Tag: Refugees

JHISN Newsletter 09/17/2022

Dear friends,

As the seasons turn, we return to a dramatic story that we covered in our last newsletter: the deeply local and global story of migrants being bused from Texas, Arizona, and Florida to northern sanctuary cities. Led by grassroots immigrant justice groups, New York City struggles to respond to the immediate needs of thousands of new arrivals. It is hard to think of a more important issue than how we can, concretely, create the structures and community that will embrace all migrants who find themselves living among us, here, in this city built by immigrant labor and immigrant cultures and immigrant power.

1. NYC response to red-state busing—refusing the anti-immigrant storyline

This weekend, historical documentarian Ken Burns premiers a film series on PBS about the Holocaust. Co-produced and co-directed with Lynn Novick and Sarah Botstein, the trio highlight how Germany based its anti-Jewish laws on US Jim Crow exclusionary laws. The docuseries also shows how anti-immigrant sentiments shaped the stark fact that the US opened its borders to only a fraction of the hundreds of thousands of Jews seeking refuge from Nazi Germany. At that time, North Carolina’s Senator Robert Reynolds said, “If I had my way, I would today build a wall about the United States so high and so secure that not a single alien or foreign refugee from any country upon the face of this earth could possibly scale or ascend it.” Burns says he purposefully tried to leave it to viewers to see parallels of current-day attitudes to immigrants at the border with the past.

Fifty percent of Texans support Governor Greg Abbott’s current political spectacle that places asylum seekers crossing into Texas on buses to sanctuary cities in the north, including NYC. He attempted to secure funds via private donations for the charter bus rides so he didn’t face criticism for using taxpayer money, but so far has raised just over $300,000. His supporters may not realize that the bused migrants are more likely to be granted asylum in these sanctuary cities, or that his approach contradicts a fiscally conservative policy proclaimed necessary by the Republican party:

  • According to TRAC analysis at Syracuse University, the newly-arrived migrants are more likely to have their asylum cases approved in New York City courts than in Texas. In the past 10 months, Houston judges approved only 17% of asylum cases and 33% were approved in Dallas. In NYC asylum was granted to almost 4 out of 5 applicants—over 82%. 
  • A Greyhound bus ticket from Texas to New York would cost an individual just under $300. Abbott’s taxpayer-funded coach rides average $1,300 per passenger, while Arizona’s chartered bus trips cost over $2,000. Immigration rights experts like Abel Nuñez, Executive Director of the Central American Resource Center, have pointed out that “the Republican governor who is working to crack down on illegal immigration is actually establishing one of the nation’s most generous publicly funded services to assist immigrants.”

As Abbott performs his public posturing by filling buses, NYC Mayor Adams and Manuel Castro from the Office of Immigrant Affairs are welcoming immigrants at the Port Authority. Their show is about fulfilling the city’s legal obligation to provide same-day housing for any adult who requests it, regardless of immigration status. They are enforcing the law by placing migrants in shelters and 14 hotels with the support of immigrant organizations and volunteer groups like Grannies Respond. However, not all migrants can secure places to sleep, especially if they want to remain as a family. Also, some Republicans in New York suggest that using hotel rooms in this way is hurting tourism, but the hotels themselves state they have the space since occupancy still lags behind pre-pandemic levels.

Murad Awawdeh, Executive Director of the New York Immigration Coalition, noted that some stories and images coming out of the Port Authority bus station were being falsely used to stir up bigotry and xenophobia. “Just to be clear, we’re not condemning Governor Abbott for busing people to New York City,” he said. “We’ve condemned him for busing people under misleading information to places that they do not want to go to. For treating people inhumanely.” Abbott’s decision to not send information to NYC about who was on the buses and when they would be arriving was, according to Awawdeh, a purposeful effort to create chaos.

Abbott has been looking to secure $4 billion for his border security efforts including Operation Lone Star which, deploying misinformation and criminalizing border-crossing, authorizes the Texas National Guard to arrest migrants who trespass on private property. New York City on the other hand launched Project Open Arms, a multi-agency plan to enroll over 1,000 migrant children in public school districts 2, 3, 10, 14, 24, and 30—which includes Jackson Heights. The children are placed in schools with low enrollments and given backpacks and supplies; their parents will be provided with MetroCards. School officials say that most of the children need intense language instruction, special education assessments, and mental health support.

In addition, New York’s Immigrant Advocacy Groups have promoted a $40 million dollar campaign called Welcoming New York, to cover medical services, interpreters, legal assistance, and resettlement services for the new immigrant population. The campaign aims to help “rebuild the welcoming system for asylum-seekers and refugees gutted during the Trump Administration.” Working at federal, state, and local levels, it seeks to create structures—beyond Homeland Security—that will support and sustain new arrivals to the US.   

Despite such actions, NYC is not all-welcoming. A Republican Councilwoman in one Queens district announced that the immigrants should be further bused on to Greenwich, CT, instead of staying in hotels in her district. In some cases immigrants do not find the shelter system safe and choose to leave it; in one recent case, in Brooklyn, a security officer was suspended for striking one of the Texas-bused asylum seekers from Venezuela. 

No one knows how this busing action might disrupt the asylum application process because it is unclear exactly how the migrants got onto the buses. They have 90 days to apply for asylum at their destination and the location to which they were bused may not be their final destination. Of the migrants bused to Washington, DC, around 10% didn’t have any contacts in the US. Some of the addresses on their paperwork were scribbled in by Border Patrol agents, and Abel Nuñez’s organization had to coordinate transportation for them to be returned to Texas. About 30-40% of people bused to New York City from Texas do not want to be here and need support to get to Louisiana, Ohio, Washington State, Oregon, Wisconsin, or even make their way back to Texas!

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 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 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.