of color, and change-makers with cross-cultural, nuanced conversations.” Taking a slightly different storytelling tack, How to Be American, produced by the Tenement Museum in NY, tells the history of US immigration and reveals the key role that women have played.

The New School, here in New York City, has contributed two podcasts to the immigration discussion. Now in its fourth season, Tempest Tossed focuses on refugee and asylum issues, and shares interviews with immigration policy experts, journalists, artists, and migrants. Hosted by Alex Aleinikoff, who served as United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees, the podcast has also featured Catalina Cruz, the first DREAMER in the New York State Assembly. The second podcast, Feet in 2 Worlds (FI2W), examines political issues related to immigration but has also found a unique approach to the subject by focusing on the significant role food plays in the immigrant story. FI2W last year joined with the Institute for Nonprofit News and also has a magazine and creates pieces for public radio. 

Immigration lawyers are also quite prolific in podcast creation. The Redirect Podcast is a weekly dive into the world of immigration law, refugees, border walls, rhetoric and politics, and the human impact of immigration restrictions. The Immigration Nerds looks at the social impact of immigration law, mixing social history and politics with discussions on race, identity, nationalism, war, and refugee policy. The Immigration Review Podcast comes out every Monday to explain opinions from the Supreme Court, the Board of Immigration Appeals, and The US Circuit Courts of Appeals. 

While the podcast format may not yet be leveraged as a tool by individual activist groups, there is certainly a wealth and variety of immigration-related podcasts that are available for us all to listen to on our commute, during a stroll down 34th Avenue, or in the evening after dinner. If there is a favorite immigration-related podcast you are listening to that we haven’t covered in today’s newsletter, please let us know at info@jhimmigrantsolidarity.org.

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 03/19/2022

Dear friends,

​​Two years ago this month, Covid-19 hit the US. Our neighborhood in Central Queens quickly became a deadly epicenter of the global pandemic. For some of us that time may seem far away or a bit unreal; for others of us, including those who lost beloveds or who continue to suffer Covid’s lingering grip, the story has not ended. Memories remain vivid and losses are still grieved.

Our newsletter highlights the ongoing struggle for economic justice as the immigrant-led fight for pandemic aid marches straight to the steps of the state capitol. And we take a careful look at the inequalities and structural racism that shape how refugees are welcomed—or not—as millions of Ukrainians join the radical displacement and dispossession experienced by tens of millions fleeing Central Africa, the Middle East, Central America, and the Caribbean.

Newsletter highlights:
  1. #FundExcludedWorkers Now!
  2. Refugee Politics: Who is Welcome? Who Is Excluded?

1. #ExcludedNoMore Launches ‘March to Albany’

This International Working Women’s Month, how will New York state care for domestic workers, restaurant workers, home health aids, retail workers, grandmothers, mothers, aunts, daughters, sisters, wives? …. The pandemic has shown us time and again that when a crisis hits, it’s our communities who fall through the gaps in the social safety net.” – DRUM (Desis Rising Up and Moving), 03-14-22

For those of us included in the pandemic social safety net who benefitted from supplemental unemployment insurance, stimulus checks, or remote work from home, the distance between NYC and Albany can be measured in hours or the price of an Amtrak ticket. For undocumented immigrants systematically excluded from the social safety net, the 150-mile distance to Albany is measured this month in activist days and a strategic itinerary through the districts of key state leaders. ‘March to Albany,’ organized by the Fund Excluded Workers (FEW) coalition, kicked off on March 15 in Manhattan with a march to the Bronx, and a demand for $3 billion in this year’s state budget for immigrant New Yorkers left out of pandemic aid.  

FEW won a historic victory a year ago when their 23-day hunger strike helped secure a $2.1 billion Excluded Workers Fund in the NYS budget to assist eligible immigrants, many of whom had not received a single dollar in federal or state pandemic support. The fund was life-changing for tens of thousands of New Yorkers who successfully applied, including thousands of residents in Queens.

But the fund ran out of money barely two months after it launched in August 2021, with an estimated 95,000 applications still pending. Tens of thousands of people never even had a chance to apply before the fund closed down. Activists report that up to 175,000 immigrants remain effectively ‘excluded’ from funding for which they are eligible, and which they desperately need.  

Immigrant justice groups, led by FEW, are mobilizing to right that wrong by securing billions for the Excluded Workers Fund in this year’s state budget. On March 8, hundreds of Deliveristas on bikes and scooters, along with domestic workers, street vendors, house cleaners, and taxi drivers, stopped traffic on the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges, rallying to demand an additional $3 billion for the Fund, and a permanent unemployment insurance program for undocumented immigrant workers in NYS.  

With less than three weeks to go until the state budget is finalized, ‘March to Albany’ is routing their #ExcludedNoMore campaign through the home district of Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, as part of a rolling cascade of actions around the state. On March 23, they will march into Albany to bear witness to the contributions, and needs, of essential and excluded workers. JHISN is one of over 120 organizations–along with local groups DRUM, Chhaya CDC, Adhikaar, and Damayan Migrant Workers–that endorse the Fund Excluded Workers (FEW) campaign. Join us in the urgent fight for budget justice in Albany! 

WHAT CAN WE DO?

2. Equity and Justice for All Refugees

“I think the world is watching and many immigrants and refugees are watching. And how the world treats…Ukrainian refugees should be how we are treating all refugees in the United States.” –Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, The Rachel Maddow Show, 03-01-22 

As of March 14, more than 3 million Ukrainians have fled the brutal Russian attack on their country. The EU says that the invasion could end up displacing over 7 million people in “[w]hat could become the largest humanitarian crisis on our European continent in many, many years.” It has asked all member states to grant asylum to Ukrainian refugees for up to three years.

European countries are eagerly stepping up to address the crisis. News media are full of heartwarming stories: “Moldovans Open Hearts and Homes to Refugees,” “Britain Announces ‘Homes for Ukraine’ Program to Sponsor Refugees,” “Berliners Open Their Hearts and Homes to Those Fleeing Ukraine Conflict,” “Map Showing Number of Polish People Willing to Accept Ukrainian Refugees in Their Homes Is Giving Everyone Hope”—a seemingly endless outpouring of sympathy and, even more important, material assistance. 

What we are not hearing is familiar complaints about refugees “burdening” the receiving states; instead, only humanitarian concern and a willingness to share. This is inspiring; it is exactly how a global community should react to a vulnerable population running for their lives. So why does this response seem to only apply to white people?

Over the past 11 years, 6.8 million Syrians have become refugees and asylum-seekers from a war just as bloody as Ukraine’s.  Except for Germany and Sweden, most countries in the West have refused to shelter them in significant numbers. Millions of refugees have tried to enter Europe because of deadly violence in Afghanistan and Iraq. They have faced “a backlash of political nativism” in the same countries that now welcome Ukrainians.

The military in Hungary is allowing in Ukrainians through sections of the border that had been closed. Hungary’s hard-line prime minister, Viktor Orban, has previously called refugees a threat to his country, and his government has been accused of caging and starving them.

“Farther West, Chancellor Karl Nehammer of Austria said that ‘of course we will take in refugees if necessary’ in light of the crisis in Ukraine. As recently as last fall, when he was serving as interior minister, Mr. Nehammer sought to block some Afghans seeking refuge after the Taliban overthrew the government in Kabul.

“‘It’s different in Ukraine than in countries like Afghanistan,’ he was quoted as saying during an interview on a national TV program. ‘We’re talking about neighborhood help.’”New York Times, 02-26-22

Horrifying stories are emerging of Polish border guards assaulting and ejecting refugees from Africa, while simultaneously welcoming white Ukrainians. The Ukrainian military has also reportedly discriminated against non-white refugees, sending them to the back of the line in train stations and at border posts as they try to flee the war.

And then there is the US. The Biden administration and Congress are urgently discussing how to help Ukrainian refugees. Almost overnight, billions of dollars have been allocated to help them get shelter and services in Europe. The president says “we will welcome Ukrainian refugees with open arms” if they come to our borders. He has already extended Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Ukrainian immigrants now in the US. Some Ukrainians are apparently being allowed to cross freely into the US from Mexico. This is admirable. 

But this is the same government that turned away over 1,100,000 asylum-seekers last year, using the phony pretext of Covid-19. The same government that forced tens of thousands of Haitian asylum seekers onto deportation planes, back into the deadly chaos they had risked their lives to escape. The same government that illegally ejected hundreds of thousands of refugees from Central America who are fleeing the violence, destitution, and climate disasters caused in large part by the US itself. These refugees now face vicious abuse while stranded in Mexico. 

Will the massive upwelling of support for imperiled Ukrainians transform the poisonous discourse about refugees in Europe? In the US, will the widespread racism towards refugees of color, thrown into stark relief by the Ukraine crisis, finally give way to a fuller respect for universal human rights? We can hope so. And we can fight to make that happen.

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 08/07/2021

Dear friends,

Warm greetings in late summer to all our generous readers. We begin with two pieces of good news. On July 29, the City Council finally passed legislation that protects over 300,000 domestic workers in NYC—mostly immigrant women of color—from workplace abuses. And this week the Biden administration, under intense grassroots pressure, extended a pandemic-related rent moratorium in areas with ‘substantial’ or ‘high’ COVID risk (including all five NYC boroughs). The two-month extension defers the threat of eviction for 11 million people nationwide. In central Queens, thousands of immigrant households can, for now, breathe more easily.

This week’s newsletter features an in-depth article on the history of anti-Asian violence in the US. Even as the media spotlight dims, attacks on people of Asian descent continue. JHISN joins the collective call to #StopAsianHate.

Anti-Asian Hate: Roots and Resistance

Since the first wave of Chinese migrants came to the US in the 1850s, there has never been a single day that Asians have not experienced institutional and direct personal racism. But beyond this baseline level of white disrespect and systemic discrimination, US history has periodically witnessed particularly intense waves of social hatred against Asians and Asian Americans. We live in such a time.

There have been more than 6,600 reported attacks against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. But most attacks are not reported. Virtually every Asian family in the US has been subjected to verbal abuse or worse. Of reported incidents, the majority targeted women. The current wave of hatred is national, but it’s concentrated here, in New York City. According to a July NYPD report, this year anti-Asian hate crimes in the City increased by 400 percent from 2020. Queens, with its large Asian population, is a hotbed of these racist incidents. The 109th Precinct, which includes most of Flushing, has the second-highest number of reports in the City, after Manhattan’s Chinatown.

The statistics are brutal; the viral videos of street attacks are horrifying. But for AAPI people and those in solidarity with them, the challenge is to go below the surface of well-meaning “anti-hate” slogans. How to confront the deep social roots of anti-Asian racism and violence in this country, and find solutions based on building community power rather than increasing invasive policing and carceral trauma?

Asians make up about sixty percent of the world’s population, residing in some fifty countries, many of which have long and sometimes contentious interrelationships. Asian immigrants bring with them a wide range of histories, cultures, religions, and languages. But these complex realities mean little to many North Americans.

Fed into the meat grinder of white supremacy, Asians and Asian Americans emerge repackaged as a series of stereotypical identities to be slotted into the US racial hierarchy. In response, Asian Americans are fighting to construct a respectful, functional unity—unity that recognizes different national identities, repudiates racist stereotypes, and promotes mutual self-defense and power. 

In the mid-19th Century, as the US consolidated its hold on stolen lands in the West, and financial trusts laid the foundations for monopoly power, Asians were treated as exploitable, disposable workers by white capital. Chinese workers built the Transcontinental Railroad, working under abusive and incredibly dangerous conditions. Filipino workers’ arduous stoop labor helped turn California into an agricultural powerhouse. 

Today, in contrast, Asian Americans are often portrayed as an “almost white” “model minority,” who “prove” that there’s lots of opportunity for everyone in the US. And so if Black people or other people of color don’t succeed, it’s their own fault. This is pure mythology—not only because so many Asians continue to be exploited at the low end of the labor market in restaurant kitchen and delivery jobs, domestic work, sex work, salons, home health care, factory sweatshops, etc. But also because even “successful” Asian Americans endure routine discrimination and white aggression, as vividly described by writers like Cathy Park Hong and Viet Thanh Nguyen. And Asian Americans of all classes face abuse and threats of racist violence, both random and organized. 

The model minority myth is also dangerous. For Asians who buy into it, it promotes anti-Black racism, driving a wedge between African Americans and Asians, and making both more vulnerable to white power and white violence in the service of white hegemony.

Asians may have been assigned different functions within the US racial hierarchy over time. But of all the roles inflicted on Asian Americans by the white power structure, one has been consistent through the years: Scapegoat.

  • Chinese workers were blamed for low wages in the late 19th century. Scapegoating by white workers in California led to numerous riots, massacres, and the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882. The white labor unions that were first emerging at that time used anti-Chinese racism as a way to unify and organize white union members. The union label…was invented as a certificate on cigars, indicating that they had been made by White workers, as part of a campaign to force Chinese out of the cigarmaking industry.” –Berlet & Lyons, Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort.
  • Chinese Americans were scapegoated for the bubonic plague of 1900-1904. San Francisco police encircled Chinese neighborhoods with barbed wire, refusing to let residents leave, while white authorities burned down “infected” homes.
  • Japanese Americans were scapegoated after Pearl Harbor. Approximately 120,000 people, mostly citizens, half of them children, were transported at gunpoint to bleak concentration camps, where they were incarcerated for up to four years. Their personal belongings, property, businesses, and farms were snapped up at bargain-basement prices by speculators, or simply seized by gratified neighbors.
  • Southeast Asian refugees were blamed for the US defeat in Vietnam, even when they had fought for the US. In 1979-81, the Ku Klux Klan launched vicious attacks on Vietnamese fishermen in Texas, opening a new front in white supremacist warfare.
  • Japanese Americans were scapegoated for the export of US manufacturing jobs in the 1970s and 80s. An extreme expression of this sentiment was the murder of Vincent Chin—a Chinese American—in 1982.“The Japanese auto industry had begun booming then … [and] Ronald Ebens and his stepson Michael Nitz, had mistaken Chin to be a Japanese man, blaming him for the loss of jobs in the U.S. ‘It’s because of you little motherf**kers that we’re out of work,’ witnesses heard Ebens say. Chin died four days later” Huffington Post (June 2017)
  • Asian Muslims were scapegoated for 9/11: “In the aftermath of the Sept 11, 2001 terror attacks, Americans of South Asian and Middle Eastern descent – including Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim like Sikhs and Hindus – faced racial profiling, hate crimes, and discrimination. These groups were used as scapegoats for the attacks … One example of the violence these groups faced is the death of Balbir Singh Sodhi. He was a Sikh American from India who was shot days after 9/11 by a white man who thought he was Muslim.” –theskimm.com

And now, we have the coronavirus. Which Trump calls the “China virus” and the “Kung flu.” In the background, a growing US rivalry with China stirs dangerous nativist passions. Murdered massage parlor workers are blamed for white men’s “sex addiction,” just as Asian women were accused of “sexual deviancy” in the 1870s. Once again Asian migrants are turned away or threatened with deportation. In this perilous time, it’s crucial to acknowledge the deep structural nature of anti-Asian scapegoating in the US, and how fast it can grow to monstrous proportions.

Asian Americans are united in grief and outrage, but less united on how to respond politically or practically. Many “Stop Asian Hate” demonstrations have been held around the country, including in Flushing, where over a thousand people marched on May 2. Community street patrols have been set up here and in several other cities, while whistles and alarms are distributed by non-profit groups. There’s been a huge jump in sales of guns to Asians. But nobody really believes that these actions are enough.

In the past year, Asians have debated the role of police in stopping abuse and violence. Many progressive activists oppose giving cops more resources and insist on fully supporting Black Lives Matter. They argue that hate crime laws expand the criminal punishment system and are sometimes employed to prosecute Black people for “racial bias” against white people, or even to fabricate “hate crimes” against the police

When local Congresswoman Grace Meng and Senator Mazie Hirono introduced a federal bill in March aimed at amplifying the police response to Covid-19 hate crimes, grassroots organizations pushed back. Over a hundred Asian and LGBTQ groups signed a statement “reject[ing] hate crime legislation that relies on anti-Black, law enforcement responses to the recent rise in anti-Asian bias incidents.” On July 20, Meng announced she had secured $30 million to expand provisions in her COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act. Perhaps in response to criticism of the bill, the new funding supports community-based organizations that promote “non-carceral approaches to conflict resolution.” 

A deep grassroots strategy is epitomized by CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities, a group of working-class migrants, mostly from China, Bangladesh, and Korea. CAAAV, which opposed the Meng/Hirono bill, has defended Asians in New York for decades. They’ve become outspoken proponents of basing Asian safety on community power and transformative justice. CAAAV is currently focusing on building Asian Tenant Unions in Manhattan’s Chinatown and in Queens public housing, where they work closely with Black and Latinx allies. They are also building a CAAAV Youth Project. CAAAV is abolitionist—they oppose punitive hate crime enforcement. As one CAAAV organizer puts it, “There are no shortcuts to safety. The only safe community is an organized one.” 

Searching for effective solutions, some activists are studying a previous wave of Asian activism. Starting in the 1960s, anti-imperialist radicals inspired by the Black Panthers and Malcolm X were the first people to use the term “Asian American.” Working closely with Black and Chicano groups, they were part of the large, militant Third World Liberation Front student strikes of 1968-9 and left-wing formations of people of color. Asian activists set up community centers and clinics and “serve the people” free food programs. They fought gentrification of working-class Asian neighborhoods, notably in the decade-long militant resistance to the eviction of elderly Filipino and Chinese people living in San Francisco’s International Hotel. That generation of Asian American radicals also organized within unions and women’s organizations and promoted the development of Asian American culture, including Asian American literature.

In the face of surging anti-Asian violence, lessons from the past are indispensable. As historian Courtney Sato says, “This is really not an exceptional moment by any means…It’s really part of a much longer genealogy of anti-Asian violence that reaches as far back as the 19th century.” On the other hand, many things are quite different from the 1870s, or the 1970s. What combination of approaches—from coalition-building to street self-defense patrols to mass mobilizations to cultural interventions to patient community organizing—can best build power and defend Asian American communities from the most recent incarnation of white scapegoating? How to build lasting solidarities that support Asian-led organizing? The answers are being invented in struggle right now.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

  • Take Bystander Training or plan in advance how to intervene safely and effectively in hate incidents using the tactics of the Five D’s.
  • Check out the website Stop AAPI Hate for resources and safety tips in 11 languages. Look for news re: upcoming #StopAsianHate rally in NY’s Chinatown, co-organized by the Asian American Federation.
  • Keep informed about AAPI activism by visiting Movement Hub, which amplifies the work of Adhikaar, CAAAV, DRUM, and many other progressive community organizations.
  • Share the booklet, How to Report a Hate Crime, available in Chinese and English (plus seven other languages) and written for elder Asians in NY. 

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 05/15/2021

Dear friends,

Greetings to each and all of you, our readers, as we continue to find our way in an unfolding pandemic. For some of us, this is a season of vaccines and anticipated freedoms. And for some of us, especially South Asian immigrant families in Jackson Heights, it is a time of brutal sorrow. The ravages of Covid-19 burn across India, Nepal, and beyond, as global inequalities in wealth and the reality of vaccine apartheid lead to obscene differences in vulnerability and death. Thank you for continuing, with us, to learn and invent what solidarity looks like in this truly global pandemic. 

We turn this week to examine how one predominantly immigrant workforce—taxi cab drivers in NYC, many from South Asia, and many residents and neighbors here in Queens—is fighting for their survival.          

New York’s Immigrant Cab Drivers Seek Justice and Debt Relief  

If you are the owner-driver, you are handcuffed to that wheel and without a real solution you are literally facing a life sentence to debtors’ prison.   —Bhairavi Desai, New York Taxi Workers Alliance

Drowning in debt and devastated by Covid, New York’s yellow cab drivers—almost all immigrants—are carrying out a long-term, militant campaign for relief and accountability from a city that so far has systematically betrayed their interests. United under the banner of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance (NYTWA), they are demanding justice and resisting a cynical maneuver by Mayor de Blasio aimed at undermining their struggle.

From 2002-2014, the City’s Taxi and Limousine Commission—packed with Guiliani and Bloomberg cronies—oversaw a massive, artificially-created bubble in the price of taxi medallions (the permits required to operate yellow cabs). Bankers and brokers connected to city officials grew rich bidding up medallion prices—in some cases pushing their price from around $200,000 to over a million dollars. Drivers were “knowingly misled” by the City; encouraged to take out predatory loans as a supposedly unbeatable investment in their future. The Bloomberg and de Blasio administrations took advantage of the bubble to harvest hundreds of millions of dollars from sales of taxi medallions and by collecting taxes on private sales. They used this money to balance their budgets and fund favored projects.

But when the bubble burst, drivers were left with impossible levels of debt. At one point, medallion prices dropped to less than $150,000. Today a medallion once again sells for about $200,000; meanwhile, the average driver owes banks and finance companies more than $500,000. Almost a thousand drivers have gone bankrupt; several have died by suicide.

Even as yellow cab drivers reeled from this personal and financial disaster, the City allowed Uber and Lyft to flood the city with tens of thousands of “ride-hailing” cars—yellow cab competitors, who weren’t even required to buy a medallion. This was a body blow to the yellow cab business, which continues to be tightly regulated. In 2018, the City government finally put some caps on the number of so-called “app” cars. But tremendous damage had already been done, once again, to the livelihood of yellow cab drivers.  

As if this wasn’t enough misery, the pandemic caused taxi usage to plummet. And like other essential immigrant workers, many taxi drivers and their families became sick or suffered fatalities.

But the NYTWA has refused to buckle under. Showing resilience and determination, they are using every available tactic to seek justice. They have demonstrated and lobbied and motorcaded to D.C. They shut down the Brooklyn Bridge twice, blocking it with parked cabs. They took over Times Square. They demanded and won the right to be vaccinated as essential workers. As the central focus of their struggle, the NYTWA formulated and is now promoting a comprehensive plan for taxi driver relief, which has been introduced in the New York legislature and taken up by progressives across the state and nationally. It calls for the City to guarantee and help restructure unsustainable loans. It also puts a limit on monthly mortgage payments and gives drivers in foreclosure a chance to regain their medallions. In the meantime, the NYTWA also reached out and united with the “app drivers,” who have their own problems with predatory corporations. In fact, it was an NYTWA lawsuit that won full employee unemployment pay for Uber and Lyft drivers.

Finding himself under sustained political and legal pressure, in early March 2021, Mayor de Blasio suddenly unveiled his own so-called “relief” plan. Denounced as pathetically inadequate by the NYTWA, it proposes using some of the City’s expected federal coronavirus stimulus money to float $20,000 loans for some individual drivers, and $9,000 to help restructure medallion loans. As taxi workers point out, most of this money would go straight into the hands of lenders and debt collection agencies, without making a meaningful dent in drivers’ heavy financial burdens. “The mayor’s plan is a disgraceful betrayal from a city that already has blood on its hands,” said Bhairavi Desai, Director of NYTWA. Desai commented further this week to JHISN: “We remain vigilant about finding a solution that is comprehensive, ever-lasting and, fundamentally, one that is communal. We refuse to be divided and take an individual approach as the city has done. None of us survive if any of us fail.” For his part, De Blasio has so far flatly refused to consider NYTWA’s proposal, even though it would cost less than his plan.

Cab drivers show no signs of being diverted from their goals by the mayor’s maneuver. Dozens of demonstrations have been organized in front of City Hall, at Gracie Mansion and in Albany, since de Blasio’s flawed plan was announced. Politicians, including Jessica Ramos, Chuck Schumer, Scott Stringer, and Letitia James, have come out strongly in favor of the NYTWA relief plan. A class-action suit by drivers, demanding restitution of $2.5 billion, may add to the pressure for a fair settlement by the City. Taxi drivers’ long struggle for justice seems to be catching its second wind.

I really don’t believe this is America. Because I know this country. The justice will be delayed; but I’m confident it won’t be denied. One day. One day the truth will come out, and all these things they did wrong to us because we are immigrants, they will pay for it.  —Mouhamadou Aliyu, Taxi Driver

WHAT CAN WE DO?

  • Join NYTWA’s protests. The schedule is on their Twitter page: @NYTWA
  • Call 311 and tell Mayor de Blasio that you support the drivers’ plan
  • Make a donation to the NYTWA Community Kitchen Fund to help out with food and protest supplies

In solidarity and with collective care,

Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network (JHISN)

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