Immigrants in NY
Voice Concerns, Live in Fear
Special to South Asia Tribune
YORK: Hundreds of immigrants from a diverse set of communities
gathered together in Jackson Heights last week at a Town Hall
Meeting to address the growing erosion of immigrants rights.
Heights is considered the heart of the South Asian Community in
New York City. Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Sikh New Yorkers
joined forces with Chinese, Latino, and other Muslim immigrants
to hold their elected officials accountable on the issues that
impact the lives of many of these residents.
event was organized by the New Immigrant Community Empowerment,
(NICE). Partha Banerjee, one of the organizers told SA Tribune
that the purpose was to "provide immigrants direct access
to policy makers".
meeting also gave individuals the opportunity to testify before
city officials about their experiences since 9/11; from job discrimination
and arbitrary detention, to racial and ethnic harassment.
woman gave a wrenching account of her husband’s deportation
by the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. A Pakistani-American
high school student described the incidents of anti-South Asian
and Muslim bias he and his peers continue to face in hallways
daily. Among those listening were four Queens City Council members
- Hiram Montserrate, David Weprin, Eric Gioia and Peter Vallone,
Jr.- and NY State Assembly member Jose Peralta, who accepted NICE’s
invitation to respond to specific questions from the meeting’s
predominantly immigrant attendees.
ensured that simultaneous interpretation was provided for all
those who testified.
organization gave all those attending a report card (translated
into all relevant languages) on where all NYC Council members
stood on legislature to protect immigrants rights currently pending
in the council such as: Intro. 326 (Access without Fear), Intro.
38 (Language Access to Health & Human Services), Resolution
909 (an affirmation of the Bill of Rights), and the Government
Access & Accountability Campaign.
town hall featured nine expert panelists who donated their time
to respond to community members’ questions about civil rights,
safety, immigration, labor and youth empowerment and to educate
immigrants about local and national initiatives that will have
a major impact. Amongst the South Asians speakers were Moderator:
Partha Banerjee, Community Organizer NICE, Moe Rizvi, Director,
Council of Pakistani Organizations, Deepa Iyer,Co-Chair, South
Asian American Leaders of Tomorrow.
the event may have been long , many immigrants are just beginning
to recover from the fears which engulfed them for the past two
years. The number of hate crimes, deportations and detentions,
has decreased since Sept 11 2001, but reports indicate that they
are still occurring in significant numbers.
recently in Woodside Queens three unidentified white men called
a group of Sunnyside Sikhs "Bin Laden family" and told
them to "go home" before beating them up. It was also
reported that one of the victims, a 41 year old father would have
been beaten to death were it not for the intervention of a passerby.
to Banerjee this "may not be an anomoly". He noted a
recent incident in which a Muslim man was stabbed in a bias attack
in Brooklyn but never reported the attack because he was an undocumented
Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, and Immigrant's groups have increased
their effort and determination to challenge provisions of Patriot
Act I enacted by Congress as a result of 9/11; a law which not
only deprives immigrants of their fundamental human and constitutional
rights, but also engenders a climate of fear, making immigrants
victims of crimes as well as victims of the law.
legal challenges are working their way up in the court system
these advocacy groups are finding great success on local political
levels. Many cities throughout the US have banned some or all
provisions of the Patriot Act. Groups such as NICE are using these
types of innovative grass root strategies to reach out to the
least represented segments of the American society.
too long, new immigrant communities have been neglected or excluded
from the democratic process," said NICE Executive Director
Bryan Plugholes."The overwhelming turnout at the meeting
sent a clear message that immigrants are ready, willing, and able
to demand that their interests be fully represented in City Hall
and beyond even during the most difficult times."
adds: Seventeen people from the Hispanic, Chinese, Muslim and
South Asian communities voiced their concerns. These ranged from
increasing crime in Queens to hate crimes against Muslims to instances
of racial attacks on Sikhs in cases of mistaken identity.
Mirza, now an activist of Desis Rising Up and Moving
(DRUM), said she was beaten up by four boys in her school and
continuously humiliated by them. "Neither the school authorities
nor the police took any action."
Salvando Mainato, a limousine driver, said he had been continuously
humiliated and abused in his workplace because of his skin.
Kaur of United Sikhs said the first hate crime incident after
9/11 was on a Sikh. "Since then, on the assumption that Sikhs
are linked to Osama bin Laden because they wear turbans, many
members of the community have been killed shot, assaulted and
beaten up. In almost all cases, the perpetrators got away."
meeting was organized by a coalition of immigrant and civil rights
groups led by New Immigrant Community Development (NICE) and had
a panel of experts from groups like the New York Civil Liberties
Union, South Asian American Leaders of Tomorrow, Islamic Circle
of North America and the Latin American Integration Center Some
city council members were also present.
Executive Director Bryan Pu-Folkes said: "New York City is
close to 40 percent foreign born, many council districts are two-thirds
foreign born, and yet immigrant needs are largely overlooked and
Saja Karon wanted to know what elected members were doing to check
crime. City council member Peter Vallone said "Operation
Impact", an action plan put in place by the New York Police
Department, brings in more officers in high crime areas because
of which crime in that area dropped by about 50 percent.
Rehman from Bangladesh said she and her family have been targeted
since 9/11 because they were Muslims. "By husband was mugged
about five times, and we have every reason to believe that the
incidents happened because of our skin."
Karim Tobakku, a Hispanic woman married to an Arab, said her husband
was among the undocumented people detained after 9/11.
was finally deported though he had no links to terrorism or any
other criminal activity. Now, the authorities say that I have
to wait for at least five years before he can return. I don't
know what to do," she said.
Khan, a native of Bangladesh, said it was time to get rid of President
George W. Bush. Tamina Begum, also a native of Bangladesh, said
she had come to the country with a lot of dreams and hope. "However,
after 9/11, our lives have become hell. I could not move out of
my home for two months."
Singh, who was working in the basement of the twin towers when
the terrorists struck on 9/11, said he was trampled upon by people
who were fleeing the buildings, and was injured on his right shoulder
authorities examined me and diagnosed my problem as arthritis,
and paid me a nominal amount each week which touched a maximum
of $187. Now I am being paid $95 a week. If it had been someone
else but me, a brown skin, they would have got adequate compensation.
I want my benefits, I want justice," he said.
on the testimonials, NICE said it would work with other groups
to produce a working legislative advocacy and action plan.