Tag: Trans Rights

JHISN Newsletter 05/28/2022

Dear friends,

Sometimes the face of violence is stark and hypervisible … like the latest nightmare massacre in a US school where, this time, 19 children are gunned down in a Texas border town. Or the spectacle of mass murder the week before in Buffalo, with 10 people killed by an avowed white supremacist with a semiautomatic rifle.

But violence can also be slow, and unspectacular, even invisible – at least to those who are not its target. This week we look at two scenes of less visible violence. We highlight the story of immigrant women of color, denied abortion rights and reproductive health care. And we report on an NYC-based immigrant justice group fighting the state violence directed at queer and LGBT detainees in the US.

Newsletter highlights:
  1. Reproductive Justice for Immigrants
  2. Queer Detainee Empowerment Project (QDEP)

1. Migrant Women and Abortion Rights

The destruction of abortion rights in the US has the biggest impact on women of color, a fact that is often missing in mainstream media. Even less widely reported are the specific obstacles faced by immigrant women of color who seek an abortion.

Black, Brown, and Asian immigrants often face reduced abortion access due to language barriers, a problem that only grows as the number of community-based clinics declines. Traveling to find an abortion provider is difficult, expensive, and risky, especially for undocumented people. Medical insurance may be hard or impossible to get without legal status. For women locked inside the public/private US immigrant detention system, regulations governing reproductive health are confusing, vary widely from facility to facility, and may change overnight when a detainee is relocated.

 Already struggling against a wave of racist violence, Asian American immigrant women are subjected to an extra layer of scrutiny as a result of anti-choice laws that target “sex-selective” abortions. Supreme Court reactionary Clarence Thomas has alleged that this sort of “feticide” is a common practice among “certain populations in the US,” even though this racial profiling myth has been thoroughly debunked. (Asian American women actually give birth to more female babies than white women do.) Legislation denying abortion if there is “suspicion” that it is being used for sex selection is popular on the Right as a stepping stone toward the complete elimination of abortion rights. This profiling is already enacted as law in several states and has been proposed in many others (including New York), as well as at the federal level.

The lack of abortion rights for migrants is particularly dire today along the US southern border. According to advocates, a large percentage of the Latina, Caribbean, African, and Indigenous women who risk the dangerous land route through Central America are sexually assaulted or raped while in transit, making abortion access even more urgent.

However, migrant women who reach the US needing abortion services find little urgency. The Trump regime was able to populate the immigration system with anti-abortion fanatics, pushing already conservative agencies even farther to the right. Right-wing anti-immigrant agents and administrators treat immigrant women’s reproductive health rights as one more reason to criminalize and punish them. Immigration bureaucrats often drag their feet on making medical appointments, finding excuses for denying or delaying even emergency reproductive care.

“The Trump administration’s efforts to undermine access to reproductive health care for women and girls in immigration custody is exemplified by former Director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement Scott Lloyd. During his tenure, Lloyd did not approve a single request for a minor seeking abortion care; those who were able to obtain abortions did so only after court intervention.” –Center for American Progress

Lloyd is gone, but other anti-choice zealots remain, such as Roger Severino who, ironically, is head of Health and Human Services’ Office for Human Rights, which is supposed to oversee refugee resettlement programs for the Biden administration.

Immigrants incarcerated by federal agencies like ICE and the Border Patrol are subject to the abortion laws of the state where they are held. The drastic time limits imposed on abortion in Texas and other border states will result in the exclusion from reproductive care of even more migrant women who became pregnant during their journey north.

 Texas and other states are also trying to criminalize easy-to-use medications that would allow safe abortions at home, painting women into a corner. They are aware that immigrant women of color often lack the money, childcare, and employment flexibility needed to seek abortion care in another state. For undocumented people living in border regions, this kind of travel is especially risky because of a web of Border Patrol checkpoints deployed as far as 100 miles inland. Today more than ever, large numbers of immigrant women are forced to weigh the risk of deportation against their abortion and reproductive health needs.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

2. Queer Politics of Immigration

“I think ultimately this is what we’re fighting for … the ability to be human. The ability to just laugh, and just get up in the morning and not worry that you’re going to get killed if you step out your door. We’re fighting for the ability to not have to worry about food, or not have to worry about shelter, or not have to worry about making the hard choices of, stay in my homeland, experience violence, [or] go to places like the US, experience a different kind of violence …. And I think at the very basic level, it’s just the ability to be human, and be in community, and not be afraid.”Ola Osaze (interview, Black LGBTQIA+ Migrant Project, 2019)

 Immigrants detained in the US face a host of dangers and vulnerabilities. But queer and LGBT and HIV+ detainees often face more specific challenges related to their gender identity or sexual orientation. Sometimes those challenges are, literally, life-threatening. In 2014, Jamila Hammami founded the Queer Detainee Empowerment Project (QDEP) here in NYC to address the state violence and structural barriers that target lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, or asexual (LGBTQIA+) migrants. Operating in the first months out of Hammami’s living room in Brooklyn, QDEP has grown into a vibrant organization providing direct services to queer detainees and fighting for systemic change through community organizing.

 “LGBTQIA+ migrant rights are invisible to the public,” notes Ian Zdanowicz, Co-Director of Direct Services at QDEP. “They often immigrate from their home country without family or support due to their identity not being accepted. When they are incarcerated in detention centers, there is an abundance of transphobia and homophobia.” With most advocacy and legal services for immigrants amplifying a ‘heteronormative’ narrative—one that presumes heterosexual marriage, family, or sexual practices—LGBTQIA+ immigrants lack a collective voice advocating for the specific resources that they need. QDEP is committed to building that voice.

 In March 2022, QDEP in solidarity with Families For Freedom joined a national “Communities Not Cages” Day of Action, calling for an end to all deportations, and the closure of immigrant detention centers–including Orange County Correctional Facility in NYS. In 2021, the group distributed $240,000 to over 370 queer and trans immigrants in NYC to pay for rent, groceries, utilities, medication, and mental health services during the pandemic. They also connected over 40 queer and trans detainees with free legal representation for asylum hearings, and parole and bond proceedings.

 Uchechukwa Onwa, the current co-director of QDEP, came to the US in 2017 after the passage of the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act in Nigeria, his home country, criminalized LGBTQ relationships. Upon arrival in the US, he learned a quick and brutal lesson in ‘American’ racism and xenophobia when he was shackled at the airport, then driven to an ICE detention center where he was incarcerated for three months. “I know that there are so many other people like me who want to be safe,” Onwa says. How to promote that safety?

“At the end, it is our stories, as migrants. Our stories matter. And at the end it is our stories that are going to change that narrative.”U. Onwa (2020 Deep Dive Interviews)

 WHAT CAN WE DO?
  • Volunteer with QDEP, or Pen Pal with QDEP members in detention. Email eliza@qdep.org for information.
  • Join Immigration Equality to support the recent complaint filed with Homeland Security to investigate the Houston Asylum Office’s handling of Credible Fear Interviews for asylum seekers, including LGBT migrants. 

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 08/21/2021

Dear friends,

​​Summertime is often a season of celebration, festivals, and sun-lit joy. We bring news this week of two recent celebrations organized by and for immigrant justice communities. On August 10, trans Latinx folks and friends, allies, and families gathered in central Queens to celebrate their community power and collective resilience. And on August 14, immigrant groups kicked off the opening of the Fund for Excluded Workers with a festive street fair. This hard-won victory promises a measure of economic justice for hundreds of thousands of mostly undocumented workers state-wide, including an estimated 58,000 immigrant workers here in Queens. Please check out our reports below.

Newsletter highlights:

  1. TransPower@CentralQueens 
  2. Launch of $2.1 Billion Fund for Undocumented & Excluded Workers

1.Rally for TransLatinx Power

Hundreds of people rallied in Corona Plaza on August 2 for the 10th Annual #TransLatinxMarch. The gathering is sponsored each year by the Trans Immigrant Project (TIP), as part of Make the Road New York’s commitment to TGNCIQ Justice, and the challenges facing immigrant, undocumented, and Latinx trans people.

TIP put forward three main demands: 1) dismantle NYPD vice units that disproportionately harass and criminalize trans women of color; 2) decriminalize sex work in NY state, and; 3) create a federal pathway to citizenship for all undocumented people.

Corona Plaza was full of colorful signs, posters, and balloons. A giant banner advertising the three demands was dropped from the subway platform high overhead. The crowd alternated chants of “Trans power!” and “Brown power!” A DJ and various cultural performances added to the liveliness of the event.

Several local progressive politicians attended the rally, including Jessica Ramos, Catalina Cruz, Tiffany Cabán, and Shekar Krishnan.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

  • Support Make the Road’s TGNCIQ (transgender, gender non-conforming, intersex, and queer) organizing for dignity and safety for all. Donate here if you are able.

2. Launch of Historic NYS Fund for Excluded Workers 

“This is what community looks like … We want everyone across the state to know about this fund … I want this fund to run out of money not because no one applied, but because everyone did.” –Brayan Pagoada, Excluded Workers Fund Launch Fair (Bushwick Daily, 8/16/21)

After over a year of grassroots campaigning and a 23-day hunger strike in March 2021, the historic $2.1 billion NYS Fund for Excluded Workers went ‘live’ in mid-August, marked locally by a Launch Fair in Bushwick. Along with food and dance, guidance about how to apply for the funds was featured at the well-attended street fair.

As the largest economic assistance package won by undocumented immigrants in US history, New York’s $2.1 billion fund has inspired similar struggles in New Jersey, Iowa, and California, as undocumented workers—excluded from federal forms of pandemic relief—demand state-level support for lost wages and economic hardship. 

Workers in New York excluded from unemployment benefits or stimulus checks can now apply for either the Fund’s Tier 1 benefits of up to $15,600 (equal to $300 weekly unemployment payments from April 2020-April 2021), or Tier 2 benefits of up to $3,200 (equal to 3 federal stimulus checks).

Immigrant justice groups rallied in July when the newly-released Department of Labor (DOL) regulations for accessing the Fund appeared to exclude many excluded workers from qualifying for assistance. Bianca Guerrero of the Fund Excluded Workers (FEW) Coalition stated, “We demand that the Governor stop these shameful tactics and ensure that the program requirements allow workers who were the intended beneficiaries to qualify for the maximum benefit….The lives of thousands of excluded workers rely on this Fund.”

Local immigrant advocacy groups–including in Jackson Heights, Corona, and Elmhurst where the pandemic ravaged the livelihoods of many undocumented workers–are mobilizing resources and building outreach. Their aim is to ensure that workers can accurately assess their eligibility for the Fund, and successfully apply to the DOL. Make the Road NY co-organized a livestream on August 10, drawing 1200 listeners, which addressed FAQs and protocols for making an application. Over 60 community-based organizations across NY State are ready to help workers apply for the Fund in the language of their choice.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

  • Sign up to volunteer with the Fund Excluded Workers (FEW) Coalition to assist immigrant community members in navigating the eligibility and application process for the Fund. 
  • Share FEW resource information, including an eligibility and document checklist, and multi-lingual video teach-ins, here
  • Circulate the NY Dept of Labor’s Excluded Workers Fund application FAQs website, available in 13 languages. 

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 2/20/2021

Dear friends,

Snow has fallen on Jackson Heights and the rest of the nation – JHISN hopes that you and those close to you are well. It is Black History month and The Immigration Coalition has shared 7 Facts reminding us of the history of Black immigrants in relation to national policies which unjustly incarcerate and vilify. This week’s newsletter offers two stories on the politics of incarceration and decarceration for US immigrants. First, the repeal of a NY State criminal statute that benefits transgender immigrants in Jackson Heights. Second, our ongoing challenge to demolish the powerful fiction of ‘good’ vs. ‘bad’ immigrant, as a new Democratic administration must face its own history of criminalizing immigration.

Newsletter highlights:

  1. Repeal of “Walking While Trans” Ban Celebrated by Immigration Groups
  2. Refusing the Narrative of ‘Good’ vs. ‘Bad’ Immigrant 

1. ‘Walking While Trans’ repeal marks a turning point for New York trans immigrants

Racial justice, LGBTQ, and immigrants’ rights advocates scored a long-awaited victory early this month when Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a law lifting a decades-old rule that posed a threat to many of the state’s Black and Latinx residents. Among the chief complaints raised was the way it had been used by police to target New York’s transgender residents, including here in Queens.

Advocates say repeal is especially important for trans people of color and immigrants. It could also create momentum for more change, including decriminalization of sex work.

The new law repeals a statute passed in 1976 that became known as the “Walking While Trans Ban.” It allowed police to stop people for loitering, ostensibly to stop prostitution. But critics said the “notoriously vague” law permitted police to arrest, without evidence, anyone they presumed to be engaged in sex work. In a 2016 civil rights class-action lawsuit arguing that the law was unconstitutional, the Legal Aid Society wrote that a “woman can be improperly arrested and detained simply because an officer takes issue with her clothing or appearance.”

“This statute has been utilized at the discretion of law enforcement to profile, harass, and criminalize women of color, particularly trans women of color, not only creating a pipeline to unjust incarceration, but creating potential immigration hurdles and barriers seeking employment and housing,” said a February 1 letter to the governor from Make the Road New York, signed by more than 150 organizations, including JHISN. 

The letter is part of Make the Road’s broader campaign to secure the dignity and safety of translatinas: “Our deep ties in the translatina community in Queens, and to the larger immigrant organizing community, allows us to address the unique and multifaceted challenges facing immigrant, undocumented, and Latinx trans people.”

Aside from the psychological and physical impacts of being detained, arrest leaves many trans immigrants in a potentially dangerous position. An arrest on sex work-related charges could lead to deportation under U.S. immigration law. Many trans immigrants are asylum seekers who face dangerous persecution in their home countries. Having arrest records sealed, as the new law mandates, could prevent deportation and reopen the opportunity for asylum.

But some advocates say the repeal is only one necessary step toward destigmatizing trans and gender-nonconforming people. The next big hurdle for many is decriminalizing sex work. Supporters of decriminalization, like Make the Road New York, say it would allow for safer working conditions for all sex workers, including many of the people who were arrested under the recently repealed law.

A bill introduced in the New York legislature in 2019 with support from the New York Immigration Coalition and Make the Road New York would allow consenting adults to trade sex and to patronize sex workers. It also aims to combat trafficking, rape, assault, battery, and sexual harassment. A competing bill, crafted by Senator Liz Kreuger and New Yorkers for the Equality Model, would also decriminalize people doing sex work. But, in contrast, it would treat buying sex, sex trafficking, and brothel owning as illegal. It would also increase access to social services for sex workers.

The debate on how to decriminalize, and how to increase safety for sex workers, is not new. But decriminalization is gaining momentum now, with greater focus on racial justice and immigrant rights, particularly for LGBTQ people. The Walking While Trans repeal adds even more fuel to the movement.

“It feels like it’s so powerful to know that the advocacy of a community so disenfranchised like the trans community was able to lead this groundbreaking change in the state of New York,” Cecilia Gentili, founder of Transgender Equity Consulting, told NPR. It’s “very refreshing for the trans community and the immigrant community, especially Black and brown trans people…and knowing that they will be able to walk in the streets without having that nervousness of being stopped and frisked by police.”

WHAT CAN WE DO?

  • Read and share the original letter to Governor Cuomo from Make the Road New York urging repeal of the Walking While Trans ban. Then read differing views about the push for sex work decriminalization.
  • Support Make the Road’s platform promoting TGNCIQ (transgender, gender non-conforming, intersex, and queer) Justice, and the empowerment of TGNCIQ community members.
  • Listen to the Season 9 Launch of the Immigrantly Podcast (Episode 108). An interview with the editors of the recent publication, “Queer and Trans Migrations: Dynamics of illegalization, Detention, and Deportation”.
  • Watch the Queens Public Television video about Lorena Borjas, the Jackson Heights Latina transgender undocumented activist who died last year.

2. Challenging the politics of ‘good’ vs. ‘bad’ immigrants 

Picture the scene: a 23-year old DACA recipient is asked to embrace an immigration system that would finally grant her secure residency in the U.S. … while that same system targets for deportation her mother, an undocumented immigrant who has lived and worked in NYC for 20 years, and her younger brother with a ‘criminal’ record for a minor drug offense. Multiply that scene across millions of immigrant families in the U.S., and you start to have a feel for the brutal power behind the narrative of ‘good’ vs. ‘bad’ immigrants.

That narrative is being directly challenged as immigrant justice groups nationwide build their blueprints and collective dreams for post-Trump immigration legislation. Activists are calling for a new immigration system that can address—with dignity and justice—the need for a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented residents. For an end to the criminalization of migration. Will the Biden/Harris administration listen?

[T]his story of the “bad hombre” has been weaponized over the decades to punish entire immigrant communities. By contrasting the, quote-unquote, “bad hombre” with the, quote, “good” immigrants, who work unnaturally hard and never break any rules, essentially what politicians are doing is they’re reducing immigrant lives to caricatures who can be exploited and expelled from the country. (Guerrero, Democracy Now, 1/26/21)

Much of the responsibility for the dangerous framing of good vs. bad immigrants can be attributed to the Clinton administration’s simultaneous pursuit of ‘tough on crime’ and ‘tough on immigration’ policies in the mid-1990s. Several Clinton-era laws dramatically expanded the population of immigrants vulnerable to mandatory detention and deportation (see Loyd & Mountz, 2018, Ch. 6). The 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) helped cement the legal infrastructure for the massive deportation machine operating today: immigrant deportations increased from 70,000 in 1996 to 400,000 by the Obama administration’s first term.

The figure of the “criminal alien”—contrasted with images of the legal, ‘good,’ and contributing immigrant—was popularized in these years. By 2009, almost 50% of immigrants detained by ICE were channeled through the ‘Criminal Alien Program,’ a nationwide and semi-secretive web of federal, state, and local law enforcement that is responsible for hundreds of thousands of immigrant removals. CAP operates in all federal and state prisons, and hundreds of local jails, where immigrants who have been arrested (including those not yet convicted) are subject to removal proceedings. This collusion between federal immigration authorities and the historically anti-black US criminal justice system also disproportionately affects Black immigrants, who are removed at rates five times their representation in the US population.

[C]ruel policies of immigration enforcement are a pillar of Democrats’ governance. The rhetoric of “productive” and “legal” immigrants, with the simultaneous demonization of “criminal” and “illegal” immigrants, has been the cornerstone of the party’s immigration platform for three decades. (Harsha Walia, The Intercept, 2/7/21)

As a new Democratic administration takes the reigns of DHS and immigration policy, the brief history offered here becomes terribly relevant. With even a limited 100-day moratorium announced by Biden stopped in its tracks by a Trump-appointed federal judge, and with recent headlines that the Biden administration is ready to be ‘flexible’ re their promised overhaul of immigration—can the dreams and demands of immigration activists be meaningfully realized? Can a ‘good’ immigration system finally be constructed, in the face of a very ‘bad’ history of both Republican and Democratic governance?

In solidarity and with collective care,

Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network

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.