Tag: New York City

JHISN Newsletter 12/03/2022

Dear friends,

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

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

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


Welcoming New Immigrant Students in NYC Schools

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT CAN WE DO?

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

 

In solidarity and with collective care,

Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network (JHISN)

 

Follow @JHSolidarity on Facebook and Twitter and share this newsletter with friends, families, neighbors, networks, and colleagues so they can subscribe and receive news from JHISN. 

 

JHISN Newsletter 11/12/2022

Dear friends,

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

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

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

1. Street Vendors: Justice Delayed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT CAN WE DO?

2. The Aftermath of Hurricane Ida—Chhaya Responds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 WHAT CAN WE DO?

In solidarity and with collective care,

Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network (JHISN)

Follow @JHSolidarity on Facebook and Twitter and share this newsletter with friends, families, neighbors, networks, and colleagues so they can subscribe and receive news from JHISN. 

 

 

JHISN Newsletter 10/29/2022

Dear friends,

 As the sun drops earlier in the sky, and as communities around the world draw in their final harvest, it is time to join in the festival of lights. Diwali, and the related festival of Tihar Utsav, were celebrated this past week throughout South Asia—and here in Jackson Heights. Over 200 people gathered on October 22 in Travers Park for a day-long Diwali event, featuring food and performances, a lamp-lighting ceremony, and speakers including a young climate justice activist and the director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, Bhairavi Desai.

 And on October 27, Adhikaar held its Fall Utsav festival. As a Queens-based, women-led immigrant justice organization for the Nepali-speaking community, Adhikaar has much to celebrate: their statewide nail salon workers campaign; the fight for economic justice for domestic workers; and the urgent work to extend Temporary Protective Status for thousands of Nepali immigrants. Adhikaar is also marking a change of seasons in leadership as executive director and long-time community organizer Pabitra Khati Benjamin transitions out of her role, and the search for a new director begins.          

Our newsletter this week features an in-depth article on the status of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). The fate of tens of thousands of young DACA recipients here in New York is at stake as legislative and judicial wrangling continues, and real lives are upended by uncertainty and the threat of deportation.  

Newsletter highlights:

1. No Protection for DACA’s Young Dreamers

DACA Recipients Still in Limbo

“We were promised immigration reform in the first 100 days [of the Biden administration]…Those 100 days came and went, and we have nothing”Catalina Cruz, the first former DACA recipient elected to NY State Assembly

President Obama inaugurated the DACA program (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) in June 2012. It has been under attack by right-wing Republicans ever since. Today DACA’s future is unclear, leaving hundreds of thousands of people and their families in limbo, including tens of thousands of Dreamers here in NYC. Many are unable to work, and some face the prospect of deportation if DACA is not renewed or replaced with other pathways to legal status.

DACA has been the subject of a seesaw battle involving executive orders and litigation. In 2017, President Trump attempted to end the program by barring new and renewal applications so that DACA holders’ protections would expire over time. In July 2021, a Houston court ruled that DACA was illegal because it had not gone through the proper public notice and comment process. This month, shortly after DACA’s tenth anniversary, a Federal Appeals Court upheld the Houston decision, returning the case to the Houston court and ordering further review. As a result of the court’s recent decision, DHS policy will only allow current DACA recipients to renew their application and work authorization; no new applications will be processed. The hundreds of thousands of young people eligible for DACA can still submit a new application, but it will be set aside and not acted upon by US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). 

Which States Have DACA Recipients? As of June 2022, USCIS reports there are 594,120 DACA recipients nationwide, with over 1,150,000 eligible. There are 25,580 in New York state, with 56,000 eligible.

The states with the highest number of DACA holders are:

California 169,590 Texas 97,760 Illinois 31,480 New York 24,580
Florida 23,240 North Carolina 22,670 Arizona 22,530 Georgia 19,460

 

Where Did Their Families Come From? The most common countries of birth for DACA holders are: 

Mexico 480,160 El Salvador 23,080 Guatemala 15,710 Honduras 14,390 Peru 5,610
South Korea 5,540 Brazil 4,530 Ecuador 4,230 Colombia 3,690 Philippines 2,900

According to the Migration Policy Institute, most states have more people eligible for DACA than are currently enrolled, and eight states have twice as many people eligible for DACA than are enrolled in DACA.

This is an extraordinary number of people.

What Can Dreamers Do? DACA recipients can legally live, work, and go to college in the US. They have married, had children, bought homes and cars, completed college degrees, started businesses, and worked in a variety of fields. Their taxes and labor have made substantial contributions to the US economy.

According to data from the Center for American Progress, DACA recipients boost the US economy by paying federal, state, and local taxes, buying homes, paying rent, and spending money. Nationwide, DACA recipients and their households each year pay $5.6 billion in federal taxes and $3.1 billion in state and local taxes. Based on 2018 data, their contributions in New York state include:

Federal taxes State and local taxes Homes owned Mortgage payments Annual rental payments Spending power
$374.1 million $238.8 million 800 $16.4 million $132.8 million $1.3 billion

But they do not benefit equally from the taxes they pay due to their precarious status.

What Are DACA’s Education Benefits? In many states, undocumented students have to pay the same tuition rates as international students. Such high rates can prevent people from going to college. To address this problem, in 2019 New York state passed the Senator José Peralta New York State DREAM Act which gives undocumented and other students access to New York State administered grants and scholarships that help pay the cost of higher education. DACA allows people to join licensed fields (like nursing and education), which improves their ability to get a well-paying job with health benefits.

Where Do Dreamers Work? In a 2020 survey, 89.1% of DACA recipients 25 and older who responded were employed. DACA allowed them to move to jobs with better pay and better working conditions with health benefits, and 12.9% were able to get professional licenses. Higher wages and financial independence increase their contributions to the economy.

The Center for Migration Studies, using data from 2018, reported that DACA employees were concentrated in the following industries: health care (including hospitals and nursing care facilities); retail trade (including supermarkets and pharmacies); transportation and warehousing; restaurants and other food services; support and waste management services; and manufacturing. In 2021 the Center for American Progress reported that 343,000 DACA recipients were employed in essential jobs during the pandemic, primarily in health care, education, and the food supply chain.

What’s Next? According to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in June 2020, about three-quarters of US adults favor granting permanent legal status to immigrants who came illegally to the United States when they were children, with the strongest support coming from Democrats and Latino/as.

In 2012, DACA  was intended to be a temporary solution until Congress provided a pathway to citizenship. But congressional attempts to pass a solution have failed, even though there is some bipartisan support. As a result, undocumented teenagers graduating high school this year will not have protection from deportation or the ability to work. According to Neil Bradley, chief policy officer for the US Chamber of Commerce: The inability to hire tens of thousands of high school graduates comes amid a ‘massive shortage’ of labor that has developed partly because of the country’s aging population and low birthrate” (June 2022, New York Times). Ending DACA would put families in danger of job loss, deportation, and separation from their US citizen children, and have a deleterious effect on the US economy.

Many immigrant justice organizations, including the National Immigration Law Center, United We Dream, and Make the Road NY, continue to fight for legislation to provide a path to citizenship for Dreamers and other undocumented immigrants. But for now, hundreds of thousands of young DACA recipients are constrained by the program’s two-year increments, forced to live in limbo and in fear.

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 10/15/2022

Dear friends,

As Fall leaves turn, we reflect on the seasons of struggle immigrants experience in our community and beyond. In this newsletter, we celebrate a season of debt relief for taxi workers—the triumphant result of years of resolute organizing, sacrifice, and deep solidarity. And we challenge the revival of austerity politics, which aims to keep us frozen in a winter of injustice and income inequality. As the taxi workers just showed us, it’s a lie that New York “can’t afford” to address the needs of its working-class residents.

Newsletter highlights:
  1. Finally, real debt relief for taxi workers
  2. “We can’t afford it” is a lie

Taxi Workers’ Victory “Brought to Life”

Last November, taxi drivers danced in the streets, ending a 40-day round-the-clock protest outside City Hall and a 15-day hunger strike. “We won!,” declared Bhairavi Desai, director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance (NYTWA), which represents 20,000 mostly immigrant drivers. That historic workers’ victory secured a promise of millions of dollars in taxi medallion debt relief.

 Two weeks ago, the NYTWA, city officials, and politicians marked a milestone in the ongoing struggle, announcing at a press release that $225 million in loans to taxi drivers had been closed out. The Medallion Relief Program, launched in August 2022 with federal funds, has so far allowed more than 3,000 eligible NYC cab drivers to write down their loans to a maximum of $175,000—loans that had often been originally $500,000 or more.

 It is only because of the drivers’ persistent disciplined struggle that the city government has finally agreed to provide relief—for a problem it helped create. JHISN reported a year ago on the city’s complicit role in creating the scandal of crushing debt for local drivers:  

“… [C]ity agencies ripped off thousands of owner-drivers. First, they knowingly created an unsustainable bubble in taxi medallion prices and encouraged predatory loans, leaving drivers drowning in debt when the bubble burst. Then the city let tens of thousands of unregulated, no-medallion Uber and Lyft cars drive off with their fares. The pandemic delivered a final blow. Amid a wave of forced medallion foreclosures, nine drivers died by suicide.”—JHISN newsletter 10/16/21

Astoria Assembly representative Zohran Mamdani, who supported the NYTWA during their years-long fight for economic justice, celebrated the historic deal that has now finally been “brought to life.” But he also remembered and honored the taxi drivers’ lives lost to the crisis:

 “While we can never bring those brothers back, those who took their own lives because of this horrific system of debt. Their families should always know that their struggles, their stories, those things are why we are here today lifting the debt off of other drivers’ backs … It was because of what they went through and how they shared their struggle with the world that we are able to ensure that we don’t lose a single additional driver to the same struggle.” –Z. Mamdani (QNS, 9/27/22)

WHAT CAN WE DO?

 

The Big Lie

As federal pandemic relief money starts to recede in the rearview mirror, New York’s political elites are reviving a familiar mantra: “we can’t afford it.” Working-class communities are being ripped apart by homelessness, disease, unemployment, mental health crisis, crumbling schools, and food insecurity, but not much can be done—“we can’t afford it.” 

In the back of our minds, we all know this mantra is a lie. “We can’t afford it” is just another excuse for income inequality.

There’s over $3 trillion in private wealth in New York City alone—more than the wealth of all but a few entire countries. There are more rich people here than in any other city in the world. And 1% of NYC residents “earn” roughly 90% of all income. There’s literally nothing these people can’t afford. But they have no intention of paying their share

Bloomberg, a long-time mouthpiece of the oligarchy, puts a cynical spin on it:  “Gotham’s future will be decided by how many of these super-wealthy people remain after the pandemic is over….They paid $4.9 billion in local income taxes, making up 42.5% of total income tax collected.” Hmm. 90% of the income, but 42.5% of the income tax? Is this rich peoples’ idea of progressive taxation? And notice the sneaky threat that they might abandon the city if we ask them to pay more? 

The hypocrisy of “we can’t afford it” is stark, and yet it’s a common part of New York political discourse. Mayor Adams just declared a “state of emergency” because the richest city in the world “can’t afford” to house desperate asylum seekers or other homeless people. At the same time, Adams’ right-wing appointees to the Rent Guidelines Board handed landlords the largest rent increases since the Bloomberg years. They don’t care if renters facing eviction can “afford it” or not. Before migrant buses even started arriving from Texas, Adams had already reduced the schools’ budget, then ordered all city agencies to cut spending by 3 percent for the upcoming fiscal year. These cuts, in a time of high inflation, will be devastating for working-class families.

At the state level, the same hypocrisy rules. In Albany, this fall, more than 100 groups fought for relief for 175,000 immigrant excluded workers. They watched as the “can’t afford it” state decided instead to fork out $600 million to subsidize a sports stadium owned by an upstate billionaire. Governor Hochul and Adams are also proposing billions in tax breaks for Penn Station redevelopment to benefit their donors at mega-realtor Vornado Realty.

Immigrant justice groups and other grassroots advocates are expected to accept zero-sum austerity: competing for an artificially limited pot of funding. Or rather what’s left in the pot after the government pays for militarized cops and subsidies for big real estate and interest to the banks. (Almost half of NYC’s $100 billion budget goes to servicing debt.) Battle by battle, organizers struggle to pry scarce social services out of a stingy government, or plead for funding from donors, foundations, and charities.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Tapping the vast wealth and income of the super-rich to meet the needs of New York’s working-class people is pivotal to social justice, including immigrant justice. Self-serving oligarchs, demanding deference and special treatment, are robbing our future from us moment by moment. When we take back what they are stealing from us, it will be obvious that we “can afford” a just, thriving society–one where migrants are not an “emergency,” but welcome new neighbors.

WHAT CAN WE DO?
  • Join with coalitions fighting to tax the rich, like #OccupyTheHamptons and #TaxtheRich.
  • Demand that your public officials do something about income inequality, instead of just talking about it.

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 10/01/2022

Dear friends,

When we are writing the newsletter, we often are imagining you reading it. This week, we are imagining that our quick dive into recent activities of local immigrant justice groups could motivate and inspire you. That our update on the latest twist in revisions to NY City Council district maps might help keep your eyes on the prize of electoral power for immigrant communities. And that our brief comparison of immigration courts in New York and Florida can deepen your understanding of what some officials have called the “human trafficking” of migrants by Florida’s governor. Read on!  

Newsletter highlights:
  1. Activities of local immigrant justice groups
  2. New City Council district maps contested
  3. New York vs. Florida immigration court outcomes

1. News from Local Immigrant Justice Groups: August–September

As always, multiple immigrant-led organizations are working creatively to provide services, leadership-building, and outreach to local immigrant communities. Here are a few of their most recent efforts:

  • Make the Road NY has relaunched its Deportation Defense Handbook, a comprehensive tool helping undocumented people to assert their rights and be empowered when it comes to law enforcement. 
  • New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC) published a 13-page resource guide for immigrants. This toolkit is updated regularly based on changing laws and policies.
  • Make the Road and New York Immigration Coalition have been at the forefront of welcoming the migrants bussed in from Texas and Arizona. They’ve provided information about services and shelter, and distributed  Metrocards, prepaid phone cards, hygiene products, water, and food. In August, New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE) collected donations of clothes and hygiene products and will now be participating in the new NY Asylum Seekers Navigation Center on 49th Street in Manhattan. 
  • The 2020 Census necessitated changes to NY’s City Council Districts. Adhikaar and DRUM testified before the NY Redistricting Committee in opposition to proposed new City Council Districts 26, 27, and 31 that would divide the South Asian and Indo-Caribbean communities, lessening their political power. Instead, they are supporting the Unity Map. The next set of proposed maps were presented on September 22 and voted down (see below).
  • Chhaya is still fighting to get relief for families affected by Hurricane Ida in 2021, and is helping small businesses secure NY State Covid-19 Recovery Grants valued at up to $50,000. Also, on September 24, their street fair on 37th Avenue celebrated South Asian and Indo-Caribbean cultural heritage with music, food, and vendors and supplied valuable information on available services in the city.
  • Minkwon Center and DRUM Beats were very active in supplying information to voters during the June primaries. Minkwon is now campaigning to support the NY City Immigrant Voting Rights bill that will give DACA recipients and permanent residents the opportunity to vote in city elections.
  • Now that the worst of the pandemic has passed, Adhikaar and Minkwon Center have restarted their in-person English classes that were discontinued during the height of the pandemic. 
WHAT CAN WE DO?
  • 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. Revised City Council District Maps Rejected

On Thursday, September 22, the NY Redistricting Commission held another public meeting to present its revised maps for the 51 City Council districts. Although the revisions incorporated many changes urged by 9500 public comments received during the Commission’s summer public hearings, the maps were rejected by a vote of 8 to 7. Please see our JHISN story of 08/06/22 on the importance to immigrant communities of the redistricting maps. 

Three notable changes to the original redistricting proposals were: 1) restoring District 26 as a Queens-only district by not including Roosevelt Island and part of the Upper East Side. Roosevelt Island would be part of Manhattan’s District 5; 2) reuniting in a single district Rochdale Village, the second largest co-op community in the city and largely home to Black homeowners; and 3) making Staten Island District 50 a crossover district by including a small part of Brooklyn.

Efforts were made to incorporate concerns that many immigrant communities (particularly South Asians) would be split into different districts and lack adequate representation on the Council. But the Commission says it is hampered by state law that only allows a 5% deviation in population between the most and least populated districts, and by the need to follow criteria set by the US Constitution, the federal Voting Rights Act, and the City Charter.

Dr. Lisa Handley, a prominent  Voting Rights Act expert, said the revised maps fulfilled the requirement that Blacks, Asians, and Hispanics would have the opportunity to elect their preferred candidates. But one reason for the “no” votes was that some Commissioners believed that Brooklyn and Bronx residents, and Dominican residents in Manhattan, would have their votes diluted by the new revisions to the maps. Mayor Adams was rumored to have asked his appointees to vote in opposition. 

The Commission is now required to make additional revisions before sending the maps back to the City Council. The next Commission meeting was Thursday, September 29, with time for further deliberations before the December 7 deadline for final maps.


3. New York and Florida—immigration courts in comparison

New York has had a one-way migrant connection to Florida since the 1970s, and 7% to 10% of people living in Florida were born in NY. There is a summer Jitney Bus line connecting the Hamptons with Florida; however, this summer it is the planes that Florida’s Governor DeSantis used to bus migrants North to sanctuary cities that have made headlines…prompting accusations that he may have violated the law. A review of immigration court outcomes in the two states gives us a picture of the systematic differences that shape the everyday lives of immigrants channeled through our current ‘injustice’ system. 

Going back over 20 years, Florida and New York have reviewed a similar number of deportation cases–each state handling between 500-600,000 proceedings. Some years NY has more cases than Florida, and sometimes it is the reverse. But New York consistently releases 7% more immigrants from custody than Florida, and Florida regularly detains 6% more people than New York. 

There are stark differences between how a New York and a Florida immigration court will rule in the cases that come before them. Overall, New York grants relief to 14% more immigrants than Florida, while Florida issues 8% more removal orders forcing immigrants to leave the country. Two crucial elements make the difference in case outcomes: 1) whether a person has legal representation and 2) how long they have been in the US.

Representation makes a difference in New York immigration courts: 40% of cases involving lawyers are granted relief or terminated (the person is released); without legal representation, 52% of cases end in removal orders. By comparison, in Florida, 35% of cases involving lawyers result in removal orders or ‘voluntary’ departure. So outcomes in Florida’s immigration courts, even with legal representation, are more likely to favor deportation over granting continuing residency in the US. The consequences for individuals and families coming before the court is huge. 

The best outcome is given to people who have been in New York for 1 to 2 years: 44% of them are granted a relief to stay in the country. At the other end of the spectrum, 48% of immigrants in Florida (who have been there for 3 to 4 years) face a most likely outcome of a removal order. For someone who has lived in the US for more than 5 years, immigration court rulings in Florida and New York have almost opposite outcomes: over 10% of those Florida cases will result in a removal order while the same (or a slightly higher) percentage of New York cases will result in a grant of relief and the ability to stay in the country. 

Florida processes half as many asylum cases as New York, but the outcomes follow a similar pattern. With legal representation, 64% of cases in New York are granted asylum while in Florida, even with representation, 75% of cases will be denied. Even without representation, New York will grant asylum to 24% more of their cases than does Florida.

So. Perhaps the best way for New York to respond to the DeSantis transport of migrants is to expedite the normal outcome of NY immigration court rulings.

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 09/17/2022

Dear friends,

As the seasons turn, we return to a dramatic story that we covered in our last newsletter: the deeply local and global story of migrants being bused from Texas, Arizona, and Florida to northern sanctuary cities. Led by grassroots immigrant justice groups, New York City struggles to respond to the immediate needs of thousands of new arrivals. It is hard to think of a more important issue than how we can, concretely, create the structures and community that will embrace all migrants who find themselves living among us, here, in this city built by immigrant labor and immigrant cultures and immigrant power.

1. NYC response to red-state busing—refusing the anti-immigrant storyline

This weekend, historical documentarian Ken Burns premiers a film series on PBS about the Holocaust. Co-produced and co-directed with Lynn Novick and Sarah Botstein, the trio highlight how Germany based its anti-Jewish laws on US Jim Crow exclusionary laws. The docuseries also shows how anti-immigrant sentiments shaped the stark fact that the US opened its borders to only a fraction of the hundreds of thousands of Jews seeking refuge from Nazi Germany. At that time, North Carolina’s Senator Robert Reynolds said, “If I had my way, I would today build a wall about the United States so high and so secure that not a single alien or foreign refugee from any country upon the face of this earth could possibly scale or ascend it.” Burns says he purposefully tried to leave it to viewers to see parallels of current-day attitudes to immigrants at the border with the past.

Fifty percent of Texans support Governor Greg Abbott’s current political spectacle that places asylum seekers crossing into Texas on buses to sanctuary cities in the north, including NYC. He attempted to secure funds via private donations for the charter bus rides so he didn’t face criticism for using taxpayer money, but so far has raised just over $300,000. His supporters may not realize that the bused migrants are more likely to be granted asylum in these sanctuary cities, or that his approach contradicts a fiscally conservative policy proclaimed necessary by the Republican party:

  • According to TRAC analysis at Syracuse University, the newly-arrived migrants are more likely to have their asylum cases approved in New York City courts than in Texas. In the past 10 months, Houston judges approved only 17% of asylum cases and 33% were approved in Dallas. In NYC asylum was granted to almost 4 out of 5 applicants—over 82%. 
  • A Greyhound bus ticket from Texas to New York would cost an individual just under $300. Abbott’s taxpayer-funded coach rides average $1,300 per passenger, while Arizona’s chartered bus trips cost over $2,000. Immigration rights experts like Abel Nuñez, Executive Director of the Central American Resource Center, have pointed out that “the Republican governor who is working to crack down on illegal immigration is actually establishing one of the nation’s most generous publicly funded services to assist immigrants.”

As Abbott performs his public posturing by filling buses, NYC Mayor Adams and Manuel Castro from the Office of Immigrant Affairs are welcoming immigrants at the Port Authority. Their show is about fulfilling the city’s legal obligation to provide same-day housing for any adult who requests it, regardless of immigration status. They are enforcing the law by placing migrants in shelters and 14 hotels with the support of immigrant organizations and volunteer groups like Grannies Respond. However, not all migrants can secure places to sleep, especially if they want to remain as a family. Also, some Republicans in New York suggest that using hotel rooms in this way is hurting tourism, but the hotels themselves state they have the space since occupancy still lags behind pre-pandemic levels.

Murad Awawdeh, Executive Director of the New York Immigration Coalition, noted that some stories and images coming out of the Port Authority bus station were being falsely used to stir up bigotry and xenophobia. “Just to be clear, we’re not condemning Governor Abbott for busing people to New York City,” he said. “We’ve condemned him for busing people under misleading information to places that they do not want to go to. For treating people inhumanely.” Abbott’s decision to not send information to NYC about who was on the buses and when they would be arriving was, according to Awawdeh, a purposeful effort to create chaos.

Abbott has been looking to secure $4 billion for his border security efforts including Operation Lone Star which, deploying misinformation and criminalizing border-crossing, authorizes the Texas National Guard to arrest migrants who trespass on private property. New York City on the other hand launched Project Open Arms, a multi-agency plan to enroll over 1,000 migrant children in public school districts 2, 3, 10, 14, 24, and 30—which includes Jackson Heights. The children are placed in schools with low enrollments and given backpacks and supplies; their parents will be provided with MetroCards. School officials say that most of the children need intense language instruction, special education assessments, and mental health support.

In addition, New York’s Immigrant Advocacy Groups have promoted a $40 million dollar campaign called Welcoming New York, to cover medical services, interpreters, legal assistance, and resettlement services for the new immigrant population. The campaign aims to help “rebuild the welcoming system for asylum-seekers and refugees gutted during the Trump Administration.” Working at federal, state, and local levels, it seeks to create structures—beyond Homeland Security—that will support and sustain new arrivals to the US.   

Despite such actions, NYC is not all-welcoming. A Republican Councilwoman in one Queens district announced that the immigrants should be further bused on to Greenwich, CT, instead of staying in hotels in her district. In some cases immigrants do not find the shelter system safe and choose to leave it; in one recent case, in Brooklyn, a security officer was suspended for striking one of the Texas-bused asylum seekers from Venezuela. 

No one knows how this busing action might disrupt the asylum application process because it is unclear exactly how the migrants got onto the buses. They have 90 days to apply for asylum at their destination and the location to which they were bused may not be their final destination. Of the migrants bused to Washington, DC, around 10% didn’t have any contacts in the US. Some of the addresses on their paperwork were scribbled in by Border Patrol agents, and Abel Nuñez’s organization had to coordinate transportation for them to be returned to Texas. About 30-40% of people bused to New York City from Texas do not want to be here and need support to get to Louisiana, Ohio, Washington State, Oregon, Wisconsin, or even make their way back to Texas!

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.