Tag: Refugee Crisis

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 04/17/2022

Dear friends,

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

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

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

1. Refugees, red tape, and race

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. A podcast for every listener

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In solidarity and with collective care,

Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network (JHISN)

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

 

JHISN Newsletter 03/19/2022

Dear friends,

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

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

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

1. #ExcludedNoMore Launches ‘March to Albany’

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT CAN WE DO?

2. Equity and Justice for All Refugees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT CAN WE DO?

 

In solidarity and with collective care,

Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network (JHISN)

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

 

 

JHISN Newsletter 09/18/2021

Dear friends, 

Welcome to our new readers! JHISN has been sharing our newsletter leaflet the last few weeks at the Jackson Heights Green Market. We are excited to build out our free subscribership to the newsletter — beyond the 500 loyal folks (amazing!) who are already with us. Please circulate our newsletter subscribe link to your neighbors and friends who might want to join. And please contact us at info@jhimmigrantsolidarity.org if you have a good idea for a local immigration story.

Today’s newsletter offers a look at the emerging demographic picture in Queens after a surprisingly successful 2020 census count, thanks in part to months of work and outreach by immigrant justice organizations. We then try to understand the deepening crises around state borders and mobility, as tens of millions of people are forced to leave their homes seeking–but often not finding–refuge and a safer haven. 

Newsletter highlights

  1. Census results: NYC immigration groups shape who counts  
  2. Refugee crises deepen in the US and globally 

1. Immigration Advocacy Groups Helped Save the NY Census Count

Last year, as the 2020 Census count began in earnest, there was widespread concern that a population decline over the last ten years, combined with a typical undercount of hard-to-count populations, might cause New York State to lose 2 of its 27 seats in the US House of Representatives. But thanks to heroic efforts by grassroots community groups to count everybody, the city exceeded its expected self-response rate and the state only lost one seat. No seats would have been lost had just 89 more people been counted! 

This past week, 2020 redistricting data became publicly available, and local organizations can start to see the results of their work encouraging people in their communities to complete the census forms. A more complete picture will emerge about the demographics of our community, supplementing the information already available about Queens: 

  • In 10 years, the Queens diversity index grew by an insignificant half percentage point to 76.9%.
  • Queens is still the most diverse county in NY State, but fell from the 3rd to the 6th most diverse county in the US.
  • A 5% drop in the white population, replaced with a 5% growth in the Asian population, has led some to forecast a growth of Asian political influence
  • The Hispanic/Latino population is now the largest in Queens, with the Asian population just a half percentage point behind. The white population dropped from the first to third-largest group.
  • Queens’ overall population growth of 7.8% since 2010 was higher than the 7.7% of NYC overall, but lower than Brooklyn’s 9.2%.

There are always concerns about the impact of a census undercount when using the Method of Equal Proportions, which has been in place since 1941, to determine how many congressional seats each state gets; it is the fifth approach to apportionment since the US census began in 1790. In addition to the regular challenges every decennial census faces to count every person, there were extra factors including the pandemic putting an accurate 2020 count at risk. The Supreme Court had to block the Trump administration from including a citizenship question, which would likely have prevented many immigrants from participating. After that failed, Trump released a memorandum instructing the removal from the apportionment base of people without legal immigration status. There was no practical way to meet that memorandum’s empty directive this time, but the future possibility of such a threat remains. 

Exclusionary attempts to remove immigrants from the census were not unique to the Trump administration. Since its creation in 1979, the hard-line restrictive immigration group with the ironic acronym FAIR (Federation for American Immigration Reform) has pushed the government to ignore its constitutional duty to count all people in the US. To date,  such efforts have been successfully countered by actions to effect a true count of all people.

The brazen attempts to undermine a true count underline the significance of the massive grassroots census activism that took place in New York. In particular, local immigrant justice organizations adopted the Census as a central priority to be sure their communities are seen. There has been extensive media reporting on the funding distributed to several local immigrant support groups by the federal, state, and city governments to assist with those grassroots efforts. But in reality, organizations such as Adhikaar, African Communities Together, Asian Americans for Equality, CIANA, Chhaya CDC, DRUM, and Make the Road NY–many of them groups serving immigrant communities in central Queens–ended up spending their own money and time to encourage the people in their communities to be counted.

The government did assist with multi-lingual printing costs and hard-to-miss t-shirts. But there were significant limits placed on what else could be funded. Certain types of groups could receive money, but bureaucratic criteria prevented many other groups from applying. Those who did apply had limits on what they could spend. No software could be purchased, no awards could be given for filling out the census, and no mobile computing devices worth more than $500 could be bought. Any money spent before March 10, 2020, for those groups who started early, was not reimbursed.

In the end, these local efforts resulted in census numbers that exceeded expectations. Some speculate that post-census redistricting will bring positive changes, such as the possibility for Little Manila, currently split between three districts, to have better representation. However, we have to wait until people can dive into the newly-released data  to understand the changes and to see what impact there might be from knowing, for example, that “300,000 New Yorkers said they belong to two or more races, roughly double the number from 10 years ago.”

WHAT CAN WE DO?

2. Refugee Crises Out of Control

The statistical picture is unfathomable. In 2020, over 82 million people worldwide are geographically displaced by war, violence, climate catastrophe, and persecution. Girls and boys under the age of 18 make up 42% of that total. Forty-eight million people are internally displaced within their own country. Over 26 million are refugees, fleeing across borders. Just over 4 million people are asylum-seekers. And one million children have been born as refugees from 2018-20.

 As the pandemic started to rage in 2020, 160 nation-states closed their borders, with at least 99 countries refusing to accept migrants seeking protection. Refugee resettlement has plunged dramatically, with only 34,000 people resettled worldwide last year. Nine in ten refugees are now hosted by low and middle-income countries with limited resources and infrastructure.

 Despite the declarations of the United Nations’ 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees, and despite the ambitions of the UN’s 2018 Global Compact on Refugees, in 2021 there exists no formal global recognition of refugee rights, nor even a legally binding international definition of “refugee.” In many of the world’s refugee-hosting countries, refugees have no legal status at all. Their rights are under increasingly vicious attack in many countries, even as the conditions that force them to leave their homes become more dire.  

 Just this week, the Global Strategic Litigation Council for Refugee Rights was launched. They aim to establish transnational legal standards for addressing the plight of refugee populations, and to establish the right to be free from immigration detention, which has become widespread in the US and globally.

 But. The news on the ground is not good. By FY 2020, the Trump regime lowered the refugee admissions ceiling in the US from 85,000 in 2016 to a mere 18,000 (with less than 12,000 refugees actually admitted), and then set the FY 2021 admissions quota at 15,000. The Biden administration initially maintained that ceiling but, under political pressure, raised it to 62,500. Yet as of July 2021, only 4,780 refugees had been admitted to the US.

The US’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan has set off a massive refugee crisis. As the headlines blare, tens of thousands of Afghans have entered the US, temporarily ‘housed’ at US military bases. Tens of thousands more remain precariously in transit in Qatar, Spain, Germany, and Kuwait. But the largest population of Afghan refugees are those left behind in the implosion of the US’s decades-long military occupation. Hundreds of thousands of women, men, and children are fleeing their homes to seek safety from civil war and right-wing terror in another part of Afghanistan, or in neighboring countries, including Iran and  Pakistan. 

The refugee situation among Haitians, while garnering fewer headlines, is also grim. Under pressure from serial climate disasters and the political assassination of Haiti’s president, Haitian migrants are surging along the US-Mexico border in search of refuge. In the border town of Del Rio, Texas, in just the past few days, thousands of Haitians have gathered under a bridge for protection from the sweltering heat, sleeping in the dirt, without food, sanitation, or clean water. The Biden administration has announced it will begin putting migrants on return flights to Haiti starting Monday, September 20, to “signal to other Haitians that they should not try to cross the southern border.”

Immigration rights groups have slammed the Biden administration for continuing to use an obscure Title 42 regulation, put in place in March 2020 by the Trump regime, to expel tens of thousands of asylum seekers using a phony “public health” pretext. (News flash: A federal judge has just ordered a halt to this practice.) And the Women’s Refugee Commission along with over 100 other groups, has demanded that the Administration stand up to the Supreme Court’s decision to reinstate the (misnamed) Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), popularly known as the “Remain in Mexico’ policy. The policy has to date prevented over 70,000 people from claiming asylum in the US while stranding them in inhumane and dangerous conditions in Mexico.   

WHAT CAN WE DO?

  • Attend Rise and Resist’s Thursday immigration vigils protesting Biden’s extension of Trump’s anti-immigration policies.  
  • Donate to the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA). RAWA has organized resistance to the Soviet and US occupation and also to the Taliban and other right-wing criminals. They establish underground schools for women and children in Afghanistan, and provide education, medical care and other support for families in Pakistani refugee camps and for internal refugees.
  • Sign the Domestic Workers Alliance petition to stop Haitian deportations. 

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. 

 

 

In Praise of Migrants—And Jackson Heights

(A Review: This Land is Our Land: An Immigrant’s Manifesto, Suketu Mehta)

Suketu Mehta is an immigrant. And he’s not apologizing for it.

These days, a great many people in the rich countries complain loudly about migration from the poor ones. But as the migrants see it, the game was rigged: First, the rich countries colonized us and stole our treasure and prevented us from building our industries. After plundering us for centuries, they left, having drawn up maps in ways that ensured permanent strife between our communities….

Having built up their economies with our raw materials and our labor, they asked us to go back and were surprised when we did not. They stole our minerals and corrupted our governments so that their corporations could continue stealing our resources; they fouled the air above us and the waters around us, making our farms barren, our oceans lifeless; and they were aghast when the poorest among us arrived at their borders, not to steal but to work, to clean their shit, and to fuck their men.

Still, they needed us. They needed us to fix their computers and heal their sick and teach their kids, so they took our best and brightest, those who had been educated at the greatest expense of the struggling states they came from, and seduced us again to work for them. Now, again, they ask us not to come, desperate and starving though they have rendered us, because the richest among them need a scapegoat. This is how the game is rigged today.

Mehta’s book is a clear, engaging explanation of the global, national and personal dynamics of immigration. It’s based on his own experience, and that of his family, which has migrated all over the world. But it’s also grounded in research, informed by righteous indignation, and fueled by a desire for justice for migrants, especially those less fortunate than himself. As the author puts it, “This book is being written in sorrow and rage—as well as hope.”

This Land isn’t a “movement” book. It doesn’t delve into the various strands of the immigrant rights struggle, analyze immigration legislation or lay out a strategy for defeating Donald Trump. But nevertheless, it’s definitely a political book. What Mehta does is to try and change the popular discourse about immigration, using facts, experiences and exhilaratingly blunt arguments. He approaches migration in various contexts and from various angles, always reinforcing the value, humanity and dignity of migrants.

Mehta, who lived in Jackson Heights as a young immigrant, combines pithy arguments with devastating real-life examples. One of his most memorable examples is an extended description of a “friendship park” between San Diego and Tijuana. For many years, this was “the only place on the two-thousand-mile U.S. Mexican  border where you could meet your family face to face…a small patch of land adjoining the Pacific Ocean.” Mehta describes in agonizing detail how this tiny park, where families were once allowed to mingle freely, was suddenly fenced in, then double-fenced, so that people could barely touch pinkies. Today only ten people at a time are allowed in from the U.S. side. They are forbidden to take photos or videos, or even record the voices of their loved ones. Mehta spent two days at the park, absorbing the poignant and tragic stories of separated families, who travel for hours and days to see their loved ones across the border fences. Meanwhile, Border Patrol officers he interviewed exhibited open disdain for the park’s visitors.

Some of Mehta’s most potent writing is dedicated to exposing the realities of imperialism. He doesn’t pull any punches:

Before you ask other people to respect the borders of the West, ask yourself if the West has ever respected anybody else’s border. How often has the United States gone over the southern border or into the Caribbean or Southeast Asia? How often does it keep doing so, going over the borders of Iraq or Afghanistan? The United States has not acted lawfully with other nations, including the Native American nations on its soil, through most of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. How can it now expect the human victims of that enormous illegality to obey the laws of the United States and stay home or wait thirty years for a visa to rejoin their families?

Mehta makes it clear that this imperial hypocrisy doesn’t just apply to the U.S., but to all the colonial powers. For instance, he spends some time examining the history of British imperialism in his original homeland of India. He also describes how brutal French colonialism in the Caribbean and North Africa has resulted in massive migration.

In recent decades, as Mehta explains, colonialism has taken new forms. Many former colonies have gained legal independence. Now it is primarily multinational corporations and global banks that control the world economy, not Western governments. But the effects on ordinary people are largely the same. As he puts it,

They looted us for centuries, and they took whatever was worth taking, and they continued taking after we became ‘independent’—of their governments, but not of their corporations.” Trillions of dollars in wealth is still being transferred from the poor countries to the rich countries….

This has a direct bearing on the ethics of immigration. Between 1970 and 2010, Mexico lost $872 billion in illicit financial outflows, and most of the money ended up in American banks. Around this time—from 1965 to 2015—16 million Mexicans immigrated to the United States. They weren’t doing anything wrong; they were just following the money. Their money.

Besides the economic injustice of imperialism, Mehta discusses how imperialist wars trigger mass migration. He discusses not only classic armed conflicts, such as proxy civil wars and invasions, but also the phony “war on drugs,” which destroys nations while fattening the wallets of Western bankers. Together, all of these wars generate refugees by the millions.

Another major source of migration discussed in This Land is climate change. More and more nations are experiencing droughts, floods, and severe weather of all kinds. Crops are dying; heat-related deaths are skyrocketing. And so people are leaving their homes.

And where should they move to? To their former colonizers, or to the country most responsible for the heating of the planet? Americans are only 4 percent of the world’s population but are responsible for one-third of the excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Next comes the European Union, which put another quarter of the existing CO2 in the atmosphere. America creates a third of the world’s solid waste and consumes a fifth of the world’s energy. The average American uses as much energy as 35 Indians, or 185 Ethiopians, and consumes as many goods and services as 53 Chinese. But America was the first and only country to walk away from a global attempt at a solution: the Paris Agreement. The Trump administration is an existential threat to life on the planet today. The most damning indictment against Americans: we ruined the planet and then elected a government that will stop any last chance we have of saving it.

Mehta emphasizes that anti-immigrant sentiment, especially in the U.S., is closely tied to racism. White citizens often feel a sense of entitlement, coupled now with the feeling that they are losing privileges that used to be automatic. White citizens also, at times, feel jealous. Many immigrants are better educated than white U.S. citizens, and make more money after arriving here. (For instance, the median income for Indian Americans was over $110,000 in 2016.) Donald Trump, of course,has amplified false white nationalist narratives about crime and about immigrants draining resources from the U.S. His open appeal to white grievance and betrayal has helped increase and intensify an onslaught of racist attacks on immigrants. As Mehta says, “the conversation about immigrants in America…is approaching incitement to genocide.”

Mehta makes it clear that this racism isn’t random or disorganized. It’s actively encouraged by wealthy capitalists. The billionaire class and giant corporations have profited from globalist outsourcing,while simultaneously disinvesting from the U.S. Now the capitalists are eager to redirect outraged white resentment away from themselves and onto scapegoated immigrants.

One of Mehta’s most controversial assertions is that immigration should be understood as a form of reparations for the sins of colonialism. This is an attention-grabbing argument, but it turns out to be one of his less rigorous ones. After all, as Mehta argues at length, immigration has been good for countries like the U.S. Not just good: indispensable. It seems like an odd kind of “reparations” that comes free of cost to the offenders. This Land struggles with the contradiction, finally concluding that: “A huge bill is coming due to the West. And it is one that the West is not only morally obligated to pay, but one that it should also look forward to paying.”

This part of Mehta’s analysis, while it may be somewhat confusing, is also pretty thought-provoking. Mehta is putting his finger on a sensitive spot. Doesn’t the U.S. in fact owe reparations to the countries and peoples it has undermined and ripped off? Isn’t migration a human right, whether it helps the receiving country’s economy or not? These are some of the most important questions in front of us today.

This Land is full of revealing data. For instance, did you know that there are now 9 million U.S. citizens—migrants—living abroad, up from 4 million in 1999? Or that Turkey took in more than a million refugees in 2014, while the has U.S. allowed in just 50,000 refugees per year for decades? (Trump wants to reduce that to 30,000.) Mehta’s book is not only interesting and easy to read, but it’s also chock full of ammunition for immigrant rights fighters and supporters.

This Land includes many heartbreaking and hopeful stories of migrants—those who he calls “everyday heroes”—in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world. They are people who often end up doing the hardest work in our societies, after risking their safety and freedom to migrate because they are driven to help their families or are fighting to escape intolerable situations. In many cases the migrants Mehta profiles show tremendous insight, courage and initiative.

Ultimately, This Land is a cautiously hopeful book. Bringing things right home, Mehta upholds Jackson Heights as an example of the advantages of migration and multiculturalism. Mehta is aware of the divisions here. And in fact, he argues that multiculturalism doesn’t depend on everybody instantly loving each other. It’s more of a process. He remembers that, in his youth, Jackson Heights had to cope with some deeply rooted ethnic antagonisms, which had migrated right along with people.

My neighbors were Indians and Pakistanis, Jews and Muslims, Haitians and Dominicans; the building was owned by a Turkish man but the super was Greek. Many of them had been killing each other just before they got on the plane….

But we were in a new country now, making a new life. And we could live side by side and interact in certain demarcated ways. We could exchange food; our kids could play together; they could go to school together. We discovered that we are more alike than different. South Asians in the West, for instance: Indians and Pakistanis and Bangladeshis who have been warring at home discover, in Jackson Heights, that they are “desi,” and share a love of samosas and Bollywood. If we still didn’t like our neighbors, we would not burn and riot as we might at home; we would suffer them…. Because no one ethnicity dominates, no one community gets blamed if the economy goes south.

And now, diversity has become a point of attraction for all kinds of people, from all kinds of backgrounds. As Mehta puts it, “Creative people want to live in the kind of city where they can hear many languages spoken on the street, and have a choice between pupusas and parathas for dinner.”

Mehta is inspired by Jackson Heights, and by New York in general. He notes that the city has been thriving because of the huge waves of immigration that arrived in recent decades. The author’s moving hope is that New York can serve as an example to the world.

But as Mehta knows only too well, there’s plenty of racism and inequality in New York. And there’s a vicious anti-immigrant storm raging all around us. Many residents of Jackson Heights are living in fear, while ICE thugs swagger around like modern-day Brownshirts.

Woven together with his sadness and rage, This Land’s moral clarity and expansive vision do give us cause for long-term hope. Mehta’s manifesto is important for that reason, among many others. But it’s pretty obvious that the author’s optimistic view of Jackson Heights isn’t something we can take for granted. On the contrary, it’s something we’re going to have to fight like hell to live up to, and to defend.

 

 

How the US Created the Refugee Crisis

Every month, tens of thousands of migrants are detained along the US-Mexico border. Right now, most of those migrants are refugees from the Northern Triangle of Central America—El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. When they get to the border, these folks have already endured a long, dangerous journey, covering thousands of miles. They've struggled through perilous desert crossings. They've clung to the top of freight trains in baking heat and freezing cold. They've faced very real odds of being kidnapped or raped. They've borrowed money or used their last resources to pay off coyotes and corrupt officials. Once they arrive, they are brutalized by border agents and a dehumanizing, racist detention system.

Harsh Life in the Northern Triangle

People don't undertake a journey this terrible for no reason. The reality is that El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala have become unbearable for these refugees, no matter how much they might wish they could stay in their homes.

Poverty is widespread in the Northern Triangle. Parents must watch their children go hungry. Family farmers are forced off their land, flooding into cities where there are no jobs. Homelessness is common.

Violence is out of control. Many of the people leaving the Northern Triangle have had family members killed, have witnessed murders, or have been themselves threatened with rape and other deadly violence in their home countries. Young people are subjected to forcible recruitment into street gangs, with their families as hostages. The military and police rule society with a heavy hand.

How We Got Here

Why is life so difficult for so many Central Americans? To a large extent, the blame lies with the policies of the US government, and with the power of US corporations.

For over a century, the US has acted like Central America was its private plantation. The US has invaded the region over and over. It has backed corrupt military dictators, overthrown democratic governments, armed and trained vicious death squads. The CIA has manipulated and assassinated its way up and down Central America. And US economic policies have destroyed the livelihoods of millions of people.

Here are just a few examples of US political-military intervention in the Northern Triangle:

Repressing El Salvador

  • In 1932, the US helped suppress a peasant rebellion in El Salvador led by Farabundo Martí. Tens of thousands of rebels and civilians—many of them Indigenous—were systematically massacred.
  • In 1944, the US supported a reactionary coup.
  • In 1960, the US supported another right wing coup.
  • From 1980 to 1992, the US enthusiastically funded, trained, and directed a military dictatorship, whose main purpose was to crush a popular leftist-led uprising. Some 70,000 people were killed by the Salvadoran military and death squads under the direct sponsorship of the US. Thousands more were raped or tortured. During that period, hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans fled to the US, which deported many of them back into the war zone.

Destabilizing Honduras

  • In 1911, the US launched a coup to overthrow its elected government. After that, the country was afflicted by a series of military dictators propped up by Washington.
  • In the 1980s, the US set up military bases in Honduras, turning it into a launch pad for waging war against Nicaragua. Thousands of US troops trained, armed and dispatched the right-wing Contra guerillas from Honduras, in violation of US and international law.
  • As recently as 2009, the US backed a coup against reform-minded President Manuel Zelaya.

The Pattern Repeats in Guatemala

  • In 1954, the US organized a coup against the reformist Arbenz government. This coup led to a long guerrilla uprising, which was brutally suppressed by a US-led counterinsurgency campaign. The tactics of this counterinsurgency included aerial bombing, use of napalm, and the eradication of whole villages.
  • In 1970, when US-backed President Carlos Arana took office, he said, "If it is necessary to turn the country into a cemetery in order to pacify it, I will not hesitate to do so." The US-sponsored regimes that followed Arana in Guatemala had the same basic philosophy. Turning a blind eye to all their brutality, the US gave political support and tens of millions of dollars to the Guatemalan military.
  • In 1978, Rios Montt became dictator, in a coup that had full US support. Montt unleashed a campaign of genocide against the Maya. Villages were bombed and looted; civilians were raped, tortured and executed. During the long Guatemalan civil war, some 200,000 civilians were killed by the regime and allied right-wing death squads. Hundreds of thousands of Guatemalans fled the country.

An Economic Thread

Running through all of the US violations of sovereignty and human rights in the Northern Triangle, there 's always been an economic thread. The almighty dollar is behind it all. US policy has been formulated to serve the US corporations that profit from Central America’s resources and labor. For instance, several brazen US interventions in Guatemala and Honduras were specifically intended to benefit the United Fruit Company (now Chiquita Brands), whose low-wage fruit plantations were fantastically profitable.

Maybe the best way to sum up the history of US colonialism in Latin America is to quote Marine General Smedley Butler, who helped lead US military campaigns in Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, and Haiti. In the 1930s, he wrote: "I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer for capitalism."

CAFTA Devastates Farmers

Over the last few decades, the US pressured and bribed Central American politicians to join what is called CAFTA-DR. CAFTA, like NAFTA, is a trade pact designed to override national laws, favoring the interests of large multinational corporations. Given the economic and power imbalances in the Americas, we shouldn’t be surprised at how that worked out for Central America. US banks and commercial interests have now taken over large parts of the financial systems and retail trade in the Northern Triangle, and US manufacturers have overwhelmed local industries.

But maybe the biggest effect of CAFTA has been to drive small farmers off their land. Under CAFTA rules, small farmers can't possibly compete with well-financed, large-scale global corporate agribusiness owned by investors from the US and other wealthy countries. To give one example of the impact: Not long ago, Honduras used to be a net exporter of agricultural products. But now it imports more food and other farm goods than it exports.

CAFTA specifically forbids any national legislation by Central American countries that would allow them to protect their small farmers—even farmers trying to sell products to their own local markets. Hundreds of thousands of family farmers have fled out of the countryside, flooding into the cities, where they find little but unemployment and crime.

On top of all this is the impact of the US-fueled drug trade, and the US's "War on Drugs," each of which lines the pockets of Miami bankers while undermining one Latin American society after another. Gangs like MS-13, which was exported from Los Angeles to the Northern Triangle by the US government, thrive in this environment of chaos and corruption.

There’s a Word for This

US policies and corporate greed have left a lasting legacy of poverty, civil strife and social violence. Every time the people of Central America resist, the heavy fist of the US and its military puppets slams down on the peoples’ movements. Demands for fair trade by Central American countries are met with economic blackmail by global banks and the US, intent on enforcing the wishes of the large corporations.

There's a word for this relationship. The word is imperialism. This parasitic relationship between the US and Central America has been a constant destructive force for generation after generation, during both Republican and Democratic administrations. The whole time, it’s been justified by naked racism and victim-blaming. When we see desperate people from the Northern Triangle arriving at the Mexican border, we must recognize that it’s US imperialism that has forced them to make this painful exodus.

The Responsibility of US Citizens

Under international law, and in light of basic decency, all countries are expected to provide asylum for people seeking refuge from persecution, war, social violence and disasters. But US citizens have a special responsibility to give refuge to the people that US imperialism—in its cold-blooded search for profit—has cruelly driven from their homes. Citizens have a special obligation to defend the human rights of Central Americans, and to repudiate every racist attempt to demonize and dehumanize them. And finally, beyond the immediate human rights crisis at the border, US citizens have every moral and practical imperative to help rebuild the countries that the US has pillaged and devastated.

For Further Reading and Study:

A Century of U.S. Intervention Created the Immigration Crisis

How US ‘Free Trade’ Policies Created the Central American Migration Crisis

How US policy in Honduras set the stage for today’s migration

The devastating effects of American intervention in Guatemala

The Impact of CAFTA: Drugs, Gangs, and Immigration

Video: The War on Democracy

UNHCR: Claims from Central America

CISPES: Community in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador