Tag: NICE

JHISN Newsletter 01/14/2023

Dear friends,

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

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

 

1. Jornaleros: Pushing Out of the Shadow Economy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

2. #ExcludedNoMore Launches Campaign for Unemployment Compensation

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

In solidarity and with collective care,

Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network (JHISN)

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

 

 

JHISN Newsletter 12/31/2022

Dear friends,

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

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

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

1. Local Immigrant Justice Groups@End of Year 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. The Real Alternative to Detention is No Detention

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT CAN WE DO?

 

In solidarity and with collective care,

Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network (JHISN)

 

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

 

 

JHISN Newsletter 05/14/2022

Dear friends,

For many of us, Jackson Heights is an extraordinary example of a vibrant immigrant neighborhood. We may not know all the statistics–that over 60% of residents are immigrants; that over 80% of households speak a language other than English at home; that we have the second-highest percentage of immigrants among any neighborhood in NYC. But we know that immigrant communities are the heart of Jackson Heights. This week, JHISN takes a critical look at how immigrant politics are playing out at the national level, under a Democratic-led government. We offer our report with an eye on the future and grassroots justice struggles in our own backyard.   

1. Here We Go Again: Democratic Party Failing Immigrants

There’s a recurring, predictable pattern for many decades to the betrayal of undocumented immigrants and immigrant justice struggles by the Democratic Party–which now controls the White House and has a majority in Congress. It’s like clockwork:

First come the big promises. During Biden’s campaign, he vowed to create “a roadmap to citizenship for the nearly 11 million people who have been living in and strengthening our country for years.” 

Then the flawed proposals. The actual plan Biden submitted to Congress treated immigrants like criminals who were “earning” the chance for citizenship instead of welcoming them as essential workers and valued members of the community. It laid out a complex process for attaining citizenship, full of pitfalls and exclusions, that would take most immigrants 8 to 13 years to navigate; many would not be successful.

Then the watered-down Biden bill immediately met with Democrat defections and unnecessary obstacles. The Senate parliamentarian decided to oppose including immigration reform in a large omnibus bill; Joe Manchin and other Democrats refused to override her. Therefore the Biden plan is dead in the water. So is another proposal by Democrats in Congress that could have helped legalize roughly four million Dreamers and farmworkers.

Predictably, now comes a proposed “bipartisan” consolation prize. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Durbin’s bipartisan “compromise” initiative apparently follows the classic DC sellout pattern. As always, it promotes a fake “balancing act”: more money for “border security,” more “guest workers” with limited rights, amnesty for Dreamers if they are good, and no pathway to citizenship for their parents, or millions of other immigrants.

If the classic pattern holds, Congress will fail to pass even a deeply compromised bill like this

 In the meantime, the Democrats have increased the budget for ICE. Biden used the Trump era deployment of Title 42 to illegally bar millions of asylum seekers. On the sidelines, Democrats deal out targeted immigration reforms and funding to certain immigrant rights groups and ignore others, dividing the movement. Democrats welcome 100,000 white immigrants from Ukraine, while forcibly expelling millions of immigrants of color.

This is corrupt political theater, not progressive politics.

If the Dems actually cared about the 11 million immigrants without rights in the US, they would:

  • Be strong advocates. Talk every day about how immigrants are exploited and abused by corporations and the government. About families being ripped apart. About immigrants contributing to the economy without being given rights in return. About essential workers. About US responsibility for migration flows. About how the 100-mile border enforcement zone and other police-state measures hurt everybody.
  • Help organize unified national protests against immigrant exclusion. Support a “union of immigrants” to add muscle to immigrant justice demands. Hold public national hearings and consultations with immigrant justice activists. Include grassroots immigrant leaders in all Democratic meetings about immigration and spending priorities.
  • Punish Democrats who take anti-immigrant stands (like Manchin) by taking away their committee positions, Party financing, and endorsements. Openly criticize them for their reactionary stands and run alternate candidates to replace them. 
  • Clean the white nationalists and sadists out of the Department of Homeland Security. Close down ICE and return immigration oversight to the Justice Department. Set new policies to end the criminalization of migrants. End all detention for migrants.
  • Declare mass pardons or amnesty for undocumented immigrants, and expand the use of TPS. Use Biden’s presidential power to attempt to provide asylum and decriminalize immigrants. 
  • Stop the relentless attacks on migrants at the southern border. Follow international laws on asylum and refugees.

 But it’s become obvious that we can’t count on the Democratic Party on its own to speak or act for immigrants. JHISN believes that excluded migrants and solidarity activists must rely on ourselves by building a unified, national, non-partisan movement led by immigrants of all nationalities, starting from the bottom up. Such a movement, which can only be led by grassroots immigrant justice organizations, must maintain its independence from the Democratic power structure and their corporate funders, even as it seeks to light a fire under the Party to do the right thing.

 Local immigrant justice groups are already generating the kind of heat that’s needed. On May Day, local immigrant workers and allies held a march and rally and staged a die-in to call out Congress for failing to deliver on a pathway to citizenship as promised. Among the sponsors were groups from our neighborhood: MTRNY (Make the Road NY), DRUM (Desis Rising Up and Moving), and NICE (New Immigrant Community Empowerment). The local actions converged with organized marches in at least a dozen other US cities.  

 The Democratic Party won’t support serious measures to help immigrants unless it is confronted with a powerful independent movement that holds it, and the rest of society, accountable. JHISN hopes, in solidarity with immigrant-led organizations, to help that movement become a reality.

WHAT CAN WE DO?
  • Support Movimiento Cosecha’s national campaign “Papers, Not Crumbs!” protecting the rights and dignity of undocumented immigrants.
  • Join marches and rallies by local immigrant justice groups demanding citizenship for all 11 million! 

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 04/30/2022

Dear Friends,

Our neighborhood trees have begun to bloom as the weather warms, providing us with hopeful signs of Spring. This week’s newsletter highlights the press conference and demonstration by several immigrant justice groups in front of the IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center on Tax Day. Participants emphasized that they pay taxes for government programs but rarely receive any benefits from those programs. They continue to insist on a path to citizenship. We also offer you a specific way to help asylum seekers fill out applications and access resources by volunteering with SAFE (Seeking Asylum & Finding Empowerment).

1. Immigration Reform Fight Continues

Several months have passed since Congress closed the conversation about immigration reform that was part of the Build Back Better package. But immigrant justice organizations continue to push legislators to provide a pathway to citizenship for 11 million immigrants. Last Monday, April 18th–Tax Day, about 75 immigrants and supporters gathered for a press conference and demonstration at 290 Broadway, in front of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Taxpayer Assistance Center. Among the groups represented were Make the Road NY, New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE), UnLocal 79, and Churches United for Fair Housing (CUFFH). They were there with a message for the government: after paying taxes for years, and doing essential work that benefits everybody, they are tired of being marginalized and disrespected. 

Demonstration slogans included,  “We pay taxes and we are excluded!” and “Included when taxes are due, but excluded from immigration reform!” Speakers highlighted the risks that undocumented immigrants face—from both Covid and from deportation.

“We are tired of being forgotten…of being part of a political game while our lives, and the lives of our family continue being at risk. We are tired of feeling afraid to be deported and being separated from our families. For these reasons we ask for immigration reform. We need to be included in the budget of the [Congressional] Reconciliation Package and we need it now.” —Dolores Juarez

At election time politicians offer all kinds of promises to undocumented immigrants, but most of them are never fulfilled. As Joanne Ibanez said at the press conference:

“I have 4 children and fight to belong to this country that has changed my life, where my children belong. And I accepted to pay taxes for more than 20 years. We want promises [to] be fulfilled. We follow the rules and the government doesn’t. We want freedom! We live in jail; prisoners are getting free after finishing their time in jail. And for us when?! We want immigration reform now.”

This is a crucial time to apply pressure on Congress since politicians are starting to talk again about immigration on Capitol Hill. According to press reports, Democratic Senator Dick Durbin is finding support from GOP legislators to pass a narrowly crafted bipartisan immigration reform bill this year. A Republican in Washington and a Democrat from California are urging the Senate to take action. The Hill wrote on April 27th that Senators Durbin and Tillis have said at the beginning of April that “they intended to convene an immigration gang after the two-week April break.”

The immigration reform being discussed follows a well-worn path: amnesty for Dreamers, “balanced” by increased funding for border enforcement. The bill may also include a “guest worker” program that would help relieve worker shortages in restaurants and other industries. It isn’t clear if such a proposal would have enough votes to pass both houses of Congress. But even if it did, it would fall far short of what the Democrats promised and would leave most undocumented immigrants without a pathway to citizenship.

2. Volunteer Opportunity at a Weekly Clinic

Seeking Asylum & Finding Empowerment (SAFE) helps run a pro se legal clinic (for people representing themselves) with Congregation Beit Simchat Torah and RUSA LGBT.  The model they follow is similar to the one used by the no longer operating New Sanctuary Coalition. The volunteers help immigrant “friends” fill out asylum applications and connect to resources; JHISN newsletter readers are invited to join the team of volunteers at the weekly clinic called the Ark. 

What is it? A weekly clinic where volunteers help primarily LGBTQ asylum seekers complete their asylum applications and find out what other legal and social services are available to them. 

What kind of volunteers are needed? Anyone who can make a regular weekly commitment. They need lawyers, law students, computer-savvy people, notetakers, and interpreters (Spanish and Russian speakers especially). 

Are volunteers mostly lawyers? Some volunteers are lawyers, but most are not. There are lawyers present every week who can offer support and guidance, but they do not provide representation. 

When? Every Wednesday and/or Thursday from 6-8:30 pm 

Location: ZOOM 

I’d love to volunteer for the first time. What should I do? Email sanctuary@cbst.org – They will send you training materials to review before joining to begin volunteering. 

Will volunteering at the Clinic count toward my NYS pro bono hours for law students? Yes! The volunteer supervising attorneys and clinic coordinator are happy to sign off on your hours.

 

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)

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JHISN Newsletter 12/18/2021

Dear friends,

The days grow short as the winter solstice approaches. At this darkest time of year, we celebrate the power of community and the promise of collective warmth in our immigrant neighborhood here in the heart of Queens. We celebrate the political promise of hundreds of thousands of immigrants now enfranchised to vote in local elections, as NYC joins over a dozen US communities where non-citizens have the right to vote.

In this issue, we offer you a local story of how the historic fight to fund excluded workers in New York State has been curated into a museum exhibition in Queens. And we report on the statewide campaign to end ICE detention of immigrants, in the context of the 20th-century criminalization of immigrants of color in the US.  

Newsletter highlights:

  1. ‘Nuevayorkinos: Essential and Excluded’ at PS1
  2. Shutting Down ICE Detention 

1. Immigrant Activism Meets Museum Space: Art & Politics @MoMA PS1

The room is sunny, spacious, and quiet. The white museum walls are adorned with colorful banners in Spanish, and photographs of immigrant activists taken last spring at Corona Plaza. In the middle of the room is a comfortable couch and chairs circled around a table with Spanish- and English-language books on immigration history and politics, including a neatly stacked pile of tales of resistance for children.

The exhibition in the “Homeroom,” a community-engagement space at MoMA PS1 in Queens, invites reflection: What is the place of community activism in a museum that contributes to gentrification and community displacement? How can we build popular memory of immigrant struggles using the tools of art and visual culture? Who is this exhibition created for, and who may be excluded by ticket price and social class?

PS1’s exhibition Nuevayorkinos: Essential and Excluded (on view through January 10, 2022) brings together the work of artist Djali Brown-Cepeda and local immigrant groups Make the Road NY, the Street Vendor Project, and NY Communities for Change. At the center of the exhibition is the historic struggle of the Fund for Excluded Workers, and their 23-day hunger strike in spring 2021 that culminated with an unprecedented victory: a $2.1 billion fund in NYS dedicated to immigrant workers excluded from federal programs of pandemic relief and emergency support.

In a corner of the exhibition, providing a rolling soundtrack, are two videos by Jose Armando Solis, filmed on Day 5 and on Day 17 of the hunger strike. As visitors wander in and out of the exhibition space, the voice of hunger striker Ana Ramirez cries out, over and over, “It is not just me but thousands of families—families that went to the bakery to bake the bread so that the rich can eat during this pandemic comfortably. I am forgotten, I am one of the excluded. We are house cleaners, construction workers, restaurant workers, retail workers, laundry workers, all of whom have worked hard for this nation…”

For those of you unfamiliar with the Fund for Excluded Workers, the hunger strike, or the cultural power and beauty of immigrant justice struggles, we encourage you to visit the exhibition. To not forget those who were systematically forgotten. For those of you who have participated in the victorious fight for essential and excluded workers – a fight that is ongoing – we honor your power and the possibility that this exhibition can help strengthen community support and solidarity. For the struggles ahead.


2. ‘Dignity Not Detention’: Decriminalizing Immigration 

“This hard-fought victory reflects the resilience and tenacity of our communities – and reaffirms that our vision of a world without detention is within reach.” Tania Mattos, Freedom for Immigrants (August 2021)

Sustained activism on the part of immigrants, their families, and immigrant justice activists has succeeded in shutting down ICE detention in the state of New Jersey. The Hudson County Jail processed out its last immigrant prisoner in October. And the last 12 immigrant detainees in the Bergen County Jail were transferred out on November 12. Ending the use of these jails for immigrant detention was a result of militant protests outside the facilities, hunger strikes by prisoners, and an intense publicity and organizing campaign run by activists including the Abolish ICE NY-NJ coalition. 

Unfortunately, while some immigrants have been released, most of the New Jersey detainees have been transferred to New York State jails such as the Orange County Correctional Facility in Goshen and the Buffalo Service Processing Center in Batavia. This puts them hundreds of miles farther away from friends, family, and lawyers.

New York State activists hope to keep the anti-detention momentum going with the “Dignity Not Detention Act”  now making its way through the state legislature (it is currently in committee in both houses). The Act would require the termination of all existing ICE contracts for immigrant detention in public jails in New York, including the Goshen and Batavia facilities. Local groups including Centro Corona, DRUM, Queer Detainee Empowerment Project, NICE, and Street Vendors Project are supporters of the statewide mobilization for the Act. Similar legislation has already become law in Maryland, California, Washington, and Illinois. Activists in New Mexico launched their own Dignity Not Detention movement in 2019.

But as the ICE detainee transfers from Bergen County make clear, passing state-by-state laws isn’t a panacea. In fact, some immigrants may find themselves transferred even farther away from where they were arrested, to completely different parts of the country. They might also end up in brutal private for-profit jails –  still widely used for ICE detention, despite pledges by the Biden administration to eliminate them.

Nationally, ICE continues to detain tens of thousands of immigrants. Most of these people are simply waiting for their backed-up immigration hearings, which they could do without being jailed. The number of undocumented migrants imprisoned has increased 50% since Joe Biden took office. Conditions in the facilities are often brutal. When immigrants speak out about rampant abuses, they face severe retaliation and ongoing surveillance

The criminalization of migrants to the US began in the 1920s with a wave of reactionary anti-immigrant politics that led to a series of quotas, exclusions, and other restrictions on immigration, mainly targeting immigrants of color. In 1929, the Undesirable Aliens Act – authored by an avowed white supremacist and pro-lynching advocate – epitomized the hardening of immigration policing. Entering the US illegally–which had been processed as a civil complaint–suddenly became a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year’s imprisonment and a fine. Returning to the US after deportation was now defined as a felony, resulting in up to two years imprisonment and a $1,000 fine. The Act was intended specifically to control and regulate Mexican labor. In the years after the passage of this law, Mexicans made up as much as 99% of the newly-criminalized immigrants filling just-built federal prisons in El Paso, Tucson, and Los Angeles. (Today, Latinx immigrants still make up 92% of people prosecuted for illegal entry and re-entry to the US.)

The 1929 law was eventually updated by the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952. This legislation cut the sentences for crossing the border in half but continued to criminalize migrants through its notorious Sections 1325 and 1326. During periods when Mexican labor was in demand, immigrant detentions and prosecutions fell. But starting in 2005, as the “war on terror” ramped up during the Bush and Obama administrations, the federal government once again began prosecuting tens of thousands of migrants and jailing them until their cases could be heard. Donald Trump used Section 1325 as a basis for his infamous “zero tolerance” and family separation policies.

The most effective means of stopping the large-scale detention of immigrants would be a national law that overturns the criminalization of border crossing. (For example, by returning illegal border crossing to its previous status as a civil offense.)  Hundreds of immigrant justice groups have been demanding this kind of federal legislation for years, including local groups like DRUM, Adhikaar, and JHISN. However, decriminalization of border crossing is not included in the current Build Back Better draft legislation. A 2019 decriminalization proposal introduced by Representatives Pramila Jayapal and Jesus Chuy Garcia, has been stalled in Congress, despite the fact that it is endorsed by many immigrant justice groups and has 44 co-sponsors – all Democrats.

And so the end of immigrant detention in New Jersey must be seen as only one hopeful step in a long struggle. Local activists have turned their full attention to fighting against the abuses of immigrant detention in New York State, including punitive transfers, detainee mistreatment, and deportations. At each step, they raise the need for the Dignity Not Detention Act. 

Last Sunday, December 12, a small demonstration took place outside the Bergen County Jail. It commemorated the one-year anniversary of a violent clash with cops that led to the arrest of ten immigrant justice activists. Protesters carried signs saying “Releases Not Transfers,” “Close the Camps,” and “Abolish ICE.”  As Shamz Azanedo, one of the organizers, said, “We didn’t feel right just letting today pass. Today was a huge day last year, and we needed to be here together.”


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.