Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/674 Sat, 23 Jun 2018 21:39:34 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Driver’s Licenses for All Would Better Many Lives, Including Mine http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7646:driver-s-licenses-for-all-would-better-so-many-lives-including-mine http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7646:driver-s-licenses-for-all-would-better-so-many-lives-including-mine make the road drivers licenses

Make the Road New York members rally in Albany for driver’s licenses for all


Every morning, I drive with my wife to work. My commute is the scariest part of my day - and not because of the traffic. It’s because I know that a routine traffic stop could lead to me being separated from my family forever.

I’m an undocumented immigrant, and New York will not currently allow me to get a driver’s license. For New Yorkers like me, it’s way past time for our state to step up and do what other states have done: ensure that all qualified drivers, regardless of immigration status, can have access to a license.

The attacks by the Trump Administration continue to get worse. Trump’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers are using every excuse to detain and deport immigrants alike and tear us from our families, as they did in detaining 225 immigrant New Yorkers one recent week. They’re especially using minor traffic violations.

That’s why I recently joined fellow immigrants and advocates from across New York State to call on the State Legislature -- starting with the Assembly -- to restore access to driver’s licenses to all New Yorkers.

This bill would change my life, and my family’s too. I have lived in the United States for nearly 20 years and I wish I could be eligible to adjust my immigration status, but at the moment due to our current broken immigration system, that is not possible. There is no clear path for me to be able to adjust my immigration status, but other measures can be helpful to me and others like me.

I live in Long Island with my wife and two children. Every day, I leave my house to drive to work, with uncertainty and fear. Where I live, there is a lack of public transportation. It can take hours to get anywhere by bus or train, and taking a taxi is too expensive. I have to drive because I cannot afford to be late to my job and I need to be able to go to the store, take my children to their doctor appointments, and pick them up from school.

I was once stopped at a traffic stop by police. I was given a ticket for driving without a license and needed to go to court. I couldn’t sleep due to the fear I felt of going to court and possibly being separated from my family. I went to court and, with the legal fees of my attorney, I ended up paying almost $700. Thankfully it wasn’t worse than that -- and it now easily could be.

In my home country in Latin America, I had my driver’s license, but right now, due to my immigration status, I am not able to get a driver’s license in New York State.

Expanding access to driver’s licenses to all New Yorkers makes sense. If it passes, immigrants will be able to register, and insure their vehicles in New York, creating an economic boost. A 2017 analysis by the Fiscal Policy Institute determined that New York would receive an estimated $57 million in combined annual revenue​.

Allowing driver’s licenses for all will improve public safety by making sure that all drivers on the road are licensed. States like California have already been experiencing the positive effects of granting undocumented immigrants access to driver’s licenses since 2015. A Stanford report released last year found there had been a significant decrease in hit-and-run accidents.

At a time when the Trump Administration’s attacks on our communities continue, passing this legislation would demonstrate that New York stands up for everyone, regardless of their immigration status. New York has delayed too long; we need to do more to stand against the White House anti-immigrant rhetoric now.

Obtaining a driver’s license will change my life, my family’s life, and that of thousands of New Yorkers. It would mean being able to pick up my children from school or take them to the doctor without fear. And it would help me to potentially get a promotion at my current job, or be able to look for better one.

There are 12 states, including Connecticut and Maryland, that currently allow undocumented immigrants access to driver’s licenses. The new governor of our neighboring state, New Jersey, has committed to follow those states and expand access to driver’s licenses. But we haven't heard a commitment from Governor Cuomo yet. New York should be next.

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Jorge Cotraro is a Long Island resident and a member of Make the Road New York, the largest grassroots community organization in New York offering services and organizing the immigrant community. On Twitter: @MakeTheRoadNY.

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Driver’s Licenses for All Would Better Many Lives, Including Mine Sun, 29 Apr 2018 04:00:00 +0000
New York Justice Delayed Is New York Justice Denied http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7588:new-york-justice-delayed-is-new-york-justice-denied http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7588:new-york-justice-delayed-is-new-york-justice-denied govandrewcuomo cjustice

Gov. Cuomo at church (Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)


It has been nearly three years since Kalief Browder tragically ended his own life after being caged, abused, and tortured on Rikers Island. Elected officials promised us that his story would be a turning point and that New York would fundamentally transform a criminal justice system designed to criminalize low-income black and brown New Yorkers and then place a bounty, through the money bail system, on our freedom. With another new state budget now passed in Albany, it is clear state leaders are not going to make good on those promises and New York will continue to keep people locked in cages because they are too poor to pay bail.

I cannot imagine what Kalief must have felt while trapped in a cage, spending much of his time in solitary confinement, facing abuse from the guards and other incarcerated youth -- only there because he could not afford bail. As a young black person, growing up in Brooklyn, I can relate to how Kalief must have felt that night; his future was permanently disrupted. I have been out in my neighborhood, just enjoying myself, or hanging out with friends, only to have the NYPD initiate an interaction that reminds black youth we cannot afford to be care-free when the criminal justice system surveils, restricts, and criminalizes our very existence.

That is why I organize with youth across Brooklyn and New York City to end racist and biased policies and practices throughout the criminal justice system. It is why last week, I traveled three hours to Albany to join civil rights organizations, public defenders, community organizations, and NFL player DeMario Davis (formerly of the New York Jets), to demand New York legislators pass bail reform that will completely eliminate wealth-based detention, significantly reduce the number of New Yorkers caged before their trial, reduce racial disparities, end profiteering in pre-trial services, and does not increase the likelihood that people will be detected, detained or deported by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

In Governor Cuomo’s State of the State speech he made promises to reshape New York’s bail and pre-trial detention that will “will transform our criminal justice system by removing critical barriers, reaffirming our beliefs in fairness, opportunity and dignity, and continue our historic progress toward a more equal society for all." He did not follow through by passing reforms that would have made positive change.

And, unfortunately, when I studied his proposals, it became clear some parts could actually bring reform in the wrong direction. If passed, the governor’s proposal would increase the number of New Yorkers who are detained before trial without the possibility of release, give prosecutors the power to hold New Yorkers before trial, expand the use of electronic monitoring and house arrests, and pass the costs of pre-trial services on to people awaiting their trial. It isn’t progress if we extend mass incarceration into our homes and communities through ankle bracelets and house arrests and then charge poor people for the cost of their release before trial.

A recent report from the New York Civil Liberties Union found that black New Yorkers are twice as likely as white New Yorkers to spend at least one night in custody on bail, and more than 90,000 New Yorkers spent a day or longer in custody on bail between 2010 and 2014. Kalief Browder was arrested in 2010. Eight years after his arrest and three years after his death, the turning point we were all promised seems farther and farther away.

With Governor Cuomo now celebrating the new budget and the state Legislature on vacation; and as we hit the 50th anniversary of the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we should all remind our elected officials that justice delayed is justice denied.

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Nicshel Samedi is Youth Leader, Make The Road New York. On Twitter @MaketheRoadNY.

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New York Justice Delayed Is New York Justice Denied Tue, 03 Apr 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Progressive Groups Endorse Democrat in Key Westchester Senate Race http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7545:progressive-groups-endorse-democrat-in-key-westchester-senate-race http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7545:progressive-groups-endorse-democrat-in-key-westchester-senate-race mayer naral pro choice

Shelley Mayor, center (photo: @Shelley4Senate)


A coalition of progressive community organizations representing thousands of members across New York State will support Shelley Mayer, the Democratic Assemblymember who is running for an open state Senate seat in Westchester that could decide which party leads the legislative chamber.

Mayer is running against Republican Julie Killian for the 37th Senate District seat, in a special election scheduled for April 24. The seat has been vacant since January after its previous occupant, George Latimer, was elected Westchester county executive.

A Mayer victory in the district would likely give Democrats the numerical majority in the state Senate, paving the way for a unity deal between mainline Senate Democrats and the Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway group of eight senators who prop up Republican control of the chamber along with renegade Democrat Simcha Felder. A deal is on the table that parties other than Felder have agreed to pending the results of two special Senate elections, the highly competitive Mayer-Killian race and one in the Bronx, where Assemblymember Luis Sepulveda is all but guaranteed to win.

The state Democratic Party has begun to put its weight behind Mayer’s candidacy, and Governor Andrew Cuomo has also endorsed her. Earlier this week in Larchmont, Cuomo rallied with fellow Democratic elected officials in support of Mayer. “This is a crucial race and Shelley’s victory will help bring the Democratic Majority in the Senate we need to continue our proud legacy of fighting and advancing progressive change for New Yorkers,” Cuomo said in a statement on Sunday. (The Westchester County Independence Party has also backed Mayer.)

Now adding its voice to the growing support for Mayer is the “Progressive Power Coalition” of five community advocacy groups -- Make the Road Action, NY Communities for Change, Citizen Action of New York, Community Voices Heard Power, and VOCAL-NY Action Fund -- which will announce its endorsement of Mayer on Friday.

The groups cite, as reasons for their support, Mayer’s impressive record of fighting for working New Yorkers and immigrants, her support of campaign finance reforms that prioritize small donors over wealthy interests, her advocacy for expanding childcare, affordable housing and combating homelessness, and her leadership on protections against wage theft by bad-actor employers. Democratic control of the state Senate, currently Republicans’ only stronghold at the state level, is seen as key to ushering through a wave of progressive policies.

"Shelley Mayer is a powerful leader for New York State,” said Sojourner Salinas, a member-leader of Community Voices Heard Power from White Plains, in a statement. “She stands tall and firm on what we believe in: fighting for communities of color and low-income families of New York State on all the tough issues that we are being attacked on by the Trump administration."    

Members of the coalition intend to bolster Mayer’s campaign by mobilizing their base of activists to knock on doors, call constituents and get out the vote in the lead up to, and on, Election Day. Several of the groups are known for their abilities to have boots on the ground for such activities. Mayer is considered a favorite given the district’s Democratic enrollment advantage and recent election trends, including Latimer’s runaway victory over two-term incumbent Rob Astorino.

Mayer said in a statement that she was “proud” to receive the coalition’s endorsement. “Donald Trump's constant attacks on our values and the failures of his Republican allies in the State Senate have made this special election critical for our future,” she said. “I’m proud of my track record fighting for families and creating better opportunities for Westchester’s hard working families, and I will continue that work in the State Senate.”

Killian, Mayer’s opponent, is a former Rye City Council member and deputy mayor taking her second shot at the 37th Senate District, after failing to unseat then-Senator Latimer in 2016. Her campaign has focused on portraying Mayer as an Albany insider and on decrying the culture of corruption that has flourished in the state Capitol. Earlier this week, after Joseph Percoco, a former top aide to Cuomo, was found guilty on federal corruption charges, Killian’s campaign tweeted, “One would hope that today’s conviction of Gov. Cuomo’s top aide in a bribery scheme would help slow down Albany’s rampant corruption, but history sadly shows us that it will continue unimpeded. Only way to change Albany is to change who we send there.”

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Progressive Groups Endorse Democrat in Key Westchester Senate Race Thu, 15 Mar 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Right to Know Act: Progress and Disappointment http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7380:right-to-know-act-progress-and-disappointment http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7380:right-to-know-act-progress-and-disappointment right to know rally crop


On Tuesday, the New York City Council passed two police reform bills. One marks a vital step toward police reform and accountability. The other takes our city in the wrong direction.

First the good news: a consent to search bill, sponsored by Council Member Antonio Reynoso, passed with support from over 200 community organizations, including the families of New Yorkers killed by police, and organizations led by homeless, LGBTQ, undocumented, and formerly incarcerated New Yorkers, and black and Latino youth. The bill will require the NYPD to create a policy directive that mandates that police officers notify New Yorkers of their right to refuse a search if the officer does not have probable cause to search them.

The NYPD will also have to document proof of consent, and ensure translation if necessary, so all New Yorkers comprehend it is their constitutional right to refuse searches without probable cause. It is a common sense and long overdue reform that will enhance accountability measures and increase protections for New Yorkers during interactions with officers.

The second bill, sponsored by Council Member Ritchie Torres, was opposed by over 200 community organizations, all five public defender offices, 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, the National Latino Officers Association, and the Grand Council of Guardians. This legislation, known as the police identification bill, will in some situations require police officers to provide New Yorkers with a business card identifying the officer and an explanation for the stop.

As with consent to search, community members had pushed for such legislation for years. But inexplicably, because of last-minute changes, the final bill intentionally excludes traffic stops as well as the majority of non-arrest street encounters with police officers. It also includes a broad exception that significantly limits the NYPD’s responsibility to provide New Yorkers with an explanation for why they are being stopped.

Here’s what the holes in the final police identification bill mean in practice. If a young person is coming home from school and an officer asks him, “what are you doing?” or “where are you going?” or has his hand on his gun when he commands, “show me your ID,” that officer will not be required to provide a card identifying him- or her-self after the encounter.

If multiple officers corner a young person in front of her building and begin asking similar questions, they will not be required to provide identification after the interaction. If an officer stops a transgender woman and wants to know “why are you on this block,” or “what are you doing tonight,” this law will not ensure they know who is stopping them and why they are being stopped.

These everyday encounters for many young black, Latino, and transgender New Yorkers, which are just as likely as any other police interaction to lead to misconduct, harassment, or even abuse by officers, have been carved out of the bill without sufficient explanation.

President Obama’s 21st Century Task Force On Policing recommended law enforcement agencies require officers to identify themselves by their full name, rank, and command in writing to individuals they have stopped and provide an explanation for the stop. This past summer, the city of Albany, New York passed a bill requiring just that from their police officers.

New York City is not setting a baseline for future police reform. The baseline has already been set. By passing a bill that creates exceptions for thousands of stops and interactions with police officers, New York is merely confirming the NYPD sets police legislation and setting a weak precedent for other localities.

The Right to Know Act originated from the experiences of New Yorkers most impacted by police misconduct and abuse, including the families of those killed by police officers, and black and Latino youth from Bushwick, Bedford-Stuyvesant, and East New York who have led our organizing efforts. No one—not Council Member Torres, Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Mayor Bill de Blasio, or NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill—has offered these young people any explanation for excluding common stops and interactions they are forced to navigate on a daily basis. If New York City is committed to “neighborhood policing,” someone should explain why those neighborhood cops shouldn’t simply hand over a business card and offer an explanation after stopping a New Yorker.

It has been over three years since the world watched an NYPD officer choke the last breath out of Eric Garner’s body on a Staten Island sidewalk. Now, this City Council has passed the only bills since that fateful day that address transparency, accountability, and protections for New Yorkers during interactions with the NYPD. It’s good news for all city residents that the Council passed a strong consent to search bill. But it’s deeply unfortunate that the Council allowed the NYPD to squeeze through a gutted version of police identification legislation that comes up short of the necessary reform that so many New Yorkers have spent the last five years demanding.

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Kesi Foster is a lead organizer with Make the Road New York, which a member of the Steering Committee of Communities United for Police Reform. On Twitter: @MaketheRoadNY.

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Right to Know Act: Progress and Disappointment Tue, 19 Dec 2017 05:00:00 +0000
Now More Than Ever, the City Must Invest in Adult Literacy http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6951:now-more-than-ever-the-city-must-invest-in-adult-literacy http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6951:now-more-than-ever-the-city-must-invest-in-adult-literacy dromm 2

Council Member Dromm, one of the authors (photo: Make The Road NY)


Three million immigrant New Yorkers currently call our city home, adding to its vibrancy and vitality. Since Donald Trump’s election, immigrant communities have been fearful: hate crimes have gone up, immigrant workers face more exploitation, and families are scared of separation and deportation. For those of us working as community advocates and elected officials, we are now driven more than ever to find the policy solutions that will help our immigrant communities thrive and remain resilient, rather than live in fear.

Mayor de Blasio and City Council leaders have taken policy positions that do just that: committing to non-cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), pioneering an IDNYC program, maintaining strong worker protections, and increasing funding for universal pre-kindergarten (UPK) and the Community Schools initiative. Now, to more effectively protect and support our communities, we also need to deepen our investment in adult education and baseline in into the city budget.

Just a year ago the Mayor and Council invested $12 million for adult literacy, an increase that advocates called historic at the time. City leaders invested because the need is great, and for the thousands who study every year, the English classes offered by adult literacy providers give immigrants a pathway to economic mobility, social integration, parental support of children’s academic success, improved health outcomes, and greater civic engagement.

As immigrant communities live in fear and anxiety over federal immigration policy, it is essential that they are able to read and understand English—even as our city government is defending their rights and providing some protective services. Without English proficiency, many immigrants are left isolated and at risk of being taken advantage of by unscrupulous “notarios” who promise immigration relief for a fee, but never deliver. They are even more fearful than ever of accessing health and social services, challenged when applying for or improving work, and less able to support their children’s learning, or to report or stand up against employer, landlord, or police abuses.

Under the Trump administration, New York City’s largest source of federal adult literacy dollars (WIOA) is at risk of significant cuts. Even if the funding is maintained at a reduced level, current policy will likely make it more difficult to serve undocumented and low-level learners over time. For all of these reasons, this is the moment for the Mayor and Council to build on the momentum from last year’s investment and use their leadership to make New York City a model of adult literacy service provision. It is not too late, despite the fact that the Mayor’s most recent Executive Budget did not renew last year’s $12 million investment in adult literacy. A budget deal must be reached by July 1. The time is now.

Without the $12 million again this year, spots will be lost in literacy classes for over 5,500 adult students throughout the city, and an opportunity to deeply support immigrant New Yorkers will be lost. Last fiscal year's investment was critical to providers and students, and should be transformed into a baselined, multi-year investment in the field of adult education, allowing the city to update reimbursement rates for community based providers offering cost effective and critical services. In order to make our city a true 'sanctuary' city, we need to make it a city of opportunity for immigrants by ensuring that they have access to the literacy classes they need to thrive now.

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Daniel Dromm is a member of the New York City Council. Theo Oshiro is the Deputy Director of Make the Road New York. On Twitter: @Dromm25 & @TheoOshiro.

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Now More Than Ever, the City Must Invest in Adult Literacy Wed, 24 May 2017 04:00:00 +0000
New York Must Take Action Against Corporate Backers of Hate http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6945:new-york-must-take-action-against-corporate-backers-of-hate http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6945:new-york-must-take-action-against-corporate-backers-of-hate moya profits pain

Assemblymember Moya, the author, speaks at a rally (photo: Make The Road New York)


Make the Road New York and the Center for Popular Democracy recently exposed President Trump’s corporate “backers of hate,” companies that stand to profit off an agenda so steeped in hate, prejudice, and greed, you would have to be willfully blind not to see it.

Nothing is more dangerous than business as usual when it is conducted in a moral vacuum, and these companies have been more than happy to go along for the ride: Goldman Sachs, Blackstone, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Blackrock, Boeing, IBM, Uber, and Disney all seem eager to cash in on the Trump agenda.

Whether it's financing or investing in the detention centers necessary for Trump’s immigration crackdown, bidding on contracts with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement or Customs and Border Protection, supporting Trump’s campaign and inauguration, or spearheading an anti-worker agenda, the corporations share one commonality: they enable the most destructive and hateful policies of this White House.

Because Trump is great for business when that business is locking up people of color behind bars for petty crimes, and standing to gain from their imprisonment - as it is for JPMorgan Chase. A Trump White House is great for business when you stand to profit from breaking up unions, rolling back workers’ rights, and squeezing more from the middle-class. As for the overwhelming majority of Americans, those living paycheck to paycheck, struggling to afford their kid’s college education, or bracing for the sharp cuts to their health care, they are on the opposite side of that transaction; their pain is another’s profits.

The Backers of Hate campaign urges these corporations to reverse course, until they are no longer accessory to the crimes against the disappearing middle class, against the Muslims targeted by Trump’s travel ban, and to the immigrants living in constant anxiety that today will be the last day they’ll see their family.

And although these companies may not be swayed by the moral argument, they will listen when it comes to their almighty dollar. The Trump resistance must expand to include resisting his enablers. Consumers will need to apply the pressure where they can until condoning the Trump agenda is no longer a profitable business model.

But they don’t need to fight goliath alone.

As the finance capital of the world, New York not only has an obligation to pressure these companies, it has leverage. Our state pension fund is the third largest in the United States, with assets totaling $178.6 billion. In the weeks to come, I will introduce legislation in the state Assembly to divest that pension fund from companies guilty of the most egregious corporate complicity.

New York needs to lead the effort and draw a line in the sand. If you choose to benefit from the broad net Trump has given immigration enforcement agencies, from the deregulation and right-to-work campaigns that will bleed the middle class, or from the environmental degradation that endangers all of our futures, you’ve chosen to build upon a morally dubious house of cards. If New York is to truly stand in resistance to the Trump agenda, it’s time to put its money where its mouth is and disassociate itself from the backers of hate.

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Francisco P. Moya is a New York State Assemblymember representing the 39th District in Queens and is the prime sponsor of the NYS Liberty Act and the NY DREAM Act. On Twitter @FranciscoPMoya.

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New York Must Take Action Against Corporate Backers of Hate Sun, 21 May 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Community Group Endorses Four Women of Color for ‘Open’ City Council Seats http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6775:community-group-endorses-four-women-of-color-for-open-city-council-seats http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6775:community-group-endorses-four-women-of-color-for-open-city-council-seats rivera velazquez

Carlina Rivera, left, & Marjorie Velazquez, center (photo: @CarlinaRivera)


In an effort to promote women’s representation on the City Council, the political arm of one of New York’s largest grassroots immigrant advocacy organizations has endorsed four women of color running for “open” Council seats this year.

Make the Road Action (MRA), the political affiliate of Make the Road New York, a group that represents about 20,000 Latinos in New York City and Long Island, will announce its endorsement on Friday for four progressive City Council candidates - Carlina Rivera, Alicka Ampry-Samuel, Diana Ayala, and Marjorie Velazquez. Each is seeking to fill a seat that is being vacated due to term limits.

“These four powerful women offer the powerful progressive leadership that our communities and our city need,” said Maria Cortes, an MRA member, in a statement. “They stand with working-class people of color like me on issue after issue including preserving and building truly affordable housing, reforming the NYPD, protecting immigrant families, standing up for workers’ rights, and making sure that all people’s voices are heard in our democracy.”

There are only 13 women currently on the 51-seat City Council, down from 18 in 2009, and four of them face term-limits this year, including Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. Council member Inez Dickens recently stepped down after being elected to the state Assembly, and she is being replaced by State Senator Bill Perkins, who just won a special election.

With male candidates overwhelmingly represented in races across the board, there has been a push to ensure the success of women candidates. Mark-Viverito, Council Members Elizabeth Crowley and Margaret Chin, along with good government groups and women’s organizations, recently launched the “21 in ’21” campaign to encourage women to run for City Council and bring the total number of women members to at least 21 through the 2017 and 2021 city election cycles.

“It is shocking that in the most progressive city in the United States, only one quarter of our City Council members are women,” Mark-Viverito said in a statement announcing the initiative. “All New Yorkers suffer when we don’t have equal representation in government and I intend to do everything I can to bring true equity to the Council at long last.”

MRA has identified this issue and intends to mobilize its members, numbering in the thousands, to back women candidates who have shown support for progressive causes. Friday’s announcement is its first wave of endorsements and more are expected to follow in the coming months, leading up to the September primaries when most City Council races are actually decided in Democrat-heavy New York City. (Make The Road New York receives discretionary funding through the City Council and individual Council members, for a variety of community programs and services it performs.)

The group has similarly endorsed progressive candidates in prior elections. In 2013, MRA’s sister PAC, Make the Road Political Action, even spent $27,323 for independent mailings supporting Antonio Reynoso for the District 34 Council seat, and opposing Vito Lopez, Reynoso’s primary competitor. Reynoso was victorious.

The four candidates now being backed by MRA, in statements accompanying the announcement, noted the importance of MRA’s advocacy at a time when immigrant communities face a volatile political climate at the national level.

Carlina Rivera, who is running to replace Council Member Rosie Mendez in Manhattan’s District 2, said she was “honored” to receive MRA’s endorsement. Citing the “despicable and dangerous” policies of the Trump administration, she said, “Make the Road Action has been a leading force in the city’s resistance and through organizing they have built power and self-determination in neighborhoods everywhere. Throughout my career in service, I have strived to achieve these same goals in my own community. The issues we fight for are both important and personal to me.” Rivera, who is Mendez’s legislative director and was endorsed by the Council member, is currently leading the race in fundraising, ahead of five opponents so far, four of whom have no funds to their name.

“In these times of fear and uncertainty for our immigrant communities, the work of MRA is more important than ever,” said Diana Ayala, deputy chief of staff to Mark-Viverito, who is running to replace her boss in District 8, which covers East Harlem and the South Bronx. Mark-Viverito endorsed Ayala last year, writing in a Facebook post, “Diana is a reflection of who I fight for each [and] every day [and] what motivates me to do what I do. There is no better person to represent this district.” Ayala currently has three competitors for the seat, but has far surpassed them in fundraising so far.

In District 13 in the Bronx, a crowded field of candidates has declared a run for Council Member James Vacca’s seat. Marjorie Velazquez, a Democratic district leader, has Vacca’s endorsement but will face an uphill challenge. She is second in fundraising, trailing behind state Assembly Member Mark Gjonaj. Velazquez said she was “proud and humbled” that MRA had endorsed her. “This incredible organization helps give a voice to so many people and provides valuable assistance to New York families in need,” she said, in a statement. “Now, more than ever, their services for immigrants, women, senior citizens, tenants and members of the LGBT community have the potential to make real, positive changes in the lives of millions.”

The race for Council Member Darlene Mealy’s seat in Brooklyn’s District 41 has seen little action so far. Alicka Ampry-Samuel is one of six candidates in that race, and none of them have posted much in the way of campaign fundraising. “In our current national climate, local municipalities must now become the stewards of protection for all people of color; no matter their country of origin,” Ampry-Samuel said. “I will always fight for New York City to remain a safe haven for the freedoms and rights upon which our country was founded.”

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Related: Candidates for 2017 City Elections

Related: The Early Money Race in ‘Open’ City Council Seats

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Community Group Endorses Four Women of Color for ‘Open’ City Council Seats Thu, 23 Feb 2017 05:00:00 +0000
The Next Step to Helping Immigrant Families Thrive http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6247:the-next-step-to-helping-immigrant-families-thrive http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6247:the-next-step-to-helping-immigrant-families-thrive menchaca idnyc

Council Member Menchaca, a co-author, promotes IDNYC (photo: @IDNYC)


In recent years, New York City has taken tremendous strides forward in supporting immigrants. Many of Mayor de Blasio's signature initiatives—particularly universal pre-kindergarten (UPK), IDNYC, and community schools—have offered vital new services to New Yorkers across the city that have been tremendously beneficial for immigrants seeking to fully integrate themselves into our society and see their families thrive.

Now, there's another critical step that New York City can take to build on these immigrant integration successes: investing in adult education.

New York City has the largest immigrant community of any city in the United States, with three million immigrants from all over the world—that's more than the entire population of Chicago. Immigrants help drive our city—accounting for 45 percent of the workforce and 49 percent of small business owners, and endowing the Big Apple with much of its incredible cultural vibrancy.

New York City has led the way in offering vital services to immigrant communities, in particular to children from immigrant households. But it's critical that we now move forward to ensure that immigrant parents are equally equipped to take advantage of new path-breaking city programs, and that means supporting adult literacy initiatives that help immigrant New Yorkers learn English and ensure basic reading and writing skills.

Adult literacy is crucial for helping parents know how to navigate the city and unlock the power of major policy achievements. To make UPK, IDNYC, and community schools live up to their potential, for example, we need to make sure parents are equipped with the tools they need to access them. English-speaking parents have a much easier time ensuring their children's educational success—for example, by being able to fully engage during parent-teacher meetings—and being able to proactively seek out the indispensable services provided at community schools.

Adult literacy is necessary for our immigrant communities, and more broadly, it's important for the economic well-being of our city. As a new report by the Center for Popular Democracy and Make the Road New York has found, directing additional resources toward adult literacy will raise immigrant New Yorkers' wages and increase tax revenues.

Take the example of Yanilda, a Dominican immigrant enrolled in English classes at Make the Road New York in Bushwick. Since beginning her classes, Yanilda notes, "I can help my niece with her homework. She's in kindergarten now and when I help her read her books, I learn too." Yanilda is also confident that her steadily improving English will help her get a better job. For her and thousands of others citywide who are lucky enough to have a spot in a free English class, adult literacy programs offer a win-win.

There are 1.7 million and 2.3 million Limited-English proficient residents like Yanilda, in New York City and New York State, respectively, according to the Census, and many others in need of basic literacy courses. Within immigrant communities there is a tremendous unmet need for English classes and adult basic education, with state funding now only sufficient to accommodate one of every 39 New Yorkers who need ESOL (English Speakers of Other Languages) classes. Simply put, adult literacy funding has not kept pace with the need.

That's why we need New York City to dedicate $16 million in its upcoming budget to new investments to help 13,300 students access adult literacy programs, including ESOL, Basic Education in Native Language (BENL), Adult Basic Education (ABE), and High School Equivalency Preparation (HSE).

We've made so much progress in expanding services to immigrant New Yorkers since Mayor de Blasio took office. It's time for New York City to take the next step in full immigrant integration by investing in adult literacy.

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Carlos Menchaca is a member of the New York City Council. Theo Oshiro is the Deputy Director Make the Road New York. On Twitter: @cmenchaca & @maketheroadny.

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The Next Step to Helping Immigrant Families Thrive Mon, 28 Mar 2016 16:40:48 +0000
Addressing NYC's School Overcrowding Crisis http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6210:addressing-nycs-school-overcrowding-crisis http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6210:addressing-nycs-school-overcrowding-crisis img2424

Protesting school overcrowding in Queens


All parents in New York City deserve the peace of mind that their children will be able to attend a school where they can thrive and grow. Unfortunately, following years of neglect from the Bloomberg administration, our city's school system is plagued by school overcrowding and excessive class sizes, where hundreds of thousands of our children simply don't have adequate space to learn.

With education a top priority for the city, it's critical that our leaders take strong action to address the chronic underfunding of our city's school infrastructure. Key to addressing this issue is investing sufficient capital resources in the city budget, as well as improving the current school planning process, which is broken.

Recently, we've had some good news. When the city Department of Education (DOE) released its school capital plan, it included a commitment from Mayor de Blasio to invest nearly $900 million in additional resources to build more school seats. In the same plan, the DOE raised its needs assessment to 83,000 additional seats, given enrollment projections and existing overcrowding. This is closer to the 100,000-seat figure that Class Size Matters estimated in its recent report, "Space Crunch." Together, these two adjustments are a welcome acknowledgement of the crisis in school overcrowding, and we applaud them.

But more should be done. The number of new seats in the capital plan is 49,000—only about 59 percent of the DOE's own admitted need—and New York City's population is growing faster than any other large city in the nation. The mayor is now urging the City Council to adopt rezoning plans to accelerate the construction of thousands of new affordable and market-rate housing units, which will increase pressure on our school system. At this critical moment, the city has a real opportunity to address housing and education together.

Right now, more than half a million students are crammed into over-utilized schools, according to DOE data. In many cases, this means excessive class sizes of 30 or more, a loss of art, music, or science rooms, and a lack of dedicated spaces for students to receive counseling or mandated special education services – no less the wraparound services inherent in the community school model.

According to the analysis in a recent report by Make the Road New York—"Where's My Seat?"—immigrant communities have especially egregious overcrowding problems and even greater unmet needs in the DOE capital plan. In many of the schools in these neighborhoods, children are forced to eat their lunch as early as 10 a.m. or are bused to schools far away from their homes. Many do not have adequate opportunity for physical education because there is not enough space in their gyms.

We need to build, lease, and expand more schools. At least the 83,000 seats that the DOE projects are necessary. In addition, the process of school planning and siting must be made more efficient. There are many communities, like Sunset Park, which have suffered from extreme overcrowding for a decade or more, even though funding to build more schools in the neighborhood has existed in the capital plan, because the School Construction Agency has not been able to site a single one.

According to the DOE, only 15 percent of the school seats needed by 2019 have sites identified and are in the process of being designed. In seven districts, that percentage is zero. The city will fall even further behind in creating seats if the mayor's rezoning proposals are adopted, unless much more is done to build and site schools. A recent Environmental Impact Statement for the East New York rezoning proposal found it would exacerbate school overcrowding, and, along with other changes, drive high school overcrowding in the borough to 109 percent of capacity. Yet the DOE capital plan does not include a single Brooklyn high school to be built.

That is why we are urging the City Council, along with the mayor, to create a commission or task force of experts and stakeholder groups, to propose reforms to the school planning process, so that schools must be built along with housing, instead of decades afterwards. Among the issues to be considered would be reforms to the zoning process, including whether the threshold to consider the need for a new school should be lowered – especially when the schools are already overcrowded; whether the formula used by City Planning to estimate the impact of new housing on schools needs to be updated; whether the city should require impact fees from developers and/or use eminent domain more frequently; and how the trends in lost seats, utilization rates, and enrollment could be made more transparent and more accurate through regular reporting by the DOE.

As Mayor de Blasio repeated in his recent State of the City speech, the goal across our city must be to ensure that neighborhoods thrive. There cannot be successful neighborhoods unless there are schools with enough space for the children in every community across the city to learn and prosper. It's time to invest all the necessary resources and improve the school planning process to ensure the bright future that all of our children deserve.

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Leonie Haimson is the Executive Director of Class Size Matters. Javier H. Valdés is the Co-Executive Director of Make the Road New York. On Twitter: @leoniehaimson @javierhvaldes.

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Addressing NYC's School Overcrowding Crisis Mon, 07 Mar 2016 19:27:28 +0000
A Budget for Immigrant New York http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6204:a-budget-for-immigrant-new-york http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6204:a-budget-for-immigrant-new-york MTR 15

photo via Make The Road New York


Growing up in Puebla, Mexico, I was raised to believe that all families, and all communities, deserve their fair share.

Since immigrating to New York, however, I've seen clearly that immigrant communities here often get far from their fair share. Immigrant communities like Woodside, Queens, where I live, too often lack the basic infrastructure and opportunities that residents need—good schools, safe and affordable housing, access to good-paying jobs, and more. We just get the short end of the stick relative to better-off neighborhoods.

As I've followed recent political debates in our state, I've learned that a lot of that has to do with the state budget. The budget, more than anything else that happens in our state each year, has an enormous bearing on shaping the priorities of our state government and determining which programs and regions will get the funding that they need. The budget determines funding for everything from education to housing to health care. And, with more and more policy decisions getting inserted into the budget in recent years as a way of getting around Albany's dysfunction, the budget is actually now the biggest policy-making vehicle in our state.

That's why, this year, my fellow members of Make the Road New York and I are calling for immigrant communities across the state to get our fair share of the state budget. In a new report that we released this week, "A Budget for Immigrant New York," we call for greater equity across the budget, so that immigrant communities can thrive as they deserve.

The report highlights 25 items, but my own story shows why three are so important.

First, we call for the state to include in its budget an increase in the minimum wage to $15 per hour as soon as possible, with indexing to inflation. As a minimum wage earner, my dream has been to improve the lives of my four children, but the wages I earn are too low for me to do that. The truth is, on my wages it is impossible to get ahead in this expensive state. Raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour for me is an issue of survival. A $15 minimum wage would mean enough food in my house at night for my family, and peace of mind that I could begin to meet all of our other needs.

Second, we call for an increase of $2.9 billion in new school aid. As a parent of four, I worry every day about my children's education, and it pains me to see them attending schools that don't have all the resources they need. Under-resourced schools like theirs are not the exception—they are the rule. We need billions of dollars in additional school aid, and it must prioritize high-needs school districts.

Third, immigrant adults need the opportunity to fully integrate themselves in their communities through adult literacy programs. I'm currently enrolled in an English class that I know will help me engage better with my children's teachers and find a better job, but too many other immigrants can't access classes because there is not enough state funding. We need $17 million in adult literacy funding in this year's budget.

On these issues and so many more, this year's budget offers an opportunity to do more for immigrant communities in desperate need. We need leaders in Albany to step up to make sure that we get our fair share.

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Cristina Molina is a member of Make the Road New York, the largest grassroots community organization in New York offering services and organizing the immigrant community. On Twitter: @maketheroadny

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A Budget for Immigrant New York Thu, 03 Mar 2016 03:28:17 +0000