A DACA rally in San Francisco. Photo by Pax Ahimsa Gethen, used under Creative Commons.
A panel of Latino leaders met yesterday at New York University’s Law School to discuss their governance in the age of Trump after the president announced the rescinding of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) bill on Sept. 5.
Withdrawal from this policy would put almost 800,000 undocumented young adults at risk of deportation, one of them being Peter Hernandez, who feels like the Latino community hasn’t done enough for him and the hundreds of thousands of DREAMers alike.
“I wish they could convince and advocate more for us and talk more to the Republican senators – tell and share our stories with them so they can know what kind of people we are,” Hernandez said. “We are not bad people and we’re just here so we can make a life for ourselves and we’re doing everything right.”
The bill, which was enacted in 2012 by an executive order during President Obama’s last term, is an immigration policy that allows minors like Hernandez, who initially entered the U.S. illegally, an opportunity to receive legal delayed action from deportation as well as eligibility for a work permit for a period of two years, with option for renewal.
The Oaxaca native moved to Texas with his mother, father and sister at the age of seven. His father began working as a landscaper and his mother sold items at the local flea market. Hernandez applied for the DACA program after he graduated from college, the year it went into law.
“The things I think students are most concerned about (in Latino representation) is that some of the folks who are in charge are the same ones that were in charge when I was college and at some point the different civil rights communities need to make space for other (racial communities),” said Myrna Perez, a member of the panel, hosted by the Brennan Center for Justice and an adjunct faculty at both Columbia and NYU law schools. “People are upset that there is not room for them to grow, not that there isn’t space.”
Perez, along with her colleagues, believe that the journey to representation in the Latino community is going to be an incremental one but that even the small victories should be feted.
One of the people actively leading the charge for undocumented students like Hernandez is 21-year-old Jessica Calderon. The NYU student has been at the forefront of the fight for immigration advocacy, and now DACA.
As a first generation Peruvian-American, Calderon felt the need to fill a void in her community. The politics and Latin American studies major has worked for a slew of nonprofits here in New York City and at NYU Washington D.C. as a part of her study abroad program.
“Working with these DACA applicants last summer sort of changed my life, and after that, I knew I wanted to go into a profession where I can serve the immigrant community,” Calderon said after her months spent filling applications for roughly 20 DACA recipients.
For Calderon, it’s not the number of Latino leaders in power that is the issue in their community, but the ideology and policies that they set forth.
“A lot of times, the people that are representing us, the Latino ‘elites,’ are not representative of our entire community, the most vulnerable of our community,” Calderon said. “For example, a Marco Rubio is not representing a low-income, undocumented worker’s needs. It’s crazy that we believe we won the battle once we get (Latino members) into congress, but really we need to get (our community) to vote on the ideas towards progressive change.”
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.”
Bahaa Ellaithy (Left) and his friend Ashraf Gad after their prayers in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Photo by ANG LI.
In the southwest corner of Brooklyn lies one of the most diverse city neighborhoods, Bay Ridge. A traditionally Irish and Italian neighborhood, it has witnessed an inflow of large numbers of new residents from Mexico, the Middle East and Asia. Yesterday neighbors were outraged over Trump’s latest executive order temporarily banning travelers from seven mostly Muslims countries and permanently barring refugees from Syria.
Muslims from Bay Ridge participated in recent protests against the ban and are still in shock that Donald Trump was elected president.
“This guy…I don’t know how he won,” said Bahaa Ellaithy, 46, an Egyptian Muslim who teaches math in an Islam private high school. “Until this moment, I couldn’t believe that he became the president of a country like America.”
He strongly objected to the ban saying that it’s unconstitutional and against the values that the country was based on. Ellaithy joined the protest at Battery Park Sunday and had protested in front of Trump Tower ten times.
The nationwide protests give Ellaithy comfort and hope.
“I met a lot of wonderful people in the protests who really believe in freedom, believe in dignity, and believe in that people could live together from all races, religions and ethnicities,” Ellaithy said. “It makes me feel that I’m welcomed and accepted in this country.”
Ashraf Gad, 45, also an Egyptian Muslim, thought that the unprecedented ban was dangerous for all Muslims. He did not understand why those seven countries (Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen) were targeted. He assumed that the selection was due to Trump’s personal views or business interest.
Gad, a pediatrician, wasn’t able to join the rallies because of his busy schedule at the hospital. But he would make some time for upcoming protests regarding this issue.
Paul Khoury, 62, a Lebanese salesman, came to the US at the age of 17 and has been living in the neighborhood for about 30 years. Back from a 10-day vacation in Spain last night, he was surprised to see the large number of people protesting at the airport. Khoury was worried about the direction where the nation was going and his children’s opportunities as policies became less friendly towards immigrants.
“My life is almost at the edge of it,” Khoury said. “I fear for my kids, not for me. They need a peaceful world than this world to live in.”
Bay Ridge residents from other ethnicities also expressed their anger towards the “Muslim Ban.”
Sally McMahon, 63, an Irish American, said for a country of immigrants looking for a better life, she found the whole ban ridiculous. She felt proud to be active in the protests including the Women’s March on NYC.
“I think that the nation is going a terrible way,” McMahon said. “I think the nation will go in a way of fascism and authoritarianism. And I’m very afraid for myself, for the people, for the country and for the world.”
Diana Balcazar, a 43-year-old Mexican mother of three children is concerned about Trump’s next move. She was afraid that she might be forced to go back to Mexico.
“Honestly, this is my country,” Balcazar said. “I’ve almost been here for 30 years. My whole life is here now.”
A crowd gathers for the “Rally Against Hate” at Tompkins Square Park yesterday. Photo by Rebeca Corleto.
On the 10th day of President Donald Trump’s administration, a protest in New York City was nothing new. But in light of several executive orders signed by the president in under two weeks, a renewed sense of urgency ignited the protest at Tompkins Square Park in the East Village yesterday.
The scene was covered with homemade signs supporting immigrants, refugees, women, and equality.
“No hate, no fear, everyone is welcome here,” chanted the crowd.
President Trump’s opposition has a lot to protest about. No less than 15 executive orders have been signed so far. Cristina Montanez of the Lower East Side, couldn’t decide which was the most upsetting to her.
“It’s really hard to single one out,” said Montanez. “It’s just all so disappointing, what’s happening right now. Everything is just terrible. The immigration ban, abortion, the wall.”
Montanez came to the rally with her husband and two young children. The family is originally from Queens and now lives on the Lower East Side. After hearing about the “Rally Against Hate” from her daughter’s school, the family decided to show support.
“We are going to support full throttle and we are going to stand behind the organizers because we have no other choice right now,” she said.
Like millions of Americans, Montanez is the daughter of immigrants. Her parents came to the U.S. from Colombia in the 1960s. When President Kennedy was assassinated, her mother cried. On the night of the election, Montanez herself cried.
“It touches home,” she said. “My parents are immigrants. And I’m a woman. I can’t believe that this is happening. I’m feeling confused, anger, shock. I’m scared for my kids. There’s going to be a revolution or something. This is the land of immigrants.”
Seth Tobocman took his personal protest a step further. Tobocman is a New Yorker since 1976, and a resident of the Lower East Side. Find a protest in NYC in the past two weeks and you’d likely see Tobocman there—handing out his paper, “How Do We Fight Back? “The paper features contact information of many organizations leading the Trump resistance movement, illustrated with political cartoons. The paper answered the question asked by many protestors: What can I do next?
“We got together a list of organizations—people want to figure out how to get involved,” said Tobocman. “Beyond going out to something once. People look into things long-term and they get involved in organizations. This paper is just one to help people organize.”
Melody Estevez, 22, joined her fellow members of the Lower East Side Girls Club at the rally. The group also attended the Women’s March on NYC on January 21st.
“The ban is the most concerning issue to me,” said Estevez. “He’s marginalizing the wrong people, and not really getting to the root of the issue. And he’s avoiding the real issues here—like gun rights.”
As immigrants or children of immigrants, many of the girls that Estevez works with at the Lower East Side Girls Club were worried about their futures after hearing the recent executive orders.
“[The girls] are freaking out and they come to the club and we just tell them that we are fighting for you,” she said. “We are trying to spread the word about knowing your rights. Know what you can do if someone comes to your door.”
Estevez hoped that with enough physical support at rallies like this one, the message would reach the administration.
“We’re coming out in great numbers, and it’s not violent. We are peaceful. We are pro-people. And we are here to show him [Trump] that if he keeps doing these types of things, we’re just going to keep coming out. That’s the fight ahead.”
New York City’s yellow cabs are a classic signature of this city, weaved seamlessly into our image of it. Much of their workforce, born throughout the world, transport New Yorkers all sorts of places in exchange for a shot at the American dream they immigrated here for. They, along with the rest of NYC’s trades workers, are the unsung backbone of the five boroughs – a fact that is quintessentially American.
But today, NYC’s yellow cabs symbolize a contradiction. As a group that now consists predominantly of Muslim immigrants, many have received Donald Trump’s seven majority-Muslim nation immigration ban – issued Friday – as a message they do not belong, are a threat, and that life as they know it here will get worse. In defiance of this message, many cab drivers showed solidarity to those detained at airports and the protestors of this detainment by striking for an hour at John F. Kennedy International Airport in NYC on Saturday.
Listen to an an NYC yellow cab driver who is a Muslim immigrant grapple with his developing view of what life in America is becoming for him and his family.
Mireya Delapena came to the United States from Mexico when she was six. Now, she runs a small business in East Harlem, helping Mexicans in both countries transmit money and packages. But after President Trump signed an executive order last Wednesday to build a wall at the US-Mexico border, she is worried that her business will be severely affected.