Just before going to work on a sunny Friday morning in March, Khan Pham, a 24-year-old native of Vietnam looked outside her living room window onto the street below.
“I love my neighborhood,” said Pham about her Hamilton Heights home at 141st street, a classic New York City pre-war building nestled in this bustling neighborhood. “Diversity is what makes this part of the city so vibrant. The rent is affordable and the food is amazing. It’s still a predominately Hispanic and African American neighborhood. I can’t imagine the negative impact a vast reduction in visas would have on this area of the city.”
In the aftermath of the various executive orders restricting immigration and statements from President Donald Trump denigrating visa programs such as the H-1B visa used by foreign workers, young international students like Pham, are rethinking their place in American.
Pham first moved to the city seven years ago to study and received a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and master’s in Public Policy from Baruch College. She currently works for the NGO, Amani Global Works, as a program and development intern. When Pham first moved to the U.S her plan was to find a way to work in the country, but now she is not that sure.
“Being international, I suddenly feel somehow less welcomed here,” said Khan. “I am honestly not sure I want to stay here and my partner and I are thinking about moving to another country together if things worsen under Trump’s presidency.”
Other young adults from abroad echoed Pham’s sentiments. Betty Lo, a 22-year-old recent college graduate from Taiwan is currently applying for the H-1B visa, an employment based visa for temporary workers. She is unsure of how Trump presidency will affect her status.
“Trump and his cabinet are in the process of reforming work visas,” said Lo. “It has me worried because I am in the process of applying for a work visa. So I’m pretty certain things will get even more complicated than it already is.”
There are 85,000 visas given each year and currently 900,000 visa holders in the United States. Where Trump stands on the H-1B is difficult to determine. Back in October 2015, Trump said he was in favor of people coming into this country legally, but in March 2016, his campaign released a statement saying that the H-1B program was “neither high-skilled nor immigration: these are temporary foreign workers…for the explicit purpose of substituting for American workers at lower pay. I remain totally committed to eliminating rampant, widespread H-1B abuse I will end forever the use of the H-1B as a cheap labor program, and institute an absolute requirement to hire American workers for every visa and immigration program. No exceptions.”
The H-1B is one of the most common visa programs for foreign workers in the United States.
Nadeem Omar Shad a 23-year-old student at Columbia University, originally from the U.K. is discouraged.
“Once I get my degree, I will go back to the UK,” Shad said. “Trump has had a chilling effect on students’ from the UK in the sense that people feel discouraged to stay here and pursue an OPT, because they think employers will be less likely to hire them. But a lot of students say that after studying here for five, six years, they fee lbetter here than in their country of origin so it’s not a great situation to be in for a lot of us.”
According to the nonprofit Institute of International Education, about 1,043,839, international students were enrolled in U.S. universities in the 2015-2016 school year. The same year, 147,498 were doing Optional Practical Training (OPT), a visa that permits international student to stay and work in the country momentarily.
International students account for about 5 percent of all U.S. college students, and, as a group, contributed nearly $32.8 billion to the U.S. economy in 2015-2016, according to NAFSA.
“International students pay tuition, room and board to the university and sometimes rent local apartments/houses in the community,” said Jason Wynn the Assistant Director of International Student and Scholar Services at Georgia College and State University who has throughout the years helped and facilitated international students’ immigration and cultural acclimation needs. “This revenue is money that the local economy otherwise wouldn’t have.”
What worries students like Pham is the uncertainty behind Trump’s language.
“Trump specifically stated that changes are coming for H-1B visa,” said Pham. “Knowing his sentiments about foreigners, I don’t think he will make it easier for us to stay and work in the country. Most people don’t realize that international students not only stay because they have job opportunities here but also they create a new life in the country. They form relationships, grow to love certain places, learn the culture.”
Staff and children hold hands during a sports program class. Photo by Michael Furino.
Every Saturday for the past four months, Michael Sforza, 11, spends his morning at Be the Best Sport, track and field lessons in Port Washington, Long Island. Running, leaping and landing on two feet doesn’t seem difficult for most, but for Sforza, spending 45 minutes at the Port Washington Tennis Academy, running back and forth to constantly perfect his form is an accomplishment his father couldn’t be more proud of.
Sforza enjoys sports, video games, the internet and exercising, but what differentiates him from most children his age is that he has autism. Sforza was diagnosed when he was 20 months old. His father, Nick Sforza said that although his son likes to be at home on the computer, this program, allows Sforza to get out of the house and spend time doing what he loves to do, run.
About six years ago, Nick Sforza heard about the sports organization for special needs children in Nassau County, which offers an array of programs ranging from soccer, basketball, track and field and others.
Edgar Sanchez, the Sports Program Director, said that although the organization is sports oriented, children also learn how to improve their listening skills and social functioning.
“One of the kids that we had in the previous class, he would walk around flailing his arms, falling on the ground, said Sanchez. “Any bit of sensory stimulation that was too much for him, he couldn’t handle it, and now, he comes in and he knows what’s expected out of him. He’s able to control his emotions so much more.”
Since 2009 Be the Best Sport has been providing Nassau County with sport programs for special needs adults and children. The organization aims to strengthen their motor, cognitive, and social skills.
The CDC reported that in 2016 nearly one in 68 children in the U.S. have autism.
Ameera Ullah, 14, who has microcephaly, a condition where the brain develops abnormally.also participates in the program. Her father, Sayeed Ullah, said that there are three components that all humans need to benefit your life.
“Sports to give strength, music for amusement and education for tools of success,” he said. “These three elements are very important in human life.”
When Ameera was one and a half years old, her father noticed something was wrong when she was only crawling. A neurologist determined that Ameera had microcephaly, now, at 14, Ameera’s brain functions like a 3 year old.
Whether or not the town or county provides sports programs for special needs children, Sayeed Ullah believes that doesn’t give an excuse for parents to overlook their children’s needs.
“Some towns don’t have it,” he said. “It doesn’t mean the parents should sit on the couch. Physical fitness is very important for making your mind feel fresh and healthy. If the community doesn’t provide it, you as a parent need to move forward, look forward.”
Nick Sforza said he is grateful that his son has sports in his life.
“I think the hardest thing for a parent with a child on the spectrum is there aren’t enough things to do for them,” said Nick Sforza as he smiled while watching his son run his last lap around the track. “To have the ability to do this with him, it means more than anything.”
Washington Heights Corner Project peer educator Mike Bailey, 53, stands next to a kiosk for dropping off used syringes on Feb. 19, 2017. Bailey, who was formerly homeless and addicted to cocaine, has spent the past two years walking to ares of high drug use in Washington Heights to provide clean injection equipment to addicts. Photo by Razi Syed.
Standing underneath a parkway off-ramp in Washington Heights, Mike Bailey pointed to a syringe, half-full of blood and lying on a concrete barrier.
“Look at that,” said Bailey, a peer educator with the Washington Heights Corner Project. “The blood hasn’t even turned brown yet; someone just used this today. God knows what’s in there – hepatitis, HIV.”
Underneath the off-ramp near Amsterdam Avenue and 181st Street, Bailey motioned to the ground next to the barrier, which is littered with old syringes, old water packets and occasional junk food wrapper. An empty bottle of Duggan’s London Dry Gin and the bright orange needle caps stand out among the debris.
“We have hazardous-waste come and clean up here a couple times a week but it gets dirty again in no time,” said Bailey, 53, of the Upper West Side.
On Feb. 19, Bailey was making his regular weekend rounds through the George Washington Bridge Park, Highbridge Park and numerous street corners from 181st to 177th street, passing out clean syringes, alcohol pads, packets of sterile water, tourniquets and cookers, which addicts use in place of spoons to heat up water and dissolve heroin or cocaine for injection.
Bailey, a former cocaine user who once spent years living on the streets of Washington Heights, now walks his old haunts attempting to make sure addicts are able to use their drugs with clean equipment.
As heroin and prescription opioid use soared nationwide, deaths from drug overdoses in New York City have skyrocketed. The city’s most recent report, from August 2016, noted a 66 percent increase in drug overdose deaths from 2010 to 2015. Deaths related to heroin spiked 158 percent during that same period.
In Washington Heights, the Corner Project has seen a marked increase of injection drug users, with around 45 new people who sign up for the organization’s free syringe program each month, said Mark Townsend, a harm reduction activist and Corner Project staff member.
Bailey said his past experiences with drugs help him reach more addicts, pointing to the fact that he doesn’t wait in an office building for addicts to come to the Corner Project. Knowing that addicts aren’t always inclined to come into an unfamiliar space, Bailey said, “I go out and reach them where they are at.”
The Corner Project began informally in 2005 when several social workers and activists began walking around with backpacks to hand out clean needles to the addicts. The organization has grown to occupy a 9,000 square foot office at 181st Street and St. Nicholas Avenue, and has over 2,400 registered participants in its program. Around 70 percent of participants are using heroin and 40 percent are using cocaine, Townsend said.
In addition to the syringe program, the exchange provides hepatitis-C treatment, counsels participants on safer injecting, holds regular health clinics with volunteer physicians and gives training on Narcan, a drug which can reverse the effects of an overdose.
Bailey has seen first-hand what a syringe program can do to improve the lives of drug users, having started his involvement in the Corner Project in 2006 as a homeless IV cocaine user.
“This is where my beginning started before Washington Heights Corner Project,” he said on a recent Sunday night outreach shift, waving his hand in the direction of the George Washington Bridge Park and the surrounding streets. “I came up middle class in Jersey. But I started using; I came over to the city to cop because it was cheaper.”
Bailey first used crack cocaine when he was 22, after a friend introduced him to it.
“It was a three-minute high and then you do another (hit),” Bailey said. “I guess he figured, ‘If I get Mike on it, he can help support my habit.’ That’s the way it goes.”
For the next decade of his life, Bailey used crack cocaine, eventually switching to injecting powder cocaine. He spent his weekends driving over the George Washington Bridge into New York City to get cheaper drugs. By the time he was 35, in 1999, Bailey said he was in Washington Heights daily, on the streets or in jail.
Around two years ago, Bailey got off the street and into a housing program on the Upper West Side and became a peer educator for the exchange. He credits the program with helping him get the resources needed to leave homelessness behind.
In the years before the project, Bailey said addicts took extreme risks out of desperation. “We were all using the same stems (crack pipes), the same needles, the same cookers,” he said. “Without harm reduction, you’ll have widespread hep-C cases.”
Inside the Corner Project office, one Washington Heights heroin user, who declined to give his name, said he shared needles prior to becoming a participant. He counted himself lucky not to have contracted any diseases.
The exchange also helps operate a kiosk, near 177th Street and Haven Avenue, where needles can be safely disposed. Opened in May 2016, the kiosk is operated in collaboration with the city’s parks department.
The kiosk hasn’t gotten the amount of use the Corner Project hoped. Bailey said only several dozen syringes get collected in the kiosk each month, and that the location wasn’t ideal for drug users who use in more secluded parts of the park. Preliminary plans exist to expand these boxes into other parts of city.
Programs like the Corner Project operate on the philosophy that attempting to reduce harm is the best way to deal with addiction. The need for harm reduction programs has grown over the past decade, as opioid addiction has skyrocketed and deaths in New York City due to drug overdoses rose from 541 in 2010 to 937 in 2015.
Though critics contend needle exchanges enable drug users, the medical establishment has largely come out in support of the harm reduction model. A 2004 study by the World Health Organization, which studied needle exchange programs in the United States and Europe concluded that there is compelling evidence that the programs reduce the rates of hepatitis-C and HIV in drug-using populations, the programs are cost-effective and that the programs result in no major unintended negative consequences. The American Medical Association has also backed needle exchange programs as means of limiting disease spread.
However, needle exchanges retain a stigma in the eyes of many people and 16 states still lack syringe programs.
In early 2015, a rural Indiana county saw a spike in HIV, due to addicts sharing needles to inject prescription painkillers. Around 20 new cases of the virus were being reported each week at the height of the crisis. Local and state health officials encouraged the immediate opening of syringe exchange services.
Vice President Mike Pence, then-governor of Indiana, initially said he was morally opposed to needle exchanges on the grounds they supported drug abuse. Two months after the outbreak was detected, Pence shifted his position. Needles were distributed and dramatically slowed the rate of new HIV cases.
Commenting on the positions of politicians like Pence, Townsend said it’s “outrageous” that people oppose syringe programs in the 21st century.
“All we’re doing is making it so drug addiction isn’t a death sentence,” Townsend said.
Lately, the Corner Project has seen a trouble trend of younger drug users, said Samantha Olivares, an outreach worker.
“Lots of people come from Jersey that are 30 and under,” she said, noting that she has seen IV drug users as young as 14. The project has also stepped up online outreach in an attempt to reach younger people.
Harm reduction, at its heart, is about treating people with dignity, Olivares said.
“If I can help one person, or make one person smile each day, I feel like I’ve done something,” Olivares said. “I get high off of helping people and making them realize, ‘Even though you are a drug user, you’re somebody too. Your life’s worth living, you’re worth loving, you’re worth being here.’”
Parents, students and teachers gathered outside Sen. Chuck Schumer’s office, and voiced their concerns about Betsy DeVos’ pending appointment to Secretary of Education. Public Education Watchdogs organized the demonstration and pressed Sen. Schumer to block DeVos’ confirmation during this week’s Senate vote.
Since the demonstration, a Senate panel met on Tuesday afternoon and voted 12-11 in favor of DeVos. This will advance her confirmation to a full Senate vote for final approval. Democrats remain hopeful they can acquire the three Republican votes needed to block her appointment. Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) have both expressed their own reservations with DeVos’ appointment, but neither have confirmed the direction of their vote.
Concerned New Yorkers gathered at JFK International Airport’s Terminal 4 to protest President Trump’s executive order that barred entry into the United States refugees from seven majority Muslim countries. Photo by Cora Cervantes
“Let them In! Let them In!” roared thousands of New Yorkers outside of Terminal 4 at John F. Kennedy International airport.
Rez Iriqui, 36, from Long Island, watched nearby and listened intently as he held his young son over his shoulders.
“I am an immigrant,” he said. “I am not a protester. I work on Wall Street, but I am here because I am worried about the future of my children. Within the last five days we have seen things that I thought would never have happened in America.”
Iriqui and his family joined thousands of New Yorkers yesterday who gathered outside of Terminal 4 to express outrage over President Trump’s executive order banning travel into the United States from seven Muslim-majority countries.
Early Saturday morning word spread that due to the new executive order issued by the Trump administration on Friday evening, travelers had been detained inside airports across the country and were not permitted entry into the country. Through posts and calls to action on social media a mass protest began to form at Terminal 4. Among the protesters were many immigrants who said they knew what was at stake for the refugees seeking shelter in America.
“I come from an immigrant background and an immigrant family,” said Farhan Hossain, 25, who came from Manhattan’s Flatiron district to join the demonstration. “I am here to stand in solidarity with refugees that are being detained. I am against a Trump regime that implements fascist measures that detain people indefinitely.”
The order barred entry into the United States to Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen, and Somalia, seven majority Muslim countries that have been categorized as “countries of particular concern.” The order also suspended the United States refugee program for the next four months, outlines increased screenings and will prioritize Christian refugees. The seven countries listed are not responsible for any terrorist attacks in America. Opponents argue that the list can be construed as arbitrary and a conflict of interest since the list does not include Muslim-majority countries where the Trump Organization does business, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.
By late afternoon protesters at JFK held signs that read “Let Them In,” and chanted “Resist, Fight Back, This is Our New York!” People remained outside the terminal late into the evening in spite of the cold temperatures. As the crowds grew the mood was tense but also filled with solidarity. Some protesters arrived with coffee, donuts, and hand warmers to show support for all those that had been protesting under cold weather conditions since noon.
“I am tremendously upset by what President Trump has done,” said Jessica Valentino, 28, who came out from Greenpoint, Brooklyn. “I am an adoptee, I came into the country when I was 3 months old…to think of all the families and other people trying to come here that no longer have that opportunity is absolutely heartbreaking.”
At 6:30 p.m. protesters kneeled and listened to updates concerning the state of those being detained. Across the street near the entrance to Terminal 4, which had been closed and was guarded by police in riot gear, Azi Amari, 37, from Brooklyn, held a sign up toward them.
“I am Iranian, I was going to travel in two weeks to visit my family in Iran.They all live there. Even though I am a green card holder. I cannot come back if I go,” she said “My family is so shocked. We are trying to figure what will happen next. Based on this new ban they are not allowed to come visit me. I think this is unfair. It is totally discrimination.”
At about 7:30 p.m. protesters received word that Judge Ann M. Donnelly had issued an emergency stay that halted deportations of those being detained. This ruling was based on a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of two individuals who had been detained at John F. Kennedy International Airport. The ruling addressed those being barred entry at airports in the United States, but does not address those who are trapped abroad.
As protesters marched around Terminal 4, some were heading to the courthouse to join others who wanted to be briefed following the ruling, including Mazeba Uddin, 50, Jamaica Hills, Queens and an immigrant from Bangladesh.
“We are strong together,” she said. “Our country, Our community is strong – Trump is not strong. Our millions of votes count, he needs to understand that.”
Protests at airports throughout the country are set to continue until those being detained are released.