Tag: NYC

JHISN Newsletter 1/8/2022

Dear friends,

One of the many New Year’s celebrated in our neighborhood has just passed. This turning of the wheel of time also marks the return of Covid as an immediate and unequal threat. ‘How do we create solidarity during a global pandemic?’ JHISN asked in one of our first Covid-era newsletters in March 2020. At the start of this troubled new year, we want to honor all of our readers who have—in so many ways, seen and unseen—tried to answer that question with how you live, with what you love, with the kind of world you long to create.

Our newsletter looks at the mourning and mobilizing of NYC immigrant workers whose lives are literally on the line in the risky, low-wage business of food delivery. We then report on the most recent immigrant-led campaigns to protect essential workers in NY State, even as the visibility of their work starts to fade and their exclusion from government support continues.    

Newsletter highlights:

  1. NYC delivery workers mourn and organize
  2. Essential workers: still essential, still excluded

1. Deliveristas: Risking Death on Our Streets

In a more just city, in a happier time, immigrant food delivery workers would be in the mood for celebration. After all, after years of militant organizing, Los Deliveristas Unidos (LDU) and their allies have won a stunning victory, with the passage of new laws—effective starting this month—that finally give workers the use of restaurant bathrooms, minimum payments per trip, more disclosures about tips, and other crucial gains.

But bike delivery is a very dangerous job, and NYC deliveristas are still being killed and wounded in collisions and robberies. Half of all surveyed workers have been in an accident while working; more than half have been robbed or physically assaulted. Recent deaths within their ranks have hit deliveristas hard. And so satisfaction for progress made can only be mixed with grief, and with collective determination to keep organizing for better conditions.

Memorial for Adrian Coyotl De Los Santos, a Mexican immigrant and street vendor killed while riding his e-bike to work. Photo–Joseph Sciorra

In a December 18 Facebook post, the Jackson Heights-based group DRUM (Desis Rising Up and Moving) expressed sadness and anger about how New York treats the deaths of delivery workers: 

“On Thursday, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office released information about the arrest of the man who is charged with the death of Borkot Ullah—Delivery worker and DRUM member who was killed while making food deliveries this past July.

“Borkot was struck by the driver who ran the light while being chased by the police. The driver was speeding and is responsible for Borkot’s death. But it is also illegal for the NYPD to engage in high speed car chases within the city to prevent exactly these situations. There is still no word about the officers involved in the chase who are also to blame for Borkot’s tragic death….

“Why is there a difference between the speeding driver who killed Borkot (and is being prosecuted), the speeding driver who killed Xin Long Lin (not being prosecuted), and the speed chasing cops in Borkot’s case (also not being investigated or prosecuted)? Does the identity of the victim determine how the District Attorney will pursue a case?….

“What does justice look like for immigrants who are forced to leave their homelands and work long hours in unsafe conditions for corporations that treat them as disposable? Do we believe pursuing justice through a system that is defined by punishment and retribution is the way forward?

“We are mourning. Mourning the loss of Borkot Ullah and the loss of Xin Long Lin. We are hurting. Yet, in our hurt, we know that there has to be a better way.

“By coming together to encourage safety and strengthen the bond between each other, delivery workers are working to make sure no more workers die like this. They are building solidarity as Black, Latinx, South Asian, Arab, African, East Asian and other people of color to build collective power and change their conditions to fight for the future of all delivery workers.”

On December 31, more than 2,000 protesting members of Los Deliveristas Unidos rolled through the streets of Manhattan, fighting once again for better working conditions and pay. They are now bolstered by representation and legal support from service worker union SEIU Local 32BJ. One of the deliveristas’ main demands at the demonstration: more protected bike lanes.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

2. Does New York Still Care About Essential Workers?

In the early months of the pandemic, the term “essential workers” catapulted into popular consciousness. Disproportionately working-class, immigrant, and of color, essential workers were people who kept showing up for their jobs, while many of us worked remotely or remained locked down at home. Essential workers were people who got sick and died from Covid at higher rates because their labor conditions exposed them to higher risk. Essential workers were people whose labor was necessary to keep society going during a brutal pandemic, including workers in health care, transit, farm work, food production, delivery, sanitation, and grocery stores. Essential workers were unsung heroes who, in the throes of the Covid threat, society started to sing about.

What happened to our collective recognition of the food, care, and necessary production and services provided by essential workers? Almost two years into the pandemic, public consciousness—including a renewed class consciousness—of whose work is really essential seems to be fading. Even as the latest threat from a virulent Covid mutation once again puts essential workers, and their households, at greatest risk of exposure and sickness.

An estimated 74% of undocumented workers in the US are essential workers. The vast majority of them have been excluded from the government’s pandemic relief efforts, including enhanced unemployment benefits and stimulus payments. A recent analysis by the Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy spotlights the discriminatory financial effects of this exclusion: a family of four with two US citizen breadwinners earning a combined annual income of $24,000, would receive $35,470 more in government pandemic benefits during 8 weeks of unemployment than a similar family with two US children and two undocumented working parents.  

In response to this punishing aid gap, New York’s essential and excluded workers got organized. Led by the Fund Excluded Workers Coalition (FEW), including Make the Road New York, immigrant activists won a historic $2.1 billion fund for excluded workers in the state budget last spring. But the fund ran out in just two months. Thousands of eligible workers in upstate and rural areas didn’t even have a chance to hear about the fund and to apply. An estimated 40,000 applicants were denied simply because the fund had been exhausted. Now immigrant activists are calling on Governor Hochul to dedicate $3 billion in additional state funds to fully address the pandemic aid gap for undocumented workers. 

A new mobilization organized by the FEW Coalition, #ExcludedNoMore, has also been launched to create a permanent statewide solution to systemic inequalities in unemployment insurance for immigrant workers and others who labor in low-wage, precarious industries. #ExcludedNoMore calls for a separate and parallel NY State unemployment insurance program that would serve domestic workers, street vendors, day laborers, and other workers historically excluded from unemployment compensation.

On New Year’s Eve, the FEW Coalition tweeted out, “Thousands were left behind with no relief this season,” asking members to light a candle in solidarity with excluded workers everywhere. As 2022 begins, New York’s eviction moratorium is ending, along with Biden’s child tax credit that helped millions of families, including immigrant households, keep children fed and pay the bills. How can we support essential workers in the ongoing struggle for economic justice? What essential lessons from an unforgiving pandemic must never be forgotten? 

WHAT CAN WE DO?

  • Share tweets from #FundExcludedWorkers calling for $3 billion in additional support.
  • Listen to and circulate the podcast with FEW coordinator Bianca Guerrero on the need for a permanent NYS unemployment plan for undocumented and other marginalized workers. 

 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 12/04/2021

Dear friends,

Welcome to our new readers who have signed up to receive the newsletter! Some of you may have seen us recently handing out our newsletter flyer on 37th Avenue and at the Farmers Market – we are excited to now have over 525 newsletter subscribers. Please feel free to share our subscriber link with friends, co-workers, local activists, neighbors, and family: https://jhimmigrantsolidarity.org/news/

 This week’s feature article takes a look at the latest news on national immigration legislation. The news is not good. But the more political awareness we can build around what is happening, and the more solidarity we can offer in the struggle for collective security and a permanent home for undocumented immigrants—the closer we will get to that deferred promise of “… justice for all.”          

Senate must reinstate a pathway to citizenship in Build Back Better bill

People who try to frame this as a win for the community need to work closer with undocumented immigrants… there’s clearly mass disappointment and confusion, and a sense of betrayal.”  –Manuel Castro,  NICE Executive Director

While the New York City Council will soon vote on making this city the largest US municipality allowing non-citizens to vote in local elections, the US Congress is offering us nothing more in immigration law than the halfhearted options they have already debated for decades. In mid-November, instead of providing a permanent road to citizenship as promised by Democrats, the House of Representatives included a proposal called “immigrant parole” in the Build Back Better bill. This parole allows a limited population of immigrants legal status and work permits for five years, with the possibility of a five-year extension. The Senate still has the option to include a more desirable option, changing the existing Green Card eligibility date (called Registry) from 1972 to 2010. This would create a pathway to citizenship because after five years a permanent resident can then apply to become a naturalized citizen. 

Over recent months, New York groups energetically mobilized to remind Democratic legislators of their promise to create a pathway to citizenship for 11 million people. There were 11 days of action by NICE, Movement for Justice in El Barrio protested outside Senator Gillibrand’s office, newspaper ads were published, and rallies took place at Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s Manhattan office and at his home. A four-day #NoSleepTilCitizenship sleep-out with Adhikaar in front of Schumer’s Brooklyn home kept the pressure on, demanding a pathway to citizenship be included in the final Build Back Better (BBB) reconciliation package. 

The House did not deliver that pathway on November 19. Not because of any true policy commitment that parole is actually the best solution; according to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, “It’s our best option for getting past the parliamentarian,” who had rejected more expansive immigration proposals, arguing they did not meet the budgetary rules. In response, the New York Immigration Coalition, Make the Road New York, NICE, and other groups led an 11-mile march from 110th street in Harlem to Grand Army Plaza to urge Senate Democrats to fulfill their campaign promise. Adhikaar retweeted the statement from South Asian Americans Leading Together that the Senate must reinstate the pathway to citizenship, not the temporary reprieve of parole and time-limited work permits. DRUM retweeted United We Dream’s call for a pathway to citizenship. 

Despite recent surveys showing over 55% of Republican voters support a pathway for citizenship and work permits and protections from deportation for those who have been here for over 20 years, not a single House Republican voted for Build Back Better. Elected Democrats spoke mostly about the need to do more. The first Dominican American to serve in the House of Representatives, Harlem’s Adriano Espaillat, noted that undocumented workers contribute significantly to our nation’s pandemic recovery and should not be left behind: “[W]e now urge our colleagues in the Senate to further this work by reinstating a pathway to citizenship for the millions of Dreamers, TPS holders, farmworkers, and essential workers who are counting on us to do the right thing.”

Make The Road NY and NICE thanked Espaillat, along with AOC and 10 other NYC Representatives, for signing a letter calling on Congress to fulfill its promise for immigration reform. The letter argues this “promise three decades in the making still hangs in the balance”; the signatories urge the Senate to refuse this temporary measure:

“Immigrants have sought relief from the precarity of jumping from one temporary status to another in the only country they can call home. Another temporary status would merely extend this precarity.“ – Letter to the Senate from 91 members of Congress (Nov 22, 2021)

Make The Road, NY posted a set of infographics showing how temporary parole and registry are very different, and reminding members to ignore scam offers to apply for either proposal since they are not yet laws. 

As JHISN member Rosalinda Martinez notes, “11 million people who are present now working ‘clandestinely’ are still not accepted as citizens, so as not to pay them benefits and cut their rights as Workers. Rather, they do not have the status of workers, at any moment they can detain and deport them as if they were disposable, like poisonous animals.“ Passing BBB with temporary parole reinforces the problematic good vs bad immigrant trope and merely postpones for many people the threat of deportation from now until some time in the very near future, possibly as soon as September 2031Neither parole nor registry are radical left policies, nor are they new to the immigration discussion. Registry was last used 35 years ago, by the first Make America Great Again administration of Ronald Reagan. Millions of people were given a path to citizenship, while many others were detained or deported, and the criminalization of undocumented people increased.

Those who support parole may believe most undocumented people don’t have much to fear under a Biden administration, especially if parole grants many the security to live and work safely in this country. However, millions of families and individuals will still face persecution from ICE and Border Patrol because even recent rules under the current president do not guarantee their security. As Lena Graber, senior staff attorney at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center notes, Biden’s ”guidelines gave officers so much discretion that enforcement actions would not look much different from those during the Trump administration.”

Even a broadly popular program like DACA, which is still being litigated in the courts, could be eliminated by next year. And the Biden Administration, which declares its support for DACA, may be about to complicate the program: DHS took public comments from September to November about a proposed change to create multiple DACA application processes. One application includes work permission and one does not, which could lead to confusion, bad guidance, and a situation where someone discovers that they made the wrong application choice for their future needs.

AOC has noted that some national immigrant advocacy groups have actually hampered the negotiating process on BBB, resulting in parole replacing registry as the Democrats’ proposal in the spending bill. Many of these groups are not grounded in immigrant communities or do not have undocumented members in positions of power. By way of contrast,  NICE has made clear “Our members are ready to continue to fight for #citizenship4all! after a packed member meeting, we are recommitting ourselves to demand @SenateDems to ACT and include a #pathtocitizenship in #BuildBackBetter LET’S GO!” 

JHISN encourages our readership to join them…Let’s go!

WHAT CAN WE DO?

  • Join United We Dream’s campaign by texting PATHWAY to 877877 and tell Senators to add a real pathway to citizenship.
  • Join Movement for Justice in El Barrio, in East Harlem, by demanding that NY Senator Gillibrand fight for a pathway to citizenship in the Build Back Better bill. 
  • Join the Texas-based RAICES campaign to tell Senators to add a real pathway to citizenship (while also signing up to learn more about their refugee work).

In solidarity and with collective care,

Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network (JHISN)

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

 

JHISN Newsletter 11/13/2021

Dear friends,

In a time of so much political uncertainty, we are buoyed by the huge victory recently won by immigrant taxi drivers in New York City. After over 40 days of round-the-clock protest outside of City Hall and a 15-day hunger strike, workers danced in the streets to celebrate the historic agreement that will deliver dramatic debt relief to cab drivers. “We won,” announced Bhairavi Desai, head of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance which represents 20,000 taxi workers, and which led the public protest and hunger strike. With so many immigrant cab drivers who are residents and neighbors here in Central Queens, the win is a community victory and cause for collective hope.

In this issue, we are delighted to share a feature article on the milestones of culture and politics of Peruvian immigrants in NYC, written by JHISN member Rosalinda Martinez, who has lived in NYC for almost 20 years after immigrating from Peru. We also report on the latest news on national legislation to provide a pathway to citizenship for millions of immigrants. If you have been confused by recent headlines, we try to clarify the urgent stakes in what takes place—or does not—in the next several weeks in Congress.

Newsletter highlights:

  1. Peruvian Immigrants Make a Cultural Home in NYC
  2. Path to Citizenship Detoured, Once Again?

1.  NYC Peruvians Stay Close to Their Roots

“We continue walking the Capac Ñan (the Inca Road). If the West hadn’t arrived, the Inca empire would have reached this land in the Northern Hemisphere. Tawantinsuyo would have extended from the south, in what is now Chile, and reached what is now Canada.” — Walter Ventosilla, director and screenwriter, Abya Yala (interview with the author)

Peruvians have a long and distinguished history. Those of us who came to live in New York have our own part of the Peruvian story to tell. Writing this article about Peruvians in NYC made me realize that we continue being who we are because we hold onto our ancestral culture. 

Before I came to the US, I didn’t know much about this country. The first thing I heard was that “everybody loves Peruvian food in the US.” When I arrived in 2003, I tried to engage with anybody Peruvian. I went to all the Peruvian events I could find. There was the Hispanic-Latino Fair at Renaissance Charter School, the Peruvian Parade on Northern Boulevard, Mother’s Day and the closing events of Pachamama Peruvian Arts in a Jackson Heights school, the procession of the Lord of Miracles in Manhattan. I also discovered the biweekly newspaper, the Ayllu Times, as well as writers, poets, journalists, and bloggers.

For a long time I wished I had a group, so one day, in 2014, I walked purposefully on 74th St and turned into Diversity Plaza and saw a truck on the corner and people in line. It was a local exposition of paintings inside a truck (Art & The Commons). I borrowed my first painting to place in my room and met someone from the Humanist party in NY. I became involved in the movement for “Yes to the Peace Accord” with the guerrillas in Colombia, which Humanists supported. Then in 2018, I saw a table on 37th Ave, with a sign-up sheet for JHISN. I felt this was what I wanted to do. And here I am, answering requests for help from Latinos who write to us and doing Spanish translation for our JHISN newsletter and flyers. I’m giving to my community because the ayni (reciprocity) lives in me.

The Peruvian population in the US is about 700,000, concentrated in Florida, California, and New Jersey. Over 66,000 Peruvians are living in New York state. The majority live in Queens, Long Island, and Westchester, but there are many Peruvians also in Brooklyn and the Bronx. Some immigrants came originally with a visa, but most crossed the southern border. People who arrived in the US during the 1970s and 80s were mostly middle-class people from cities along the coast, mainly from Lima. After the 1990s economic crisis, there was a bigger influx of migrants from all over the country. Peru had slowed its path to industrial development and instead had become a major exporter of raw materials—and migrants. The outcome for immigrants often depends on the type of job they find here, having a relative or a friend, learning English, and also their character. According to the World Bank, Peruvian immigrants send almost three billion dollars in remittances back to Peru every year.

In New York, Peruvians have different beliefs and political opinions, but we are united by our roots. Quietly, our traditions continue to spread among our people in the US, especially our children and grandchildren. During the 1990s, the diffusion of our music and dances got a boost when talented people met and formed different musical groups. Pachamama Peruvian Arts was founded in 2004 in NYC, with the aim to preserve and perform traditional Peruvian music and dance. Its teachers offer free classes to students in Jackson Heights schools. 

Another high point of Peruvian culture in New York is Abya Yala Arte y Cultura, which was started in 2006. Abya Yala puts on every year a theatrical representation of the Inti Raymi, a traditional religious ceremony of the Inca empire paying homage to Sun-Father (Taita Inti) in June, during the winter solstice in the Southern Hemisphere. Songs, dances, flowers, food, and chicha (corn liquor) are offered to Taita Inti by the Inca, with the hope that the sun will come again, bringing good weather to produce a lot of food from Pachamama, Mother Earth. We are proud that since 2007, a director, a playwright, actors, musicians, dancers, and volunteers have brought this fabulous spectacle to the public. In the aftermath of Abya Yala’s success, more cultural groups have been formed; some Peruvian teachers started their own academy such as Peru Andino NY

Ayni or reciprocity—to exchange work or goods—is in our genes and continues moving us. In April 2021, Peruvian bakery owner Carlos Espinoza was given an award by the Mayor of New York for his active role in supporting immigrants. Espinoza kept his business open in Elmhurst—in the epicenter of the epicenter of the pandemic in New York—which allowed essential workers to get food to go to work. He also distributed free food cooked by his mother to immigrants living in Elmhurst and Corona.

Peruvians have always been politically active. In 2016, there was a big Rally for “Keiko No Va” in Times Square organized and led by a Left movement called The Tri-State Coalition of Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York and the “Keiko No Va” group, signaling that we didn’t want a Fujimori government ever again. Marcela Mitaynes, a tenant activist, was elected New York State  Assemblywoman for Brooklyn District 51 in 2020, the first Peruvian to serve in the state Assembly. In our own land, Pedro Castillo, a rural Andean teacher and a union leader from Chota, Cajamarca, was elected President in 2021. This is a promising slap in the face to the powerful criollo descendants from Europeans who rule Peru but have turned their backs on the people, especially from the Andes and the forest. 

There’s hope for Peruvians who identify themselves with our ancient origins, ethics, and values. 

2. Another Black Hole for Immigrant Rights?

It’s important to have a path to citizenship for long-term security. All of our members would be affected by the outcome of what’s being decided in D.C. in the next few weeks.  —Manny Castro, Executive Director, New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE)

The path to citizenship that Democrats promised to 11 million immigrants is on the verge of disappearing into another Washington, DC black hole. In recent weeks, House Democrats tried without success to include such a path in their massive “Build Back Better Act,” which is headed for a showdown vote in the Senate sometime soon. Specifically, they proposed that green cards would be offered to immigrants who had been in the US for more than ten years. This approach was similar to that used by Congress in 1986 to legalize the status of millions of immigrants who had lived in this country for several years.

To get the Build Back Better Act passed, Democrats have been counting on avoiding a Republican filibuster, which would require 60 votes to overcome—a virtually impossible task today. However, legislation that has major budgetary implications can be passed by a simple majority under the procedure known as “reconciliation.” It’s up to the Senate parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, to advise on whether the various provisions of the Act meet the standards for reconciliation. She has ruled against the green card proposals twice—because, in her controversial opinion, they didn’t mainly concern budgetary matters

The Democrats could get rid of the filibuster, but they seem unwilling to take this action right now. There is also the option to overrule the parliamentarian’s decision on reconciliation by a simple majority vote. Although immigrant advocates have accused MacDonough of bias—she was once an immigration prosecutor—there seems to be no appetite for a confrontation with her among most Democrats. Instead, they are now discussing watered-down reforms that would fall far short of a pathway to citizenship. 

One idea under serious consideration is to provide temporary 5-year protection from deportation and work permits for millions of immigrants, including Dreamers, agricultural workers, and some refugees or asylum seekers. This kind of short-term fix has been disastrous for Dreamers in the past, resulting in cycles of fear and insecurity. Depending on how negotiations proceed, “protected” immigrants might not even be eligible for public benefits, including health care.

Another reform under discussion is to “recover” and distribute more than a million green cards that have been authorized by Congress since 1992 but have gone unused. Under one version of this proposal, green card applicants now caught in the green card backlog could pay fees of thousands of dollars to speed access to permanent residency. Part of the thinking here was to create a budgetary impact that might survive the scrutiny of the parliamentarian.

Immigration advocates inside and outside Congress are lobbying furiously to keep substantive immigration legislation alive. They haven’t given up; some have promised to vote against the whole Build Back Better package if it fails to include meaningful immigration provisions. But pressure to pass the massive Biden bill in any form is also building.

Immigrant justice groups have organized a variety of demonstrations and pressure campaigns targeting DC lawmakers. Locally, NICE has been engaged in an extended campaign called “11 Days for the 11 Million,” a series of actions based in Times Square, pushing for “citizenship for all.” Immigrant mothers organized by the Movement for Justice in El Barrio gathered in front of Senator Gillibrand’s office last week with the same demand. The outcome of this struggle—with millions of immigrants’ lives and livelihoods at stake—remains to be seen.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

  • Contact your Democratic Congresspeople and tell them to include citizenship for all in the Build Back Better Act. 
  • Donate to New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE), to support the fight for comprehensive immigration reform.

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 10/16/2021

Dear friends,

May this Fall weekend find you in good health and spirits. 

JHISN continues to learn and find inspiration from the resilience, diversity, and creativity of local immigrant communities. We hope that by sharing what we learn, this newsletter plays a small role in strengthening solidarity with, and among, immigrants.

In this week’s newsletter, we report on a new stage in the struggle of New York taxi drivers to secure debt relief and justice. The New York Taxi Workers Alliance has been demonstrating in front of City Hall around the clock for a month.

Our second story details the ongoing challenges facing residents of flooded basement apartments in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida. Many immigrants are confronted by extreme housing insecurity and serious health risks.

1. Taxi Workers Battle De Blasio Sellout

The struggle for debt relief by New York’s immigrant yellow cab drivers has entered a dramatic new stage. For almost a month, the New York Taxi Workers Alliance has held a continuous, round-the-clock demonstration outside City Hall. NYTWA leader Bhairavi Desai has declared, “We are not leaving the streets until justice is served.”

In our May 15 newsletter, we described how city agencies ripped off thousands of owner-drivers. First, they knowingly created an unsustainable bubble in taxi medallion prices and encouraged predatory loans, leaving drivers drowning in debt when the bubble burst. Then the city let tens of thousands of unregulated, no-medallion Uber and Lyft cars drive off with their fares. The pandemic delivered a final blow. Amid a wave of forced medallion foreclosures, nine drivers died by suicide.

Finding himself under mounting political pressure to correct this ongoing injustice, Mayor De Blasio continues to turn his back on the comprehensive, cost-effective plan for relief put forward by the New York Taxi Workers Alliance—a plan widely supported by local progressive politicians. Instead, he’s made a backroom deal with bankers, hedge fund owners, and unelected bureaucrats at the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission—the same body that enabled the crisis to begin with. The resulting “TLC Taxi Medallion Owner Relief Program” includes some debt relief. But it falls far short of what the drivers are calling for, is structured to serve the lenders, and would cost the city more than the drivers’ plan. It’s being rolled out in a rush, before its own rules are even finalized, to try to stifle criticism.

The average debt of individual medallion owners is $550,000. The TLC plan proposes to give tens of millions to the banks in return for writing down a portion of this debt. As they are well aware, this would still leave unsustainable loan balances of hundreds of thousands of dollars for most owner-drivers. The city has declared that it hopes to get many driver payments down to “only” $1,600 a month. According to the NYTWA, that would keep drivers’ net income well below the minimum wage. More bankruptcies would be inevitable.

The drivers’ plan calls for restructuring all driver loans down to no more than $145,000, with monthly payments at or below $800. If there is a defaulted loan, the city would take over the medallion, and resell it. It would then pay any remaining balance owed to the mortgage holder. Most of the cost of the NYTWA plan would be borne by predatory lenders, not the city. Cost estimates of the taxi drivers’ plan, verified by the city comptroller, are around $3 million a year, compared to the $65 million short-term costs of the De Blasio plan. The NYTWA plan also includes provisions to help older drivers to retire, as well as to give drivers who have lost their medallions through foreclosure a chance to regain them.

NYTWA cab drivers, almost all immigrant workers, are fighting for a real debt relief solution, refusing to be manipulated or diverted by the mayor. They’re out in front of City Hall all day and all night, rain or shine—picketing, chanting, giving interviews, and lighting candles at memorials for their deceased fellow drivers.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

  • Join the NYTWA 24/7 protest at City Hall (Broadway & Murray)—stop by, take pictures & tweet at @NYCMayor and tag @nytwa.
  • Donate to support NYTWA organizing, and sign NYTWA’s online petition
  • Call Mayor De Blasio and tell him that we need real relief for drivers. Click here for a phone number and script. 

2. Living and Dying Underground

They’re often immigrants, they’re often people of mixed-status families. They are the essential workers. They are the lowest wage earners … The most vulnerable New Yorkers live in basement apartments.Annetta Seecharran (executive director, CHHAYA)

The news headlines have faded, but fallout from the torrential rains brought to NYC by Hurricane Ida on September 1 continues to accumulate. While the shadow economy of underground basement apartments in Queens has been invisible to many of us, the devastating effect of Ida’s flooding on basement residents is impossible to ignore. At least 11 people in Queens died during the unprecedented storm, drowned in basement dwellings, trapped in rising floodwaters. Now, uncounted numbers of immigrants, many of them undocumented, find themselves without their belongings, facing potential homelessness and health threats from mold and fungus, as the effects of the storm slowly unfold.

An estimated 100,000-200,000 New Yorkers live in unregulated basement dwellings. Local community groups like Chhaya have fought for years to legalize and bring up to code the vast network of underground rental units in Brooklyn and Queens. But while that struggle for safe, affordable basement housing continues, many low-income people, including tens of thousands of essential workers, don’t have any good options. They are forced—literally—to move underground to survive economically and maintain a roof over their heads. On September 1, that survival strategy turned fatal for some, while thousands more now endure the slow disaster of post-flood life. 

Oscar Gomez and his family are Queens residents whose basement home, belongings, and cash savings were largely destroyed in the flooding and its aftermath. “Swarms of fruit flies, first drawn by the mold growing on the basement walls, have now migrated to the floor above.” More than a month after the disaster, as the family continues to search for an affordable rental, the psychic trauma also lingers: “‘The fear is there, the worry, the uncertainty,’ Gomez said. ‘As soon as it starts raining, you can’t sleep’” (gothamist, 10/13/21).

Excluded from federal storm relief, undocumented New Yorkers hit by the storm learned in late September that they could apply for aid through a $27 million fund set up by the state and the city. In the first week of October, the City Council passed a bill requiring City Hall to create a comprehensive plan addressing the growing threats of climate change. The legislation highlights the vulnerabilities of working-class neighborhoods—like those in Brooklyn and Queens most damaged by Hurricane Ida—and not just the Financial District and coastal Manhattan. 

WHAT CAN WE DO?

  • For undocumented New Yorkers excluded from FEMA assistance, check out local resources here. Contact Make the Road NY/Jackson Heights for direct assistance, or call the NYS hotline at 1-800-566-7636. Application deadline for NYS disaster relief for undocumented households is November 26. 
  • Both homeowners and tenants can access FEMA assistance and other flood resources on Chhaya’s website here

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 10/02/2021

Dear friends,

We offer you this week, with collective hope, two promising stories about immigrant politics and creative power here in NYC. First, we report on a bill pending in the City Council that could grant municipal voting rights to almost 900,000 immigrant New Yorkers. Next, we look at the public art series designed by Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya that centers Asian American and Pacific Islanders in the very meaning of ‘America.’

At the same time, with sorrow, we mourn the death and honor the life of Tarek Aziz, a delivery worker and member of DRUM who was killed on August 23 while biking after making a late-night delivery. Tarek is one of five food delivery workers who have died on the job in Brooklyn over the past year. Over 200 people gathered last Friday to remember Tarek, and to strengthen the larger movement where ‘deliveristas’ are supporting each other and fighting for safer working conditions. Just a week earlier, the NYC Council passed a first-in-the-nation slate of bills to guarantee minimum labor protections for deliveristas, an initial step toward economic justice; the grassroots immigrant collective Los Deliveristas Unidos–which co-organized the vigil for Tarek–has mobilized since winter 2020 to demand such protections, and more. Please help support Tarek’s family with a GoFundMe donation of any amount. 

Newsletter highlights:

  1. Immigrant voting expands democracy
  2. Celebrating AAPIs in Times Square public art

1. NYC Voting Rights For Non-Citizens

“The more folks who are in the process participating in our democracy, the better it is for the entire city. This is an opportunity for New York City to really lead the country and lead the conversation in protecting and expanding voting rights.”  —Paul Westrick, New York Immigration Coalition

Approximately 900,000 green card holders, DACA recipients, or people with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) live in New York City. They pay taxes, use city services, and send their children to NYC schools, but they can’t vote for city officers or influence city laws.

That could change this year: The NY City Council is considering enacting Intro 1867, Our City, Our Vote, which would give those non-citizens the right to vote in city-wide elections.

The chief sponsor of the bill, Manhattan City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez (representing immigrant-heavy Washington Heights, Inwood, and Marble Hill), has proposed that lawful permanent residents, or persons authorized to work in the US who have lived in New York City for at least 30 consecutive days, be able to vote for mayor, comptroller, public advocate, borough president, council member, and any city ballot initiative. Non-citizens would not be authorized to vote in state or federal elections.

The bill is supported by more than 50 immigrant-rights organizations. During the September 20 hearing on the bill, Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz (representing Jackson Heights, Corona, and Elmhurst) emphasized that non-citizen New Yorkers contribute about $10 billion in taxes every year: “This is taxation without representation, which stands contrary to the very principles on which our country was founded.”

Because 35 council members support the bill, the council could override any veto from Mayor DeBlasio, who has opposed it. He and other opponents of the bill question its legality, alleging that it violates the state constitution. However, there is nothing in the constitution barring non-citizens from voting. In contrast, Eric Adams, the likely next mayor, provided written testimony at the September 20 hearing in favor of the law saying that it is fundamental for people to be able to have a say in who represents them in elected office. 

In fact, there is ample precedent for this kind of legislation. According to research by Ron Hayduk, a political scientist at San Francisco State University, early in US history, 40 states and federal territories allowed non-citizens to vote in local elections. But by 1900, after years of anti-immigrant campaigning, only 11 states allowed non-citizens to vote. Hayduk says, “There are a number of studies that have shown when immigrants participate, there’s increases in and improvements in education policy and outcomes.” New Yorkers may remember that non-citizens were permitted to vote in school board elections from 1968 until 2002 when control of schools passed to the state. As of June 2021, several cities in Maryland and two in Vermont permit non-citizens to vote in local and school board elections. Illinois and Washington, DC, are considering municipal votes for non-citizens.

Paul Westrick, senior manager of democracy policy with the New York Immigration Coalition argues, “This is a population of folks that we have classified as essential to our city. New York City cannot run without them. So how can we ask these New Yorkers to quite literally risk their lives, to keep us healthy and to keep this city running, while also denying them the right to vote, on how their taxes are spent and who represents them in government?” 

 

Several people have expressed concern about the ability of the Board of Elections to handle two different ballots when there are Federal elections at the same time as city elections. But Board of Elections executive director Michael J. Ryan said, “Of course there are challenges when you’re maintaining two systems as opposed to one, but it has been done before and, from an operational perspective, there is absolutely no reason to think it cannot be done again.” 

If the City Council doesn’t pass Intro 1867 within the next three months, the law will have to be re-introduced, because most of the current council members will be replaced in 2022.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

2. Public art – a bold anti-racist statement in the city

Anyone visiting the area around Times Square after May 1 will have noticed many of the 40 distinct artworks and typographic designs displayed in 120 locations. The public art is part of the We Are More project by Brooklyn-based artist Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya (pronounced PING-bodee-bak-ee-ah), celebrating the power and solidarity of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities.  

We Are More echoes elements of Phingbodhipakkiya’s previous campaigns: I Still Believe in Our City, which addressed the rise in anti-Asian racism during the height of the COVID-19 crisis, as well as With Softness and Power, which appeared on the cover of Time Magazine in March, 2020. Bold flat colors, flower motifs, Asian women (though this time she includes men) with expressions of strength and purpose, juxtaposed with short forceful slogans.

Times Square Arts, the public art program run by the Times Square Alliance which displays this work, notes the series uses “the language of sorrow and anger to show that, despite what AAPI people have faced in New York and elsewhere, they remain undeterred and steadfast members of the cities they call home.” An interview for Shondaland about I Still Believe in Our City revealed, from February to December 2020, 205 incidents of anti-Asian discrimination were reported to the New York City Commission on Human Rights, nearly a sevenfold increase from the 30 incidents reported during the same time period in 2019. 

And today, with Phingbodhipakkiya’s images throughout Times Square challenging New York to “Stand With Us” because “We Too Are America”, we are reminded of the closing line I, too, am America, from Langston Hughes’ poem published almost a century ago. That poem, which opens with “I, too, sing America,” presented readers with the stark reality of racial inequality that Walt Whitman’s famous, “I Hear America Singing” had failed to recognize as he wrote of working-class Americans.

As Phingbodhipakkiya notes in an eastwindezine interview, “Public art is widely accessible. You simply happen upon it as you go about your daily life, and that’s the beauty of it. It doesn’t sit behind gallery windows or an entrance fee.” Her images become beacons of fortitude and belonging which compete with the density, crowds, and grunge of Times Square. They present the hope to 130,000 daily visitors to Times Square to see more than helpless refugees, computer hackers, nail ladies, and straight A students. Hope that the cursing, pushing, spitting, kicking, stabbing, and shooting will end. Hope that we will stand with these images that stand with us.

Possibly those visitors will scan the QR codes on the ground level We Are More posters and come to learn that “The peony symbolizes solidarity and friendship, the chrysanthemum signifies resilience—it’s one of the few flowers that blooms when it’s cold—and the hawthorn berry represents longevity and protection.” Art, activism, and social change after all do happen in the worst of times.

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.