Tag: Refugee Crisis

JHISN Newsletter 01/28/2023

Dear friends,

We are excited to bring you news about recent changes, and accomplishments, at Damayan—a local immigrant justice group that some of our readers already know well. With Woodside now home to ‘Little Manila’ and over half of all Filipino New Yorkers living in Queens, Damayan’s grassroots work is vital to our community. We also introduce you to public events organized by the Zolberg Institute on Migration and Mobility housed at The New School, with a summary of their recent webinar on US border politics and Biden’s new asylum policy.  

Newsletter highlights:
  1. Damayan celebrates 20 years of Filipino organizing
  2. Public webinar on Biden’s betrayal of asylum seekers

1. DAMAYAN at 20

“Sa loob ng 20 dekada, nanatili ang Damayan na matatag sa pananaw na anti-imperialista, bumuo ng malinaw na vision at mission, at mga strategies para gumabay sa mga tulad nating domestic workers… [For 2 decades, Damayan has remained steadfast in its anti-imperialist vision, developed a clear vision and mission, and strategies to guide domestic workers like us…] Rose Alovera, Damayan Board Member

Damayan Migrant Workers Association’s mission is to “organize low-wage Filipino workers to combat labor trafficking, promote human and worker’s rights, and develop social justice leaders.” At the end of 2022, Damayan—many of whose 1500+ members live in Queens—made several major announcements at their 20th Anniversary and Annual Holiday Party.

Perhaps the most important news was that Riya Ortiz, a long-time organizer with Damayan, has been selected as the group’s new Executive Director. Ortiz said, “My family’s experience of forced migration and years of organizing and activism convinced me to embrace the vision and mission of Damayan.” Co-founder and outgoing ED Linda Oalican will transition out of office in the first quarter of this year, after two decades of what Damayan praised as “providing critical services, educating, organizing, and mobilizing Filipino migrant workers in New York and New Jersey.”

One of Damayan’s key accomplishments in 2022 was to help more than 200 Filipino workers receive a total of over $3 million from the New York State Excluded Workers Fund. Last year, Damayan assisted a record number of workers to gain visa approval, and secured financial assistance for 26 trafficking survivors through the federal Trafficking Victims Assistance Program. In a display of the group’s broad community support, Damayan’s recent holiday fundraiser easily surpassed its goal, raising over $22,000 from more than 170 donors.

JHISN congratulates Damayan and outgoing ED Lina Oalican on 20 years of impressive achievements in the fight for social justice. We extend our solidarity to new ED Ortiz, and to all Damayan’s Directors, activists, and members. 

WHAT CAN WE DO?
  • If you are able, please donate to Damayan!
  • Attend the tribute to outgoing Executive Director Linda Oalican on February 25th.

2. Asylum Betrayed: Biden’s Border Politics and Title 42

On January 13, The New School’s Zolberg Institute on Migration and Mobility here in NYC hosted an important webinar, “Asylum Betrayed: Biden’s Border Politics and Title 42.” The Institute offers courses, sponsors lectures, and events, and supports critical scholarship on all aspects of migration. The webinar discussion featured Eleanor Acar, director of the Refugee Protection Program at Human Rights First, Alexandra Delano Alonzo, professor and chair of Global Studies at The New School, and Lee Gelernt, Deputy Director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. 

Participants reviewed multiple aspects of US immigration policy and highlighted problems with President Biden’s January 5 announcement of a new “parole” plan for migrants from Nicaragua, Cuba, and Haiti. This scheme will allow up to 30,000 migrants per month to enter the US for a period of two years and receive work authorization, but will require everybody to apply from their home country, have a sponsor in the US, and pass background checks. Anyone trying to enter in any other way will be expelled under the controversial “pandemic emergency” authority of Title 42 and will be disqualified from the program in the future. Mexico has agreed to accept 30,000 of those expelled each month. 

All webinar participants appreciated the value of providing migrants with a legal path for entry, but rejected the use of Title 42 to punish those unable to meet the requirements of parole. The Biden program is designed to favor people with family connections in the US and with financial resources. Some migrants with good cases for asylum will likely be expelled–-a violation of international law.

The webinar offered updated information about cross-border immigration to the US: 

  • Of the “2 million migrants” said to have recently crossed the southern border, many are actually people who were expelled and who then re-crossed, getting counted two or more times. Ms. Acer explained that the restrictive policies of former president Trump are the main cause of the ballooning numbers, not the weaknesses of Democrats’ border policy.
  • Among migrants recently expelled to Mexico under Title 42, some 13,400 are victims of kidnapping or rape. 
  • For the past three years, there has effectively been a halt to asylum—a clear violation of international law and stated US values, according to Mr. Gelernt.
  • The Mexican asylum system is already overburdened and underfunded and will have difficulty absorbing 30,000 additional migrants per month. It is not known why Mexico has agreed to accept people expelled by the US, but Dr. Delano Alonzo said the Mexican administration might be anticipating some sort of economic quid pro quo.

Biden’s new parole plan has been strongly criticized by many immigrant justice and advocacy organizations as well as by four Democratic senators who are usually White House allies—Senators Alex Padilla (California), Bob Menendez and Cory Booker (New Jersey), and Ben Ray Luján (New Mexico). One biting public statement against “parole” came from Murad Awawdeh, Executive Director of the New York Immigration Coalition:

“President Biden’s plan to expel those who attempt to cross the border … is an attack on the humanitarian values and obligations of the United States. This plan needlessly endangers the lives of those crossing the border in search of basic freedom in our country, and succumbs to the fearmongering espoused by anti-immigrant conservatives. . . . Rather than limiting humanitarian parole for just a select few with family connections and financial privilege, the Biden administration must expand additional protections for all asylum seekers, so that our country can fulfill its humanitarian obligations and provide opportunity and freedom for all.”

 

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 09/03/2022

Dear friends, 

We bring you this week a story of happiness and hope—a local story of one immigrant family’s successful struggle to stay together. We thank the Talukder family, who live here in Queens, for letting us share their story with you. And we are grateful for reminders that sometimes, indeed, collective work can bring the world we want a bit closer. 

Next we get behind the recent headlines about busloads of migrants landing in NYC. Sent by Republican governors hungry for a media spectacle, the thousands of migrants and asylum seekers being transported north from the southern border are part of a broader historical fight over the politics of ‘sanctuary’ and the possibility of refuge.     

Newsletter highlights:
  1. Local Story with A Happy Ending
  2. Busing Migrants to NYC: Republican Spectacle Targets Sanctuary Cities

Photo by Jennifer Deseo

1. Riaz Talukder—An Immigrant Justice Story

On August 2, 2022, after decades, Riaz Talukder and his wife Sayeda were finally granted green cards and the right to remain in the US with their two American-born sons. This is a story of the importance of community support, the alliance of several activist groups, good legal counsel, and a lot of persistence and patience. Here’s how it happened. 

In October 2017, JHISN met with Riaz Talukder, a Bangladeshi immigrant who had been living in the US since he was a teenager, to hear about his immigration situation. We learned that Riaz had come to the US in the 1980s, and been granted amnesty in 1990 under Catholic Social Services which allowed him to live and work here. During a trip to Bangladesh, he received death threats from a political organization. Consequently, when he returned to NY he filed for political asylum. Unfortunately, government policy changed in 1999, and bad legal advice led to a deportation order which Riaz didn’t learn about until 2010 when his home was raided. He was detained for several months and released under an order of supervision requiring him to report for regular check-ins.  

JHISN made support for Riaz’s case a priority and informed our JH neighbors about his situation at our annual community gathering. When Riaz’s new lawyer told us that evidence of community support would be helpful, members of JHISN, DRUM, and New Sanctuary Coalition attended Riaz’s October 21 check-in with ICE at Federal Plaza. There we learned that Riaz was to have a “final” ICE check-in on November 20, 2017, with the threat of being deported after 37 years in the US. 

Immigrant justice groups launched a petition drive asking the Department of Homeland Security to reopen Riaz’s asylum case. JHISN gathered signatures here in the neighborhood. DRUM and United We Dream crafted their petition and circulated it on social media. NY1 interviewed Riaz and the article explained how he was the sole support of his two sons and wife who was being treated for thyroid cancer. All the petitions plus 100 letters of support were brought to Riaz’s check-in on November 20, 2017.

On November 20, several of us accompanied Riaz to his check-in. We were delighted when Riaz was granted a six-month stay of deportation so that he and his lawyer could pursue his asylum case. DRUM and JHISN held a planned press conference that announced the good news. 

November 20, 2017 After the good news. Riaz (in red) and Sayeda (in blue jacket) with Ydanis Rodriquez and Edward Cuccia (at right). Photo by Kisha Bari August 14, 2022 JHISN members celebrate with Sayeda (with blue head scarf), Riaz, and his sons (at right). Photo by Jennifer Deseo

JHISN, DRUM, and United We Dream continued the petition drives, energized by the promising news. Many Jackson Heights community members—perhaps some of you—signed on in support of Riaz’s case. Then in June 2018, Riaz’s lawyer reported that the deportation order had been canceled and the asylum case reopened. The judge’s decision was influenced by the volume of community support, a psychologist’s report on the problems the family would face if the deportation occurred, and the local news coverage.

During the next four years, Sayeda’s health improved, the older son graduated from high school and entered college, and the younger son finished middle school and started high school. Riaz and his family were able to buy a taxi medallion and a house. Finally, on August 2, 2022, with the news of green cards, they have achieved stability and safety.

On August 14, Riaz and Sayeda invited JHISN to participate in a celebration dinner. The food chosen by Riaz and Sayeda was delicious. There were reminiscences and lively talk and a lot of laughs. The family thanked JHISN for our work. It was a pleasure to share their happiness and to be a small part of one immigrant story that ends with justice. 

2. The Political Theater of Abuse: Abbott Buses Migrants Out of Texas

“In Texas, they told us that here, we would get help with housing, work and everything else we needed … It was all a lie.”Juan Rojas, migrant bused from Texas to Washington, DC

In the last several months, an estimated 8–9,000 migrants who crossed the border from Mexico have been bused to Washington, DC, and New York City. On August 31, the first bus of migrants from Texas arrived in Chicago. Migrants’ lives have become unwitting players in Republican fever dreams of punishing “sanctuary cities” for daring to protect immigrant justice and safety.

No one actually knows how many migrants are being transported in this historically unprecedented exodus. There is no communication between the Republican governors who are overseeing the expulsion of migrants from their state (Greg Abbott of Texas and Doug Ducey of Arizona) and the mayors of targeted northern cities where the chartered buses land. There is no documentation of the undocumented migrants caught in this new act of right-wing political theater.  

The extraordinary $12 million spent so far by the state of Texas on busing migrants northward is the latest cynical escalation in the ongoing demonization by Trump and the Republican Party of “sanctuary cities” as havens of immigrant crime. Launched in the mid-1980s by mostly religious organizations, the Sanctuary Movement mobilized municipal support and legal protections for hundreds of thousands of migrants displaced by wars in Guatemala and El Salvador. The aim of the Sanctuary Movement since then has been to lessen the daily threat of deportation and create greater trust between local law enforcement and immigrant communities.  

 The Right sees sanctuary as a wedge issue. Mobilizing disinformation and fear, the Trump administration threatened to cut off federal funding to “dangerous” sanctuary cities in 2017. Many mayors and cities—like NYC, Seattle, Chicago—held firm and pushed back; California declared the entire state a sanctuary space. But Texas, led by Governor Abbott, banned sanctuary cities throughout the state. Now, Abbott accuses sanctuary cities like New York, DC, and Chicago of ignoring the Biden-induced migration crisis on the southern border. He is spending millions in state taxpayer dollars to fill up charter buses with recent migrants and send them to sanctuary cities in the north. Overwhelming both city resources and local immigrant advocacy groups, the busing of migrants to NYC also creates a delicious political spectacle for right-wing corporate media.

Director of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas complains that Governors Abbott and Ducey’s busing scheme is “making things worse,” with their unilateral decisions and total lack of collaboration with the federal government. NYC Mayor Eric Adams announces emergency measures to expand the city’s homeless shelter system in response to over one thousand asylum seekers being bused into Port Authority.

On the ground, some migrants are glad to head north where there may be family awaiting, and where the court system may be more favorable for their asylum cases. But others report that they did not willingly get on the bus in Texas. Or that they were surprised to get off the bus and learn they were in NYC, having been told they were going to a different destination. Many recent migrants come from Venezuela—where six million people have left in the last decade as the country enters economic and political free fall—with no relatives or settled immigrant communities anywhere in the US. 

Some newly-arrived migrants in NYC “are sleeping in the parks,” according to the director of Catholic Charities which, along with other non-profit and grassroots groups, is trying to provide resources and a warm welcome to unexpected busloads of human hope and human need.

 Immigrant justice organizations and local volunteer groups in NYC  are asking the urgent question, “How can we welcome and aid newly arriving immigrants?” Can we also keep alive the question, “When will the United States become a sanctuary country?” 

 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 co-workers so they can subscribe and receive news from JHISN. 

 

JHISN Newsletter 07/23/2022

Dear friends,

Small victories, temporary defeats – the local landscape of immigration politics is complicated. We bring you our newsletter in hopes it can help you navigate the terrain. Let’s celebrate with DRUM (Desis Rising Up and Moving), the recent decision by Queens DA Melanie Katz to drop all charges against Prakash Churaman, a young Queens resident and immigrant from Guyana falsely charged and held for six years at Rikers. DRUM, together with several other grassroots groups and Prakash himself, worked tirelessly to defeat the injustice of an incarceration system that disproportionately imprisons black and brown youth, including those who are innocent. Welcome home, Prakash.

And let’s note the recent defeat, for now, of a progressive move by the City Council to grant municipal voting rights to hundreds of thousands of immigrants with legal residence in NYC. A Republican judge from Staten Island, one of 324 elected judges composing the New York Supreme Court, just ruled that the new law violates the state Constitution. Activists who have worked for decades to secure noncitizen voting in NYC have vowed to appeal the ruling.

This week’s newsletter surveys a dystopian landscape of immigration politics at the global level, focusing on the history of the international asylum system, and the struggles today of migrants trying to navigate what’s left of it.

1. Asylum: A Human Right Under Attack

Over the last few decades, the world’s wealthiest nations, led by the US, have moved to shred the established global system of asylum and protections for refugees. Catering instead to racist and xenophobic domestic politics, they blatantly violate international law. “This system, once held up as a universal and legally binding obligation, is now treated as effectively voluntary,” writes Max Fisher. The practical repercussions of this change for the world’s hundred million plus refugees are staggering.

In the aftermath of World War II, which created approximately 60 million refugees, world governments met to establish unified asylum policies rooted in international law. The result was the 1951 Refugee Convention, later folded into the “1967 Protocol .” During the Cold War, the US, eager to be seen as a defender of refugees, promoted the Protocol and cemented it into national law as the US Refugee Act of 1980.

The Convention and Protocol require nations to provide asylum to anyone fleeing their home country because of persecution, or reasonable fear of persecution, on the basis of race, religion, nationality, political views, or membership in a particular social group. In conjunction with other international law, the Convention and Protocol extend asylum to refugees fleeing extreme danger from armed groups or because of civil strife. Although the right to asylum does not apply directly to economic or climate refugees, it may apply indirectly if they are endangered by social conflict in the wake of economic or climate catastrophes.

The Convention and Protocol, signed by 148 countries, demand that refugees be treated with dignity and respect. Two key provisions include the principle of “non-refoulement,” which prohibits the return of refugees to a country where they face serious threats to life or freedom; and the fundamental principle that asylum is a human right.  Refugees hold specific rights as well: the right not to be expelled (except under strictly defined conditions), the right not to be punished for illegal entry, the right to work, housing, education, and public assistance, the right to freedom of movement, and the right to obtain identity and travel documents. Any refugee seeking asylum must have their claim considered on its merits.

But today, wealthy countries go to cruel and elaborate lengths to deter asylum seekers, many of whom are fleeing social disasters caused by imperialism. Turning back desperate refugees at sea has become one increasingly common practice. This abuse was pioneered by the US, which began intercepting fleeing Haitians and Cubans in the 1990s. Using “international waters” as an excuse for denying asylum, the US imprisoned refugees in camps at Guantanamo or sent them to other countries. In a 21st-century version of this policy, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas (who comes from a Cuban migrant family) made it clear to Haitians and Cubans that “if you take to the sea, you will not come to the United States.” The European Union directs similar harsh practices toward Arab and Central African refugees trying to cross the Mediterranean. It has negotiated agreements with Libya and Tunisia to intercept and detain migrants before they can reach land and request asylum.

International law is also ignored for refugees fleeing by land. Mexico has been enlisted to capture and deport migrants from Central America and other parts of the world before they get to the US border. At the border itself, many refugees are turned back by US Customs and Border Patrol on the grounds that they should have stayed in the first country they passed through, something generally not required by the Convention or Protocol. Central American, Haitian, and African migrants who apply for asylum are being illegally forced to wait in dangerous, unsanitary encampments in Mexico. The Trump administration created many new unlawful ways to deter asylum seekers, insisting that the government has the authority to “meter” the flow of refugees and to deny admittance because of Covid 19 using Title 42.

Britain recently announced that thousands of asylum applicants, mostly people of color, will be sent to Rwanda, a continent away. (This while immediately welcoming 100,000 refugees from Ukraine.) Other European governments send asylum seekers to Sudan and Libya, where they face uncertain futures. Greece is violently deporting asylum seekers to Turkey; Spain is confining refugees in Morocco. Israel is imprisoning and deporting African asylum seekers. Australia pays Pacific island nations to detain refugees who wish to make asylum claims, keeping them at arm’s length and isolated. As Laila Lalami summarizes

“Across the Global North, wealthy countries are outsourcing their border enforcement to poorer countries in exchange for economic, military or diplomatic support. Saddling poor countries with moral and legal responsibility, this collaboration strands refugees thousands of miles away from the safe havens they seek.”

It’s impossible to overstate the brutality and violence that accompanies this racist abandonment of international law and basic human rights. Desperate migrants are literally throwing themselves against the walls and fences put up by rich countries and their allies, and are being pushed back, beaten, gassed, and shot down in response. Refugees are drowning by the thousands, as the navies of rich countries refuse to rescue them. The camps where asylum-seekers are warehoused are often bleak, lacking basic services and even minimal safety. Millions of refugees languish in these camps for years or generations, with little or no prospect of asylum.

In recent days, the US Supreme Court has ruled that the Biden administration will finally be allowed to dismantle the “remain in Mexico” policy initiated by Trump–but only if they want to; it’s not illegal, they say. The administration also seems belatedly poised to end phony Title 42 Covid restrictions. These would be positive steps. And yet Biden has deported more than 25,000 Haitian asylum-seekers. In May alone, 36 deportation flights carried 4000 Haitians back to extreme danger. Only 12,000 refugees of all nationalities have been resettled this year in the US, despite an announced refugee ceiling of 125,000. The US, after its precipitous withdrawal from Afghanistan, is rejecting 90% of Afghans seeking asylum. In other words, the carnage continues.

“If there were only one thing that could be expected from the Biden administration, it would be a more open, welcoming America after four years of his predecessor’s callous disregard for suffering abroad. We don’t have the hostile rhetoric from back then, but the numbers tell us we’re getting pretty much more of the same.”  —Marcela García, Boston Globe

WHAT CAN WE DO?
  • Take action with Human Rights First which provides free legal representation for asylum seekers and refugees in New York City.
  • Join Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project–with a membership of over 350,00 asylum seekers–to build legal, digital, and community support services.
  • Support Immigration Equality, a nationwide group promoting the rights of LGBTQ and HIV-positive immigrants and asylum-seekers.

In solidarity and with collective care,

Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network (JHISN)

Featured image: Photo by Sandor Csudai, borders added, licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND-4.0.

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

 

 

JHISN Newsletter 05/14/2022

Dear friends,

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

1. Here We Go Again: Democratic Party Failing Immigrants

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is corrupt political theater, not progressive politics.

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

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

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

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

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

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

In solidarity and with collective care,

Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network (JHISN)

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

 

 

JHISN Newsletter 04/17/2022

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.