Tag: NICE

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)

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 12/18/2021

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. 

 

JHISN Newsletter 10/30/2021

Dear friends,

We approach the end of the harvest season, with All Hallow’s Eve, Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), and Samhain each marking – for different cultures – a time of haunting, of remembrance, and of sacred darkness. In Queens County, at least 10,266 people have died from Covid since the start of the pandemic, many of them immigrants, all of them mourned. In this year’s mixed harvest of sorrow and loss, re-openings and return, we look for ways to both honor the dead and cultivate the dark seeds of renewal.

Our last newsletter reported on the 24/7 protest outside City Hall by immigrant taxi workers. Since then, workers have launched a hunger strike to demand relief from the medallion debt that is crushing NYC yellow cab drivers. To support the strikers, please consider a donation to the New York Taxi Workers Alliance. 

In this issue, JHISN is excited to announce the launch of our crowdsourced Timeline of Immigrant Activism in Jackson Heights. You can help us build the story of our local history! We also offer an update on the 34th Avenue Open Street as it moves to become a permanent feature of the neighborhood.

Newsletter highlights:

  1. Interactive Digital Timeline of Immigrant Activism in Jackson Heights
  2. Keeping 34th Avenue an Open Street 

1. Be Part of Our New Timeline of Local Immigrant Activism

JHISN works in solidarity with immigrants and their allies, disseminating information, and encouraging our neighbors to stand with, defend, and empower immigrants. We invite you to participate in our new online project, building a robust history of local immigrant activism. You can be part of this crowdsourced adventure of discovery and sharing which showcases activities that support and celebrate immigrant communities.

Did you know, for example, that Paola Mendoza has made a film, co-written a book, hosted a mourner’s walk, and curated an art installation all of which connect to immigrants in our neighborhoods? That the Latin American Integration Center (LAIC), established in Jackson Heights in 1992, was the precursor to Make the Road NY? Or that the majority of immigrant activist actions have been initiated by women in Queens?

To honor the contributions over the decades by many individuals and immigrant groups in Jackson Heights, Woodside, Corona, and nearby areas, JHISN has created the Timeline of Immigrant Activism. We seeded it with over 120 items: organizational foundings; changes in federal and state laws; marches and protests, including family-friendly events; academic and governmental publications, fiction and non-fiction accounts; and a range of artistic and cultural endeavors. Every one of these efforts is significant by itself. When we look at them collectively we can see the impressive picture of immigrant-led mobilizing and creativity that exists in this distinct part of Queens.

Did you know that, around 2010, the publication director of the Philippine Forum created a hyperlocal online news website for immigrant communities in Queens? It was named Queens7.com after the subway line that served the community.

JHISN is not an authority that knows all the details about these important events and activities. Our group is just a few years old, very young in comparison with groups that have organized here for decades. Many people in our neighborhood–you may be one of them since you subscribe to our newsletter–know a great deal more about these events and our local history. If you notice we have failed to include a march, or did not mention an important cultural event, or missed some important milestones, we encourage you to simply add an item to the timeline yourself.

Did you know that Adhikaar, CHHAYA CDC, and NICE (New Immigrant Community Empowerment) were part of the People’s Walking Tour in 2012, which later became a feature in the curriculum of a 2016 course on urban change at the University of Toronto?

The timeline is a crowdsourced initiative. Anyone can sign up to create an account and add items. There is a slight editorial review process because this topic is both significant and prone to flaring up arguments in public digital spaces. We seek to raise the voices of immigrants and those in solidarity with immigrant struggles by building this public archive. Submissions will be reviewed before they are made publicly available. As a small volunteer group, we ask for your patience, contributions, and collective memory as we build up this resource with you.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

  •  Share the link to the timeline jhimmigrantsolidarity.org/timeline with friends, colleagues, and others who can help it grow.
  • Do your own research about local events and efforts and, when you locate something of importance to note or celebrate, search for it in the timeline. If it is missing, create an account and add the information.
  • With every new item you add, you can also name one or more organizations that were involved. If the organization is not already on our list, you can add it. Just be sure to save your event description before you add the names of organizations.

2. DOT Plans for the 34th Avenue Open Street 

Since May 2020, Jackson Heights residents have enjoyed the freedom of the 34th Avenue Open Street. Many organized activities have been held on the Avenue, including immigrant-led programming in the 90s and elsewhere along the new promenade. The Avenue was even named the “gold standard” for an Open Street. There has also been vocal opposition to a permanent Open Street, primarily from car owners as well as those concerned about the safety of pedestrians and children.

Representatives of the NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) finally unveiled a design proposal for 34th Avenue at Community Board 3 on October 21. More than 100 virtual participants attended the meeting. The DOT design was partly based on survey responses from more than 2000 local residents, including 90% of respondents who live in Jackson Heights. 

The proposed design aims to reduce car traffic and incorporates significant input from the seven public schools on the Avenue. The design also takes note of how the Avenue has actually been used, and responds to some complaints received over the past year. The DOT slide presentation shows that the Open Street has in fact improved public safety: the total annual number of crashes and injuries along 34th Avenue has dropped since May 2020. The presentation also includes schematic representations of the design and introduces new vocabulary: diverters, chicane, plaza block, and shared space blocks.

The key element of DOT’s proposal is the use of diverters (permanent triangular areas marked by paint, granite blocks, and planters) at all 26 intersections. These are designed to allow cars to turn onto 34th Avenue while preventing drivers from traveling more than one block without having to turn onto a side street. Diverters would replace the temporary metal barricades currently used, which are difficult to move, and which must be installed and removed every day. Here are schematics of a planned diverter and traffic flow around it:

In the DOT plan, there are four plaza blocks (car-free areas marked with paint and planters) on the north side of the Avenue. Two of them would be near PS 368 and IS 230. There would be a green marked bike path 4 feet from the median; the rest of the space would be set aside for pedestrians (see Slides 38 and 39). The plaza expands the pickup/drop-off area for the schools and allows for programming on the Avenue. The chicane (an offset curb extension to slow traffic) will slow any delivery vehicles.  

The area near Travers Park is slated to have a third plaza block at 77-78th streets and a shared space block at 78-79th streets, allowing access to residential buildings and more space for public events (see Slide 40).

The block near PS 212 (82-83rd streets) is planned to be a shared space block (see Slide 41). Since there has been little organized programming on 85-88th streets, they will simply have diverters at the intersections. Because of the apartment fire at 89th street, the final design for the avenue from 89th-92nd streets has been postponed. 

From 93rd street to Junction Boulevard there is a fourth planned plaza block in front of PS 149, and a shared space block from 93rd to Junction Boulevard (see Slide 44). The bus stop on the west side of the street will be moved south.

There was a long Q&A period at the Community Board 3 meeting, with concerns raised about getting more feedback through door-to-door surveys, more traffic studies, sanitation issues, problems with Access-A-Ride, and the speed of motorcycles and mopeds on the Avenue.

DOT is accepting continued feedback on their design proposal through Fall and Winter 2021, with implementation anticipated for Spring 2022. Given the lack of green space or public commons in our primarily immigrant, working-class neighborhood, a permanent Open Street in Jackson Heights would be a huge and welcome transformation.  

WHAT CAN WE DO?
  • Review DOT’s slide presentation of the design proposal. Use the online form to send feedback to the DOT/Queens Borough Commissioner by selecting Open Streets as the General Topic. Then select “street or Sidewalk” to talk about a specific location or select “Citywide Concern” to make general feedback.
  • Sign up for the 34th Avenue Open Streets Coalition monthly newsletter

 

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.