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Citizens Union

The Politics of Same-Sex Marriage


Image (cc) CarbonNYC
A participant at the November 2008 Gay Marriage Rally in New York City

"Civil rights don't wait for the right time. I hope we've cleared that up once and for all," said Gov. David Paterson Thursday morning as he introduced legislation that would allow New York to follow in the footsteps of Vermont and legalize same-sex marriage. Flanked by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, members of the legislature and gay rights activists, Paterson laid out his case for introducing a gay marriage bill and he did it in the bright of day.

A lot of people did not expect this to happen this year. In Albany bills generally are not brought to the floor of the Assembly or Senate unless they are certain to pass. And as Assemblymember Daniel O'Donnell pointed out, in 2007 the gay marriage bill was sent to the legislature at night "so no one would see it coming."

Paterson, though, came out swinging, "I read today that I'm rushing things. I'm rushing things by re-releasing a bill that the former governor released in 2007? What is going on with the world right now?" asked Paterson. As for introducing a bill that might not pass, "What is this Iran?" he wondered out loud. "Where are all those good government people now not calling for a vote on this in both houses?" he asked in amazement.

Bloomberg echoed Paterson's sentiment. "I'd also like to add that I've never believed that the state legislature should only debate and vote on legislation that they are 100 percent sure is going to pass," said the mayor. "That is not democracy. We have to have a debate. We have to have a vote. We have to let people, or force people, particularly elected officials to stand up and say explicitly, on the record, where they stand. That's what democracy is all about."

So why, on a day when Paterson introduced legislation that would mandate equal marriage rights for gays, did he and his allies spend so much time arguing that he was not hurting the cause by introducing a bill without being certain he would have all the votes it would need to pass?

Some say Paterson's move is a brash attempt to boost his poll numbers. Whatever it does for Paterson, though, the same-sex marriage bill is expected to cause the Democrats major headaches. A number of Democrats think Republicans will try to use the bill to attack vulnerable Democratic senators in upstate districts where same-sex marriage is very unpopular.

Paterson said he has heard "'we have to wait until we talk to Republicans!" "You don't think we've done that?" he demanded. Paterson said it was simply time to act.

After the Assembly

The Assembly, thanks to its Democratic supermajority, is likely to pass a gay marriage bill, as it did in 2007. That year, 81 Democrats and four Republicans voted in favor. Thirty-eight Republicans voted against the bill as did 23 Democrats. The bill did not come to a vote in the Senate in 2007 due to opposition from the Republican Senate majority.

On the Senate side, though, at least four Democratic senators stand against such a bill. Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. of the Bronx and upstate Sens. David Valesky, Darrel Aubertine and William Stachowski have all indicated that they would vote against it.

On top of that, many believe that in his attempt to become Senate majority leader Malcolm Smith had assured Diaz he would not bring gay marriage to a vote. Diaz, a Pentecostal minister, has strongly opposed legalizing same-sex marriage, and Smith needed his support, along with that of two other rogue Democrats. While Paterson had his press conference Thursday, Diaz held a meeting of Hispanic ministers to plan their next steps to address "homosexual marriage."

Smith did not attend Paterson's press conference because he reportedly had previously scheduled meetings. (Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver did not attend either because, Paterson said, he was celebrating Passover.) However, Paterson said, Smith "is a strong supporter of the legislation."

"I have been and continue to be a strong supporter of marriage equality and remain steadfast in my commitment to passing the marriage equality legislation submitted today by Gov. Paterson," said Smith in a statement released Thursday. "No person should ever be denied their civil rights or the basic freedoms others can enjoy. I am fully committed to continuing the process of securing the 32 votes necessary for passage and ensuring that all New Yorkers can realize the right of marriage equality which is fundamentally theirs."

Smith said earlier this year that he supports gay marriage but will not introduce legislation until he has enough support among Senate Democrats to pass it. Smith's spokesperson, Austin Shafran, repeated this week that Smith still does not believe bringing the bill to the floor is the right move unless it is guaranteed to pass.

Sen. Thomas Duane, the only openly gay member of the Senate, initially called Paterson's plan to introduce the bill a "gamble" and insisted it should only reach the floor if it will pass. But Duane changed his tune this week and has told reporters that he has been assured by some Republicans that they support the bill. He declined to name names.

Spokesmen for the Senate minority have insisted that their conference "continues to be opposed to the bill." The Republican Senate conference is notorious for acting as a unit.

"I doubt that the Republicans are going to join the Democrats to pass this now. They are dying for the upstate Democratic senators ... to come out in favor of this," Diaz recently told the Albany Times Union.

Geography as Destiny?

Republicans are expected to try to seize on the issue of gay marriage in their attempts to further play up the divide between upstate and downstate. They likely will paint the push for gay marriage as another example of New York City Democrats forcing their values on upstate residents.

"I certainly support equal rights, and I think same-sex couples should have equal rights, but I believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman," Sen. Betty Little of Queensbury, recently told Jimmy Vielkind of politickerny.com. She also noted that she was surprised that Paterson introduced the bill.

For much of this year Republicans have stressed that the Senate is now controlled by "three Democrats from New York City." Senate Minority Leader Dean Skelos of Long Island repeatedly referred to this year's budget process as "negotiated in secret by three New York City Democrats," with emphasis on "New York City."

Upstate Republicans assailed the budget for its cuts to agricultural programs and the closing of upstate prisons. Republicans also pushed for property tax relief, saying that New York City Democrats aren't sufficiently concerned about property tax issues because most of their constituents rent rather than own property. Four upstate senators went so far as to introduce a bill calling for a statewide vote on whether upstate New York should become the 51st state by separating from New York City and Long Island.

One of the bill's sponsors, Sen. Joe Robach of Rochester, has said the bill is not designed as a novelty but to allow voters to address what he sees as a disparity between the way upstate and downstate are treated.

To say the measure is unlikely to pass is an understatement. But despite the absurdity of the bill, Senate Democrats remain extremely sensitive to the issue of the upstate-downstate divide.

Smith has touted his approach as "one New York." Upstate Democratic members note that Smith has toured their districts and spent time on farms and say he is very attentive to the needs of upstate.

When asked about what seems to be the Republican strategy of playing upstate against downstate Shafran became uncharacteristically emotional. "Times are tough. People should be coming together, but they want to divide," he said. "I think it is a poor political strategy, and they need to focus on policy. We are fixing the mess they created. After 12 years of a borrow and spend Republican governor and after 40 years of a Republican majority that took care of special interests, now we face the greatest fiscal crisis since the Great Depression. In a time when we should be trying to pull the state together all they are doing is trying to further divide the state. I think it is disgusting."

Against this backdrop, advocates for gay marriage have stepped up their lobbying efforts to secure votes for the bill in the Senate. And they insist that no senator should be worried about a backlash in the voting booth if they vote to approve gay marriage. O'Donnell recently cited Assembly Republicans who voted for the gay marriage bill in 2007 and won re-election.

Advocates point to Vermont, which was the first state to legalize gay marriage through legislation. "I'm embarrassed for New York State," said Alan Van Capelle, executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda in a statement on April 7 after Vermont's legislature legalized gay marriage.

Activists like Capelle say it is a shame that a progressive state like New York has not been a leader on the issue. Van Capelle pointed out that Paterson and U.S. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer openly support gay marriage.

"Every statewide official, the New York State Assembly and a majority of New Yorkers already support passing a bill that would provide same-sex couples with the 1,324 rights and protections that come with a New York State marriage license," said Van Capelle. "Despite the prevailing wisdom that Albany is hopelessly dysfunctional," he continued, "we have -- time and time again over the years -- proved that we can break through the gridlock and pass legislation providing equality for our community when most people thought it couldn't be done

The Citizen


Photo (cc) Lissame

More than half of all New York City public school students are immigrants or the children of immigrants, and one out of four is not a native English speaker. How well do the city schools serve those hundreds of thousands of kids?

This topic has received a lot of attention in the past month and the answer, it seems, depends upon who you ask.

Not surprisingly, the Department of Education thinks it has made important strides in this area. In an analysis released earlier this month, the department highlighted a substantial increase in the number of English language learners becoming proficient in English. According to the department, "more than 29 percent of fourth-grade English language learners met standards on the State English Language Arts test in 2008, compared to just over 4 percent in 2003." Results for the fourth and eighth-grade math tests improved as well, leading the department to conclude, "English language learners without special needs met standards on the math exam at the same rate as other students."

But, as the Inside Schools blog noted, the report includes other less rosy figures not featured in the press release. It found that "the less dramatic gains by middle school ELLs, relatively flat Regents scores and flat graduation rates (31.6 percent in 2003 and 30.8 percent in 2007) underscore the immediate demand for deeper, more focused attention."

The report came only days after a Bronx hearing on mayoral control of schools, where, the Daily News reported, "State lawmakers grilled city education officials ... on the lackluster progress of English Language Learners since the mayor took control of the schools."

English language learners lag on some key measures, according to Deycy Avitia of the New York Immigration Coalition. For example, she told Gotham Schools, only 5 percent of middle school English language learners meet state standards on the language arts test.

And while the city hails increases in the overall high school graduation rate, Avitia said that less than a third of English language learners graduate -- with the percentage remaining virtually unchanged since 2003. According to Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of the Immigration Coalition, only 10 percent of the students learning English graduate with the more rigorous Regents diploma that will soon be required of all high school students in the state. "We're sounding the alarm because I don't think it does anybody any good to try to gloss over this problem," she told the Times.

Meanwhile a report by Advocates for Children released in mid March concludes that many immigrant parents feel shut out of the schools. They "described being blocked at the door by school security because they do not have official identification, intimidated by school staff who are insensitive or unresponsive to their needs and discriminated against because of their background or limited English abilities," the group said in a release.

For the past several weeks, our partner, Voices that Must Be Heard, has been taking a close look at immigrants in city schools. The findings of reporters from various ethnic papers reflect many of the concerns in the Advocates for Children report, along with other issues affecting students from Russia, China, Bangladesh and Latin America. Also, this month a look at ethnic media, competition for scarce jobs, a food fight on Roosevelt Avenue and more from the Russia, Bangladeshi, Chinese and Spanish-language press courtesy of Voices that Must Be Heard.

Education

Less Than a Quarter of English Learners Graduate, El Diario / La Prensa
The city's high school graduation rate for English language learners is a shockingly low 23.5 percent. This does not bode well for immigrant communities and a city that increasingly relies on them for productivity and growth.

High School Drop-Out Rate Remains High Among Latino Teens, Latin Week New York
Scores of Latino high school students don't graduate from high school on time, forcing them to get a GED or disappear from the education system altogether. What prompts these students to drop out?

Assigning Immigrant Children to Special Education, Diario de Mexico
With an increasing number of students who do not speak English, educators must determine whether children are struggling academically because of learning or developmental disabilities or simply because they do not know the language. To ensure the best placement, parents must advocate for their kids -- an unaccustomed role for some immigrants.

Immigrant Students Struggle to Adjust to City Schools, Novoye Russkoye Slovo
Facing a new country, new kids, new culture, new food and new school, immigrant students face many challenges, but the city schools offer little help to ease the transition.

Bangladeshi Parents Unfamiliar with City Schools, Bangla Patrika
Many Bangladeshi parents know little about the city's schools or are reluctant to approach the schools, while others say the schools do not do enough to reach out to immigrant parents. Whatever the reason, the parents' lack of involvement can put their children at risk.

More Chinese Parents Turn to Private Schools, Sing Tao Daily

Chinese teenagers and their parents, concerned about large class sizes in city public schools, are checking out private schools, spurred by a surge in scholarships.
Groups Call for More Chinese Classes in City Schools, World Journal
Many children of Chinese immigrants want to learn their native tongue. But such classes are not offered in city public schools, even in Chinese strongholds like Flushing and Sunset Park, so students attend private language classes after the end of the regular school day.

Other Topics

With Jobs Tight, Program for Foreign Workers Gets New Scrutiny, Russkaya Reklama
With hundreds of thousands of people out of work, many Americans, including some immigrants, have come to view skilled foreign workers here on special visas as a threat.

U.S. Will Continue to Deport Haitians, Carib News
The Department of Homeland Security says it will deport undocumented Haitian immigrants, despite appeals by the Haitian government, which has warned that the deportations could destabilize the impoverished Caribbean country.

Development Could Cause Sleepless Nights in El Barrio, El Diario / La Prensa
The massive East River Plaza shopping mall under construction at 116th Street and the FDR Drive could dramatically increase noise and traffic in the area, affecting the health and well-being of thousands of people.

Despite Growing Readership, Ethnic Media Struggle, Carib News
A recent City Council hearing on New York's ethnic media brought up an apparent paradox: Unlike daily papers, ethnic and community newspapers are not suffering from a lack of readers, but they do suffer from a lack of advertising revenue, the mainstay of their existence.

Drugs A Growing Problem Among City's Bangladeshis, Bangla Patrika
An unintended consequence of the Bangladeshi community's progress is the incidence of drug addiction among Bangladeshi women, a problem that has created turmoil in a number of families.

Mexican Family Brings Healthy Food to Brooklyn, El Diario de Mexico
The brothers Gregorio and MartĂ­n Quechol, both Mexican immigrants, recently saw one of their greatest dreams realized as their own business, a supermarket specializing in organic food products, opened in Brooklyn.

Street Vendors vs. Restaurants on Roosevelt Avenue
Food vendors on the Queens street do a booming business -- much to the consternation of restaurants that have seen their business diminish.

The Citizen


Photo (cc) megapickle
Chinese New Year was one of the few bright moments in this season's economic gloom.

The appointment of upstate U.S. Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand to fill Hillary Clinton's Senate seat sparked concern among many immigrant advocates across the state. As the representative from a partly rural and largely Republican area, Gillibrand opposed any kind of amnesty for the undocumented, supported efforts to make English the country's official language and fought former Gov. Eliot Spitzer unsuccessful effort to give driver's licenses to immigrants, regardless of their status.

In response, Gillibrand, who has also come under attack for her pro-gun views, met with Hispanic leaders earlier this month in an effort to assuage their fears. As she has on other issues, Gillibrand reportedly attributed some of her positions to the district she represented. It remained unclear, though, how her ideas might "evolve" now that she represents the entire state. Nonetheless, Hispanic leaders said they would be watching.

In other news, a report by the Immigration Justice Clinic at New York’s Cardozo School of Law found that in 2006 the Bush administration changed the focus of the National Fugitive Operation Program to focus on the number of undocumented immigrants arrested rather than the danger they posed. As a result 75 percent of the people arrested under the program -- originally designed to concentrate on people who posed a threat -- had no arrest records. Advocates in New York and elsewhere are looking to the Obama administration to change these and other policies, but so far the president has offered little indication of what he might do.

Locally, the city's schools have seen an increase in the number of teenage immigrant students who have never attended school -- even in their native countries. While some 150,000 city public school students have to learn English, the New York Times reported, "An estimated 15,100 ... have had little or no formal schooling and are often illiterate in their native languages."

In addition, New Yorkers from Pakistan's Swat Valley, a Taliban stronghold, have seen tensions from their native home trickling across the Atlantic. Some have been threatened, kidnapped and even murdered on trips back to Pakistan, and others report they have received threats here as well.

The economic recession continues to batter New York's immigrant communities. The crisis has even promoted the reversal of our traditional remittance -- immigrants here are receiving money from back home, instead of the other way around. With so many immigrants in need of services, Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum's office released a comprehensive Guide to Public Benefits for Immigrants to tell immigrants what assistance they can -- and cannot -- receive. The guide is available in English and five other languages.

The economic gloom did not keep Asians in the city from marking the Lunar New Year (For a video of the celebration in Chinatown, go here). It did though put a bit of a crimp in the festivities. Korean merchants were forced to cut back on the free calendars they traditionally distribute this time of year.

These and other stories from the Chinese, Korean, Spanish and Bangladeshi language press via our partner, Voices That Must Be Heard.

Immigrants Fall Victim to Unscrupulous Mortgage Brokers (New York Carib News)
Immigrants across New York have been duped by lenders from their "home country" and now face losing their homes.

Fallout from Wall Street Hits City's Mexicans (Diario de Mexico)
The collapse of the stock markets affects not only Wall Street financiers, but also Mexican workers who have lost jobs because of the disappearance of hundreds of positions in the financial sector in Lower Manhattan.

Recession Hits Bangladeshi Businesses Hard (Weekly Thikana)
In neighborhoods with large Bangladeshi communities, shops are fighting to stay alive. Many have already either been closed or sold, and owners worry that, if the situation gets worse, more businesses will have to declare bankruptcy.

Not Homeless But Still Hungry (World Journal)
Some hungry people who have a roof over their heads have begun frequenting a Chinatown program to feed the homeless. The organization that runs it says there just isn’t enough food to go around.

Recession Reverses the Flow of Money (El Diario / La Prensa)
The financial and economic crisis is leading many Dominicans to transfer money to the United States from the Caribbean country, a change from the usual practice.

With Companies Cutting Back, Koreans Turn to Nursing (Korea Times New York)
As corporations announce layoffs, many Korean exchange students have decided to switch careers and enter nursing, a field likely to be in high demand in the coming years.

Recession Sparks Increase in Crime (Weekly Thikana)
Crime -- including theft, robbery and carjacking -- seems to be on the rise in parts of the city among Bangladeshi residents and businesses.

Fighting Bias Crimes (El Correo de Queens)
Facing an increase in hate crime, a Queens community decides to take action.

Gillibrand Softens Her Stand(La Tribuna Hispana USA)
Latino groups greeted the new appointment of Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand to the U.S. Senate with alarms. Now, facing an avalanche of protests, she is toning down her stance.

Plans to Close Two Hospitals Alarms Queens Residents (El Diario / La Prensa)
Saint John's and Mary Immaculate hospitals could close their doors on Feb. 28. This would add 2,500 people to the rolls of the unemployed and some Queens residents without vital health services close to home.

Census of Muslims Planned (Iran Times)
A new private census hopes to more accurately count the number of Muslims living in the United States. At the same time, it is reviving controversy over the number of religious minorities, how they are counted and why it matters.

Bribing One's Way to Affordable Housing (V Novom Svete)
Can it really be that in the Big Apple you have to pay a large bribe to move into a low-rent apartment under the Section 8 federal housing voucher program?

NY's Immigrants Live in Bad Housing (India Post)
Immigrant tenants in New York City have a hard time finding safe, decent and affordable housing, according to a recent report.

Push to Make Lunar New Year an Official New York Holiday (Korea Times New York)
The campaign to recognize the Lunar New Year as a holiday is in full swing in New York, with proponents calling on parents to let their children stay home from school that day.

Free Calendar Another Victim of Hard Times (Korea Times New York)
Korean businesses have a tradition of giving free calendars to anyone for the New Year. However, due to the economic depression, many Korean businesses this year cancelled the calendar or gave them only to customers.

Police Charged with False Arrests of Gay Men at Adult Video Stores


Police Charged with False Arrests
There has been a sharp increase recently in the number of gay men arrested for prostitution at adult video stores in Manhattan.

Anger is building against the police department in the wake of an increase in arrests of gay men for prostitution at Manhattan adult video stores. Last week, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn joined in the outcry. She said she is working with the mayor's office and commanders of the police department to set up a meeting that will include gay community groups "to get to the bottom of this."

The arrests have been documented by Duncan Osborne of the Gay City News over the last several months. Police are allegedly using handsome young undercover cops to cruise middle-aged gay men, offering to go home with them for consensual sex. As they leave the store together, the cop offers to pay the man for the sex, confusing the victims who can't imagine why the younger man would make such a proposal. Then, as they walk out of the store, the victim, despite never having agreed to any exchange of money, is surrounded by undercover cops, handcuffed and charged with prostitution.

Gay activists and civil libertarians see the arrests as part of a continuing effort to shut down porn operations in the city and a tendency by the police department to criminalize gay sexual behavior.

We need to see [the arrest policy] stopped and to figure out how it started," Quinn told Gotham Gazette, calling the arrests of gay men "the most egregious I have heard of" going back to her days as executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project, which is part of a coalition to stop these arrests. "It's not even entrapment," she said. "These are false arrests."

Recounting the Arrests

Anger over the arrests also brought more than 200 people to a town hall meeting at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center in January.

Robert Pinter, a 52-year-old gay man who was arrested for prostitution at the Blue Door in the East Village on Oct. 10, spoke at the town hall meeting. He said a young man — a 29-year old undercover cop who, Pinter said, looked even younger — cruised him in the store. He was "charming and persistent, and we agreed to go home for consensual sex, but as we were leaving he said, 'I want to pay you $50 [to have sex].' I didn't respond, but I thought it was strange," Pinter recounted. As the men left the store, Pinter said, a group of men who did not show police identification pushed him against the wall

"I thought I'd been set up by a gang," he said. "I asked them why they were doing this to me. I was totally clueless. They handcuffed me and said, 'Why the f--- do you think we're arresting you — loitering for the purpose of prostitution.'"

Pinter spent several hours in a police van, more time at the Seventh Precinct, and "16 or 17 hours in the Tombs," the city jail downtown. His Legal Aid attorney "strongly suggested I plead guilty to disorderly conduct," which he did, although he now regrets it. He was also ordered to go to city-sponsored classes on how to engage in prostitution more safely.

Most of the victims, some of whom are foreign tourists and almost all of whom have never been arrested before, have been encouraged by their lawyers to plead guilty to "disorderly conduct" and end their ordeal, rather than risk trial on the much more serious charge of prostitution. But as the arrests have piled up, civil rights and Legal Aid lawyers have convinced some of the men to fight the charges.

Michael Spiegel, a veteran civil rights litigator, who won a landmark case in 2006 against the Port Authority police for targeting and falsely arresting gay men in Port Authority restrooms, is the process of identifying men caught up in the current sweep who are interested in fighting the charges. "Their civil rights have been violated," he said.

The arrests at the Blue Door, Osborne said, "are suspect and improbable. While overall, 17 percent of men arrested for prostitution in New York City are over 40 years of age, 66 percent of the men arrested at this location targeted by police were over 42.

The experience has radicalized Pinter, who founded a Coalition to Stop the Arrests that meets on an ongoing basis at the LGBT Center. "We have to hold the NYPD accountable," he said, "and keep the pressure on until it ends."

Going After 'Nuisances'

At the town hall meeting and in his stories in Gay City News, Osborne has tied the arrests to the city's aggressive enforcement of the 1977 "nuisance abatement law." Former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and now Mayor Michael Bloomberg have used the law to sue and close businesses where alleged "criminal activity is demonstrated." According to Osborne, such nuisance abatement cases increased from 110 in 1994 to 709 in 1996 to 899 last year, closing everything from chop shops to unlicensed massage parlors.

"The commander of Midtown South said that civil enforcement is a police commander's best friend," Osborne said, who noted the city has had an ongoing effort to shut porn stores.

Following a spate of arrests at another porn shop, the Unicorn in Chelsea, the city sued to close it, citing the arrests by undercover officers.

The Police Department did not respond to Gotham Gazette's e-mailed query after the town hall meeting. Previously, Paul Browne, the department's deputy commissioner for public information, told Gay City News, "The fact remains that the locations had become notorious for solicitation of sex acts, with complaints from the public resulting in police attention."

Bloomberg's press office refused comment, referring questions to the police department. District Attorney Robert Morgenthau's spokesperson, Alicia Maxey Greene, also "declined to comment" on the arrests or his office's prosecution of these cases.

State Sen. Thomas Duane said he has been in contact with the district attorney's office and placed a call to Morgenthau himself, but almost a week later had not received a call back from the district attorney.

Duane, who spoke at the town hall meeting, called for the arrests to stop immediately. "People's lives are being ruined," he said. He was noncommittal about whether there should be a criminal investigation into the police conduct. "We have to take things one step at a time, "he said.

City Councilmember Rosie Mendez of the Lower East Side issued a statement criticizing the police for "targeting and criminalizing behavior that is legal."

"In this instance, they are targeting the sexual conduct of gay men. This type of targeting is simply the harassment of certain type of commercial ventures and of potential customers of legitimate businesses. This type of harassment infringes upon an individual's civil liberties," she wrote.

At the town hall meeting, some speakers said police use of false prostitution charges has gone beyond the video stores. Jennifer Ramirez of the Anti-Violence Project said that police go on the "casual encounters" section of Craig's List to trawl for potential arrestees.

"The cops go on the assumption that everyone's a sex worker," she said. "It's not getting better, it is getting worse." As a transgendered outreach worker, she said, "When I'm out on the street doing education, I'm perceived [by the police] as a sex worker and I'm criminalized."

Andrea Ritchie of the Urban Justice Center's Sex Workers Project said police arrest gay and transgendered people for conduct "that would be ignored or winked at in heterosexual people." African American and Latino people are particularly at risk, she added.

There was a sense at the town hall meeting that the public outcry might prompt the police to end their arrests of middle-aged white gay men on false prostitution charges. However, they said, the wider problem of police abuse of their arrest powers for gay, lesbian and transgendered people will continue unless the political leaders protesting the former look into the latter.

The Gay City News series on the arrests:

Five More Prostitution Busts IDed in Chelsea Video Store (Jan. 22, 2009)

Community Mobilizes Over False Prostitution Arrests at Video Stores (Jan. 16, 2009)

NYPD, City Respond to Questions About Prostitution Arrests (Dec. 5)

Shuttering Porn Shops, City Fakes Arrests (Dec. 3)

Courts Training Prostitutes? (Nov. 6, 2008)

The Citizen


The Citizen
Photo (cc) niznoz

As Barack Obama assumes office, New York immigrants have lost jobs and seen their incomes drop. With the recession reverberating throughout the economy, immigrants have reduced the amount of money they send to their country of origin -- and some even consider whether to go back themselves.

In the midst of such tough times, many immigrants place less importance than they once did on immigration issues. A national survey taken recently found that most Latinos think the economy is the most important issue facing the new president, followed by education, healthcare and national security. Only 31 percent of Latinos rated immigration as an "extremely important" issue for Obama to address immediately.

During his campaign, Obama said little about immigration. There are, though, indications that the new administration might take somewhat different stands on some immigration issues than its predecessor. At her confirmation hearing for secretary of homeland security, for example, Janet Napolitano said that, under her leadership, the department would focus more on what she termed "unscrupulous employers" than on raids targeting undocumented workers.

Some advocates are looking to the new administration to reverse a last minute decision by outgoing Attorney General Michael Mukasey that immigrants facing deportation do not have a constitutional right to counsel in their hearings or the right to go to federal court on the grounds that their lawyer acted poorly or improperly.

Beyond specific policies, many immigrants see Obama as offering a new sense of hope. Colombian immigrant Nora Chaves has said she thought that, with Obama's election, "immigrants have a chance to really build America and to build dignifying lives in this country."

Locally, violence against immigrants continued to raise concern, with some fearing that the faltering economy could produce a new wave of anti-immigrant bigotry. On Staten Island, three men were charged with assaulting black people, including a Liberian immigrant, on the night of Obama's election. Police, though, still have made no arrests in the fatal beating of Jose Sucuzhanay, an immigrant from Ecuador, on a Brooklyn street last month. Not far from the city, investigations by journalists revealed a pattern of attacks on Latinos in Patchogue, a town on Long Island. Late last year, Marcelo Lucero, an Ecuadorian immigrant, was fatally stabbed by teenagers who reportedly regularly beat up Latinos. The U.S. Justice Department is investigating, with an eye toward examining the Suffolk County Police Department's handling of such crimes.

Back in the city, the mayor's office issued and then recalled a report on whether to establish hiring centers for day laborers. The report was pulled back after critics on the commission writing it complained that the report did not offer any specific proposals.

These and other stories on the economy and other issues, from the Chinese, Korean, Polish, and Bangladeshi language press via our partner, Voices That Must Be Heard




City Issues, Then Recalls Report on Day Laborers (El Diario /La Prensa)
Hours after the mayor's office finally released the report by a commission studying the possibility of establishing day laborer hiring centers in the city, the administration withdrew it. The move was a response to pressure from members of the commission who were disturbed that the report did not include specific proposals for establishing the centers.

More Chinese in New York Lose Jobs (World Journal)
The number of job seekers coming to Chinatown's employment services has increased noticeably in recent weeks.

Unemployed Chinese Immigrants Wonder Whether to Stay or Go (World Journal)
Many immigrants unable to find work here think of returning to China but worry their situation there would not be any better.

Recession Affects Bangladeshi Immigrants (Bangla Patrika)
New York Bangladeshis, from busboys to executives, have lost their jobs or seen their incomes decline. "Has the land of opportunity turned to an irony of fate?"

Declining Exchange Rate Squeezes Korean Students (Korea Times New York)
The Korean currency is weaker against the American dollar than it's been in 11 years, bringing despair to many Koreans studying in New York.

Many Poles Join Ranks of the Unemployed (Nowy Dziennik / Polish Daily News)
Emilia Sroczynska, owner of Emilia Agency in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, says she had seen a sharp increase in the number of Poles applying for unemployment benefits.

Livery Drivers Seek to Organize (El Taxista News)
A group of taxi drivers have formed a committee to consider forming an Association of Independent Livery Drivers in New York.

Korean Churches Seek Japanese Converts (Korea Times New York)
Korean Christian churches in the New York area hope to spread the gospel to Japanese people, who have been largely resistant to Christian evangelism.

Food Vendors Seek Changes in City Rules (El Correo de Queens)
With thousands of vendors unable to sell their wares because of city red tape, food cart operators hope the City Council will pass a law to speed licensing procedures.

Greenpoint Residents Produce Cuts in Funds to Protect Tenants (Nowy Dziennik / Polish Daily News)
Poles gathered at City Hall to protest the Bloomberg administration's decision to cut funds for a program to protect tenants in Greenpoint from the effects of gentrification.

Delivering Better Pay


 

Students protest outside of Saigon Grill on University Place, May 4, 2007.

Republic, a popular restaurant that serves Asian noodle by Union Square, is not your typical Asian restaurant with fluorescent lighting and $2 hot and sour soup. The chic lounge-like restaurant features a full bar where a lychee martini can cost $10, and the average wait on a Friday night is 30 to 40 minutes.

However, under the trendy façade, the restaurant owners treat their deliverymen differs basically the same way as the proprietors of many Chinatown restaurants where employees work for little pay under harsh conditions, according to some deliverymen who worked at Republic. They said they often work as many as six days a week, and more than 65 hours a week, for wages as low as $175 per week and without overtime pay. In other words, they make less than $2.70 per hour.

Eight deliverymen decided to take actions against the restaurant, which is a part of restaurateur Jonathan Morr's restaurant empire, the Jonathan Morr Group. The company owns several trendy restaurants in New York, including Bond Street, Indochine, Kittichai and Town.

In May 2007, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund and a New York law firm, Davis Polk & Wardwell, filed suit on the men's on their behalf by. After the filing of the complaint, the restaurant retaliated by cutting the worker's hours, fining them for minor infractions and serving rotten food for their free meals, the men told the New York Post.

This was the latest in a round of lawsuits involving restaurant deliveries brought in a city where many residents reply heavily on take-out food, the lawsuit attracted widespread attention. In a previous case, Saigon Grill restaurants had to pay some of its former deliverymen a total of $4.6 million for back pay and compensation.

"It's really about dignity. End the retaliation, and respect the workers for asking what they are entitled to," said Mika Nagasaki, an organizer for Justice Will Be Served! Campaign, which held a protest outside Republic last month.

"The mistreatment of delivery workers is a widespread problem throughout New York City," said Ken Kimerling, legal director of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund. "Restaurants make millions of dollars from the take-out and delivery of meals, yet they often pay less than the minimum wage and rarely pay overtime to the workers who provide these services."

The Saigon Grill Case

The Saigon Grill case, a landmark case in New York City's recent labor movement, could set the precedent for deliverymen in the city. It also was organized by Justice Will Be Served, an umbrella group consisting of 318 Restaurant Workers Union, Chinese Staff and Workers Association and National Mobilization Against Sweatshops.

According to papers filed on behalf of 36 deliverymen in 2007, Saigon Grill, a popular chain with restaurants in Upper West Side and Greenwich Village, paid only $520 a month to many deliverymen who worked more than 260 hours each month. This averaged out to under $2 an hour, far less than the legal minimum wage.

On Oct, 20, Judge Michael Dolinger of U.S. District Court in Manhattan ruled against Saigon Grill and its owners, Simon and Michelle Nget, saying, "At a minimum, Simon Nget and Michelle Nget showed no regard whatsoever for legal requirements in connection with their wage policies."

He also found that the company had illegally retaliated against 23 delivery workers by firing them after they filed the complaint, but he has not rendered a judgment on that issue.

"I believe in united power. All of the workers need to come together, " said Jerry Weng, a worker at Ollie's, a popular noodle shop chain which was sued by its employees in 2007. He told Gothamist that the Saigon Grill victory is inspiring him and his coworkers to demand just pay.

Josephine Lee of Justice Will Be Served told the New York Times that as a result of the Saigon Grill case. "Many restaurants have already started to pay their deliverymen much better," she said, adding that seven of the workers have been rehired.

Meanwhile, on Dec. 2, Saigon Grill owners, Simon Nget and Michelle Nget were arrested on more than 400 criminal charges, including violating minimum-wage laws, falsifying business records and defrauding the state's unemployment insurance system.

According to state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo those charges arose from allegedly fake payroll records that the Ngets submitted to the State Department of Labor during an investigation. Cuomo's office said the couple had tried to reduce their unemployment insurance taxes by not reporting the employment of more than 65 people. The Ngets face charges that might lead to up to four years in prison.

Pay for Immigrants

While the courts appear to be siding with the deliverymen, the Saigon Grill and Republic cases have generated heated debate over compensation for the restaurant workers. Some bloggers said these deliverymen are undocumented immigrants and should be rounded by the authorities.

"They come here illegally, make money to send back to their countries so it's not even going back into the economy, pay no taxes yet use our services," wrote Lisa L. in a post on the New York Post's website.

"These are clearly illegal immigrants…It is their presence in this country that allows an employer to get away with those kinds of wages. Legal immigrants and citizens would never stand for it," wrote Michael F. in a post on nytimes.com.

But Naomi, also on nytimes.com, argued that immigration status should not be the issue. "I believe the point is that minimum wage is law in the U.S., and thus, it should be enforced, judgments on the legality of the immigrants' status not an issue in this case - rather that the employers are breaking the law," she wrote.

Changingfaces on Washingtonpost.com shared Naomi's opinion: "I think all immigrants should have the right to protest unfair labor conditions. Teach those businesses a lesson: people aren't slaves and just because they come from a different country and are trying to make a better life for themselves, doesn't mean you can take advantage of them."

Meanwhile, some bloggers said the restaurant has to exploit their workers in order to keep the prices low.

"If they pay the workers a fair wage, then Republic will have no choice but to charge 50 bucks for noodles!" wrote Babyhitler on Gothamist.com.

"So the result of the strikes would probably be higher prices for the consumer. …And they keep telling us that illegal immigrants keep our prices down. I say raise the wages where Americans workers will work at them, then you wouldn't have half the illegal immigrants that we do now," wrote Ednafreeman1 on Washingtonpost.com.

Larry Tung, a native of Taiwan, teaches media and film courses at Kean University in Union, New Jersey. He is also a documentary filmmaker whose work focuses on immigrant and Asian American issues.

The Citizen


 

Left Photo (cc) Richard Rodriguez, Right photo (cc) achang999

New York's immigrant communities greeted the election of Sen. Barack Obama as president with a mix of elation, anticipation and curiosity. The foreign language and ethnic newspapers speculated about what an Obama administration would mean for their readers -- and their native countries.

El Diario /La Prensa, for example, tried to gauge what an Obama presidency would mean for U.S. relations with Mexico and other Latin American countries. The overall reaction there has been positive, the paper said, although "sectors of the extreme left ... remain skeptical" about Obama. Elsewhere in the region, the Colombian government has concerns about whether Obama will continue to oppose the free trade agreement with the U.S. that that nation wants.

In an article written before last month's terrorist attack in Mumbai, the Indian Express said the Indian government will look at how Obama handles three key issues: the contested area of Kashmir, nuclear non-proliferation and climate change. The New York Carib News spoke with experts who predicted that an Obama administration will cultivate friendlier relationships with West Indian nations, including possible trade concessions and development. And among Turkish businesses people, Obama's election was "met with [an] optimistic reaction" and a belief that trade between the U.S. and Turkey will now increase, according to Zaman USA.

While the United States will have its first black president in Obama, the Irish Voice noted another milestone: "Joe Biden is also the first Catholic vice president. And early exit polling suggests the Obama-Biden ticket won about 54 percent of the Catholic vote."

Many see Obama's election as a sign of a new day -- and fading of bigotry -- in the United States, but last month also saw a sign of the persistence of prejudice. Some 50 miles from New York City, in Patchogue, N.Y., Marcelo Lucero, an Ecuadorian immigrant was stabbed to death allegedly by a group of local teenagers. Following the murder, prosecutors said the young men charged in the case often got together to hunt down, attack and injure Hispanic men in the Suffolk county community.

Immigrant advocates have "described the attack as a reflection of widespread anti-Latino sentiment and racial intolerance in Suffolk County," the New York Times reported, some of it apparently fueled by anger at illegal immigrants and day laborers.

Meanwhile, immigrants and others are feeling the effects of the economic downturn. In a grim post-election commentary, Nowy Dziennik / Polish Daily News said, "Obama will take over the leadership in the worst moment from the financial point of view .... A couple of months from today we will be able to see clearly the consequences of the rapidly worsening macroeconomic indicators -- the decrease of sales and production, deterioration of consumers' attitude and mass layoffs conducted by big corporations."

In Chinatown, the hard times have forced some to scrounge for food, as Bangladeshis cut back on the celebration of Eid-ul Azha, an important religious festival, and groups helping low-income Asians worry about budget cuts. These and other stories from the Spanish, Chinese, Bangladeshi, Korean and Polish language press, via our partner, Voices that Must Be Heard.

Hard Times in Chinatown, World Journal
In Manhattan's Chinatown, the ranks of the impoverished have grown. Families unable to pay the grocery bills survive by cutting costs however possible and even picking through trash bins outside supermarkets.

Slumping Economy Dims Celebration, Weekly Thikana
Feeling the effects of the recession, Bangladeshi immigrants in New York have cut back on the amount of money they send home and have spent less this year to celebrate Eid-ul Azha, a major Muslim religious festival.

Rising Rents Threaten Bodegas, El Diario / La Prensa
With close to 80,000 of the city's Latino businesses threatened by higher rents and abusive practices by real estate speculators, small business owners are supporting a proposal by City Councilmember Robert Jackson, which would spell out the rights of small businesses in commercial rental contracts.

The State Senate's Latino Rebellion, El Diario / La Prensa
When two Latino Democratic state senators threatened to not vote for Malcolm Smith for majority leader, Latinos called for more power sharing in Albany.

School Crowding Worries Bronx Parents, El Diario / La Prensa
Concerned about too many students cramming local schools, parents in parts of the Bronx oppose the Department of Education's plan to scale back school construction.

Immigrants Protest Budget Cuts, Korea Daily News
Asian non-profit organizations charge that proposed cuts in the city budget will affect many low-income families. The Asian groups are especially concerned about cuts in English-language classes for immigrants.

Chinese-American Support for Obama Not a Landslide, World Journal
While Barack Obama won New York by a huge margin, many in the Chinese community had doubts about both him and his opponent, John McCain. In at least one Chinatown polling station, McCain trounced Obama.

Day Laborers Arrested in Queens, El Diario / La Prensa
The arrested of these workers represents a change in city policy. What does it mean?

Rezoning Aims to Protect Greenpoint's Character, Nowy Dziennik
In an effort to curb excessive development of Brooklyn's Polish neighborhoods, the city planning department has proposed height limits for new construction and efforts to provide more low-income homes.

Why She Drives, El Diario / La Prensa
One of New York's very few woman cab drivers talks about the risks and rewards in her line of work.

Helpline Aids City's Irish Seniors, Irish Voice
Copying an idea launched in Ireland 10 years ago, older Irish people living in New York City will be able to dial a number to speak with a fellow senior about fears, worries and life in general.

 

Advancing Rights


With the election of Barack Obama as president and increased Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, civil liberties groups are chomping at the bit to restore constitutional rights compromised or eliminated by the Bush administration. The American Civil Liberties Union already has issued a very long list of "Actions for Restoring America" that it says will "begin repairing the damage" it contends Bush did to constitutional rights.

New York has its own African American liberal executive in Gov. David Paterson, and (like Congress) both houses of the state legislature are in Democratic hands -- if not Democratic control given the machinations of three Democrat Senator holdouts. This has civil rights groups here eager (for the most part) to enact their agendas.

Much has been said about the Democratic takeover of the New York State Senate and whether or not the new majority will take up a bill allowing same-sex couples to marry here. State Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. of the Bronx, one of three Democrats who refuses to commit to voting for Democratic Sen. Malcolm Smith as majority leader, has said he will not vote for a leader who will not pledge to block any marriage equality bill.

Beyond same sex marriage, a whole slew of civil rights legislation that has been passed by the Democrat-led Assembly may well pass in a newly Democratic Senate. And some of those concerned about victims' rights and the unborn worry that the new Senate will be less sympathetic to their issues.

Same-Sex Marriage

The marriage issue remains the most contentious of these, even though same-sex marriages have been recognized in New York State since 2003 when gay couples from New York started going to Ontario to marry legally. (All of Canada opened marriage to same-sex couples by act of parliament in 2005.)

While New York State itself does not grant licenses for same-sex marriages, it does recognize legal ones from elsewhere as it does all marriages that are not "abhorrent" to public policy. Former Comptroller Alan Hevesi ruled that the state pension system had to recognize same-sex spouses in 2004. Former Gov. Eliot Spitzer made sure that the state and any municipality participating in its benefit plans covered these spouses. And earlier this year Paterson issued a directive ordering all departments of state government to make sure that their policies recognized these spouses or tell him why they should be exempt from this requirement.

The tax department, however, has been stonewalling requests for its position. The department has said that legally married same-sex couples cannot file as married in New York because state tax law mandates anyone filing here

use their federal income-tax filing status, and federal law does indeed bar recognition of same-sex marriages under the Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act.

Just this past week, upstate Monroe County abandoned its appeal of a decision in a case —Martinez v. Monroe County brought by the New York Civil Liberties Union — that ordered it to recognize a married lesbian couple as married for purposes of extending benefits to the spouse of one of the county's employees. In February, five judges – all appointed by Republicans – in an upstate appeals court unanimously upheld the trial court's decision in favor of the couple, who had married in Canada in 2004.

The state insurance superintendent just ordered all insurance companies in New York to treat legally married gay couples as married in accordance with Martinez.

So even though New York gay couples lost a case in the Court of Appeals seeking the right to marry here in 2006, as of Nov. 12, they only have to hop a Metro North train to the marriage bureau in Connecticut to obtain a license and tie the knot. They then will be as married as they would have been had they been allowed to marry here. All that opponents of same-sex marriage here are doing is driving the lucrative wedding business out of the state at a time when the economy is reeling.

Diaz said he wants a referendum on a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage here, similar to Proposition 8, which California voters approved on Election Day. There is virtually no way, though, that that would happen given the difficulty of getting measures on the ballot, the rigors of the state constitutional amendment process and the resistance of the legislature to such a measure.

New York currently is one of only five states that do not ban same-sex marriage by law or constitutional amendment. For a decade some state legislators here have promoted a bill that would change that and make "marriage absolutely void if contracted by two persons of the same sex." Even the Republican Senate did not pass this state Defense of Marriage Act. Now its prospect appears even dimmer. The bill's chief sponsors were Queens Republican Sen. Serphin Maltese, who just lost re-election bid, and Assemblymember Anthony Seminerio, a Queens Democrat who was indicted for receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes. Despite that, Seminario, who was running unopposed, won re-election with the endorsements of the Democratic, Republican, Independence and Conservative parties—all of whom had decided to back him before his Sept. 10 arrest.

What did pass the State Assembly in 2007, though, was a bill introduced by Spitzer and shepherded through by Assemblymember Daniel O'Donnell, a Westside Democrat, to let same-six couple marry in New York. The Senate Republican majorty blocked the bill from coming to a vote in the Senate.

The balance of power in the Senate has shifted since then, as has the political climate. The vote in California -– where, by a 52 to 48 percent margin, people voted to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry -- has triggered protests in all 50 states and internationally, including two demonstrations attracting 10,000 each in New York City. It's a revival of street activism not seen here since the murder of Matthew Shepherd in 1997 or the days of ACT UP's AIDS demonstrations in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

With the passage of the state constitutional amendment in California, the 18,000 marriages of same-sex couples, including many from New York, who were wed there, are in a kind of legal limbo to be determined by the state's high court no sooner than March 2009. At that time, the court there will also decide whether the constitutional amendment itself was constitutionally valid. In the meantime, California Attorney General Jerry Brown has opined that marriages cannot themselves be undone by the vote on the amendment.

At a town hall meeting on the marriage issue at the LGBT Community Center in New York on Nov. 24, State Sen. Tom Duane, who is gay, predicted that Malcolm Smith would indeed be elected majority leader on January 9 and that the marriage equality bill would pass the Senate. But the national opponents of opening marriage have announced that, fresh from their victory in California, they are bringing their fight to New York and New Jersey.

The New York Times tried to stir the pot on Nov. 28 by asserting that Senate Democrats are so divided on whether to allow gay couples to marry in New York that many wanted to delay the issue until after the “2009 legislative session.” The reporter seemed not to understand that the legislative session is 2009-'10 and that Paterson has no interest whatsoever in letting this issue fester until after his run for election in 2010 since he has been as forthright as any politician in the nation in his support of access to marriage for gay couples. What’s more, far from being one who "avoids questions on the topic," as the Times wrote, Smith has reiterated his support for same-sex marriage at public forums since the election, while acknowledging the need to focus on the economy first.

The Times article also tried to paint the Empire State Pride Agenda as “quiet” on the issue, when in fact the group’s executive director was laying out strategy for passage of the Senate bill at a packed public forum on Nov. 24. (I reported on this for the Gay City News.)

In an interview after the Times story appeared, Alan Van Capelle, executive director of the Pride Agenda, said the article failed to mention that many gay married couples already are recognized by New York State as married and that all Assembly members who voted for the bill last year were re-elected in November. In a release, he said, “There are no shortcuts and there is no one waiting to give this bill to our community.” The group is focusing on both sides of the aisle and on building labor, religious and especially constituent support for the measure.

"It’s going to happen before David Paterson runs for election,” said Sen. Tom Duane, the chief sponsor of the marriage equality bill in his house. “It’s 50-50 whether it happens this year or next. I’d be disappointed if New Jersey [which already has full civil union rights for gay couples] does it before us.” But were that to occur it would put valid marriage licenses for gay couples in New York City as close as a PATH ride, making the Senate's resistance New York's marriage bureaus to these couples more and more absurd.

Reproductive Rights

The Catholic Conference, representing Roman Catholic bishops in Albany, and the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights plan to be one group working to prevent the state from opening marriage to gay couples.

The group's concerns go beyond that, however. William Donahue, executive director of the Catholic League, worries that the new Democratic majority in the Senate will also repeal all of the state's abortion restrictions and that "partial birth" or late-term abortion will have fewer restrictions. He, and the Catholic Conference, are opposing the "Reproductive Health and Privacy Act" to codify abortion rights under the Roe v. Wade decision of the Supreme Court. And he warns that "Catholic hospitals and doctors could be required to perform abortion," a charge vigorously contested by pro-choice advocates.

New York legalized abortion in 1970 when both houses of the legislature were in Republican hands, by the way, albeit Republicans of a more moderate and liberal stripe. The abortion rights advocates want to ensure that, even if a future Supreme Court restricts access to abortion, abortion would remain available in New York.

Other parts of the conference's agenda, which were not moving in the current legislature, now looks even less likely to pass with Democratic majorities in both houses. They include the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which would "prohibit the assault or homicide of an unborn child during the commission of a crime against the mother," and a ban on "post-viability abortions." The conference also opposes legislation to allow physician-assisted suicide in New York.

One civil rights issue, though, the Catholic Conference may find common ground with most liberal groups: abolishing the death penalty once and for all in the state. The Court of Appeals struck down the death penalty law in New York in 2004, but the conference wants this state to follow New Jersey's lead in abolishing it in a statute.

Rights and Crimes

For decades, civil rights advocates and others have tried to change or eliminate the state's harsh Rockefeller drug laws. In a recent article on the new landscape in Washington and Albany, New York Civil Liberties Union executive director Donna Lieberman expressed hope for repeal or at least modification of the "cruel and inhumane Rockefeller Drug Laws, which have sent thousands of our neighbors to prison for non-violent drug offenses." Gov. Paterson is a historic opponent of the laws.

The civil liberties union also is organizing to block implementation of the federal Real ID Act. It wants New York to join other states that have formally rejected this national identification card system that, according to Lieberman, poses "an enormous threat to privacy" and "imposes a massive financial burden on the states."

Another threat, in the eyes of some civil libertarians, comes from the state's DNA databank. Bob Perry, legislative director of the NYCLU, wrote that his group's lawyers "are all but alone in making the case that the rapid expansion of the … databank poses grave risks to rights of privacy and due process." He expressed particular concern over a proposal from the state Commission on Forensic Science to "permit law enforcement to obtain a DNA sample from a family member of an individual whose DNA is a ‘partial match' with DNA evidence from a crime scene."

The Senate is also likely to take up a bill passed by the Assembly to add the category of "gender identity and expression" to the state human rights law, protecting transgenders, and to pass the Assembly's anti-bullying bill, instituting comprehensive anti-bullying programs in all schools in the state.

While the budget negotiations and wrangling over the economic crisis will dominate most of the debate in Albany for several months, the changed power balance in the Senate is sure to lead to discussions and implementation of civil rights legislation long supported by just one house, the Assembly. That could lead to big changes on a number of key issues.

 

Immigrants Confront the Recession


Photo (cc) Joel Mann

Fong Oi Kan wishes that she only worked five days a week. But in the midst of the worst economy in decades, she said she has to work six days a week in order to keep her head above water.

"The business has gone down a lot in the last few weeks," said Kan, a native of Malaysia, who works as a hair stylist in a salon in Chinatown. "It started in the summer, but it just got worse and worse."

Kan is among the many immigrants whose livelihood is in the service industry – hair salon, restaurant, housekeeping and so on – and who feel the pain brought by the economic downturn. They might not have a 401K retirement plan or investment in the stock market, but many of their customers do, making the effects on people such as Kan harsh and evident. As people feel the economic pain, they may cut back on going to a salon to have their hair done, a luxury in a tough time like these.

"Fewer people are getting perms, curls or coloring," said Kan. "When you don’t have any chemicals involved, the profit margin is very small. A haircut is only about $20 to $30 in Chinatown. And you have to split it with the salon owner."

In the restaurant industry, immigrant workers make up the majority of the back-of-the-house position – cooks, dishwashers, kitchen helpers and so on. A banquet manager at the Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Center, requesting anonymity to protect his job, said the business has suffered as some regular customers – several major financial and insurance corporations - have canceled bookings for holiday parties.

"We are currently underbooked, which is very unusual for this time of the year since the holiday season is so close," said the manager, who is from the Dominican Republic. "The kitchen staff are laid off more frequently, for two weeks here and there."

"Even though I still have my job, my income is reduced because a part of it comes from gratuity," said the manager, adding that the entire company got a 10 percent salary cut.

S. L. Tang, a waitress in an upscale Japanese restaurant in the West Village, said her employer has asked the wait staff to take turn to take one extra day off every week. She said on a recent night the restaurant had only 14 reservations, and everyone finished their work an hour earlier than usual.

"I have some regular customers who never used to ask about the prices when they ordered specials, " said Tang. "Now they do and they also tend to order less food and drinks." She added that the once popular $65 set meal is now a hard sell, replaced by a la carte orders and shared entrees.

"I lose about $150 to $200 every week," said Tang. "This winter is going to be very tough."

The Hardest Hit

The economic downturn has taken a far greater toll on immigrants who are not citizens than it has on the U.S. population as a whole, according to a recent report by the Pew Hispanic Center. The median annual income of non-citizen immigrant households, which account for 7 percent of all U.S. households and 52 percent of all immigrant households, dropped 7.3 percent from 2006 to 2007. In contrast, the median annual income of all U.S. households increased by 1.3 percent during the same period.

Rakesh Kochhar, the author of the report, noted that many non-citizens are employed in blue-collar production, construction or lower-ranked occupations in the service sector. Demand for these jobs increases rapidly in economic expansions but falls just as suddenly during economic slowdowns, the report said.

Meanwhile, a survey conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center showed that half of all Latinos say that the situation for Latinos in this country is worse now than it was a year ago. Family remittances from the U.S. to Mexico were down by 12 percent in August compared to the previous year, according to the Bank of Mexico, the largest drop on record since the bank started tracking remittances in 1996. The percentage translated into about $300 million, affecting Mexico’s second biggest source of foreign income after the revenue from its oil exports.

American Dreams Fade

Demand for day laborers in the New York area has declined, according to the New York Times, prompting many immigrant workers to wonder whether the notion of America as a land of opportunity is still valid.

"The American dream isn’t an American dream," said Jairo Mancillas, an immigrant from El Salvador. He used to send as much as $600 home a week but now he can barely afford to send any money in bad weeks.

Many laborers said they are lucky if they can work two days a week, a drastic change from two years ago when the housing boom in New York kept them busy at least five days a week.

As a result of the falloff in work, some immigrants also face the possibility of losing their houses, Nancy Foner, a sociologist at Hunter College, told AFP, the French news agency. "They are vulnerable because they often make do by pooling incomes in their families," she said. "If one loses a job, it may be very hard for them to meet mortgage payments."

Looking for Help

As many immigrant workers got the pink slips, they turn to community-based organizations for assistance in job placement and training.

"A lot of people are looking for jobs because of the economic downturn in addition to the large influx of immigrants in the city," said Pearl Chin, executive director of Chinatown Manpower Project, a non-profit agency that provide social services and career training to Chinese immigrants in New York City. "We have been seeing a lot more people lately," she said, adding that the increase in demand for the agency's services began in the summer.

A Slowdown in Immigration

Some immigrants may caution their relatives to stay home. Data released in September by the Census Bureau showed that overall immigration slowed dramatically in 2007, though the bureau does not distinguish between legal and illegal immigrants.

"The decline in job prospects in construction, service and other low-skilled jobs are communicated through extended networks of would-be movers from Mexico and Latin America," William Frey, a demographer at the Washington-based Brookings Institution, told the Daily News. "It also may propel more return migration," he added.

The Center for Immigration Studies, a research organization that supports tighter controls on immigration, has estimated that the number of undocumented immigrants in the country has declined by 11 percent, or 1.3 million, since August 2007. As of May, the estimated illegal immigrant population in the United States was 11.2 million.

This decline, according to the report, is at least seven times larger than the number of undocumented workers the government removed in the last 10 months. In light of that, the center attributes most of the decline to people leaving the country on their own because of rising unemployment rate and increased immigration enforcement.

Sharing the Pain

The effects of the downturn, though, extend beyond low-wage immigrant workers to all immigrants, just as it reaches most native-born Americans, because immigrants are well represented in every profession.

"Although there is often a presumption that immigrants are concentrated at the bottom of the economy, we actually see immigrants robustly represented in every part of the economy -- from top to bottom," said David Dyssegaard Kallick, a senior fellow at the www.fiscalpolicy.org Fiscal Policy Institute. "I would expect the economic downturn would have broadly similar affect for immigrants and for others."

However, he noted that many immigrants work in areas that could weather a recession, such as health care, the public sector and higher education.

James Parrott, chief economist at the Fiscal Policy Institute, shares Kallick’s view. "We are headed for a fairly sharp job loss that is likely to occur across the spectrum of industries and occupations," said Parrott. "I don't see any disproportionate impact on immigrants, but they will be hit along with everyone else."

"On the other hand, during a downturn, we may see heightened pressures to work off the books, a development that will further drive down wages and working conditions for recent immigrant workers," he added, noting that the estimated inflation-adjusted median wage in New York City dropped by 4 percent for the 12 months through June 2008 compared to the prior year.

But for Fong Oi Kan, the hair stylist in Chinatown, going to work means there is still a chance to make some money.

"Even if a lot of time I am just sitting there," said Kan, "it still beats staying at home making nothing at all."

Larry Tung, a native of Taiwan, teaches media and film courses at Kean University in Union, New Jersey. He is also a documentary filmmaker whose work focuses on immigrant and Asian American issues. 

The Citizen


 

Is this the year the sleeping giant awakes?

The giant in question is the nation's growing Latino vote. At a forum at the New School last week participants discussed what role Latinos, Asians and other immigrants and their children might play in this year's election and in elections to come.

Overall, Latinos account for about 7.9 percent of U.S. voters and 9.3 percent in New York State. While New York tends to be largely ignored in presidential elections -- both parties see it as a Democratic stronghold -- Latinos could make a big difference in more hotly contested states, such as Florida, Nevada, New Mexico and Colorado, according to statistics compiled by Feet in Two Worlds, a project of the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School.

Like other Americans, Latinos will go to the polls in November concerned about the economy, health care and an array of other issues, but last week's speakers agreed that the immigration debate will play a major role as well.

"Immigration is a very personal matter," said Pilar Morrera of La OpiniĂłn, a leading Spanish-language daily, an issue that immediately affects Latinos and their families.

Latinos do not vote in the same numbers as other Americans, but concerns about immigration have motivated more who are naturalized citizens to register, according to Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. These people are voting "out of anger and out of fear and a feeling that if they register to vote, it's an act of self defense," Vargas said. He predicted Latino participation would continue to increase. "You now have a new generation of Latino youth who are coming of age at a very politicized time," he said.

Asian Americans, who represent a far smaller percentage of the population than Latinos, are more likely to be overlooked in campaigns, said Glenn Magpantay, staff attorney at the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund. However, he said they can still make a difference and may have played a key role in Virginia Democrat James Webb's defeat of Republican George Allen in the 2006 Senate race -- after Allen was captured on video calling an Indian American man a "macaca."

Whatever happens this year, immigrants stand to have increasing influence in American politics, said reporter Aswini Anburajan. "It will build election cycle after election cycle," she said. Many immigrants maybe disappointed if Barack Obama does not win this year, she continued, "but they're not going to stop voting.... You're building a new political class ... and that's going to make a difference in the future."

This months' Citizen assesses the role immigration issues have played -- or more accurately, not played - in the campaign so far and looks at the race for the White House from the perspectives of several immigrant groups. Getting away from politics, we examine the plight of homeless Mexican immigrants, take a view at being Sikh in Queens and describe efforts to help the elderly in Brighton Beach. These and other stories from the Spanish, Russian, Polish, Chinese and Korean language press via our partner, Voices That Must Be Heard.

CAMPAIGN 2008

collage of election materials
Gotham Gazette

GOP Convention Stays Silent on Immigration
from Nowy Dziennik / Polish Daily News
John McCain has said that immigrants are "God's children," but the convention that nominated him offered no real discussion on immigrants or immigration reform.

Nothing Known About Palin's Views on Immigration
from El Diario/La Prensa
The Alaska governor and Republican candidate for vice president seems never to have said anything regarding the controversial issue, and neither she nor Sen. John McCain's campaign office responded to questions for information about what her positions might be.

The Republican Convention Through Muslim Eyes
from Iran Times
The rhetoric at the GOP gathering in St. Paul, with its repeated references to Islamic terrorism and radical Islam, demonized millions of law-abiding Muslim Americans, writes award-winning journalist Shahed Amanullah.

An Arab-American View of the Democratic Convention
from Aramaica
With 40 Arab Americans participating as members of convention standing committees or as delegates, Arab Americans hope to play a role in this year's presidential campaign.

American Muslims in Denver
from Bangla Patrika
This year's Democratic Convention in Denver drew a record number of Muslim delegates - 45 - and attracted many Islamic organizations

The View from St. Paul
from Vecherniy New York
A Jewish immigrant from the former Soviet Union visits the Republican National Convention where he watches political demonstrations and interviews Russian senior citizens about who they plan to vote for in November.

African Immigrants Worry About a McCain Administration
from African Abroad
Africans in New York City fear that, as president, Sen. John McCain might involve the U.S. in other wars and divert economic resources needed to fix problems here.

Increasing the Korean Vote
from Korea Times New York
Involvement by Korean voters in this year's presidential campaign is at an all-time-high this year, but many more Koreans need to register and exercise their right to vote.

A Shift in Flushing
from Sing Tao Daily
In local politics, Grace Meng's defeat of incumbent State Assemblymember Ellen Young in the Democratic primary could spell a change in John Liu's domination of Flushing politics.

Other Stories:

Sikh Students Face Harassment, Bullying in Schools
from Indian Express
A recent report has found that more than 60 percent of the 400 Sikh students surveyed suffered harassment or violence in city schools. Several students and their parents talk about their experiences.

Willets Point Workers Fight for their Businesses
from El Correo de Queens
People who work or own businesses in this area of Queens slated for massive redevelopment are coming together to protect their economic well-being and resist being pushed out of the district.

Homelessness Increases Among Mexican Immigrants
from Diario de Mexico
Unable to find work, some undocumented Mexicans immigrants recently arrived in New York City are sleeping in the streets and struggling to find food.

City's Bodegas Struggle to Survive
from Hoy
The high costs of goods and produce, along with increasing rent and fuel bills, creates difficulties for New York's small neighborhood stores.

Williamsburg Sees Sharp Rise in Gang Activity
from Super Express
With Latino gang activity on the rise, the 90th precinct, which covers the neighborhood, has recorded the highest increase in criminal activity in the city.

Program Aids Elderly in Brighton Beach
from Novoye Russkoye Slovo
As some of the older people in the Brooklyn neighborhood struggle to pay higher prices on a fixed income, the Shorefront Jewish Community Council helps more than 1,000 people a month.

A New Push to Let Non-Citizens Vote


Photo of protesters wearing 'Voiceless' masks.
Photo Jean Marc Grambert / ivotenyc.org.

Earlier this month, dozens of protesters, many wearing facemasks emblazoned with the word "Voiceless," gathered on the steps of City Hall. Organized by the New York Coalition to Expand Voting Rights, they demanded that non-citizens who are legal residents be allowed to vote in municipal elections. They said they deserve political representation because they are law-abiding New Yorkers.

This is hardly a new subject in the New York City public debate. For many years, pro-immigrant groups here have called for allowing non-citizens to vote but to no avail. Now, with candidates prepared for the 2009 mayoral and City Council elections, the campaign for non-citizen voting right has gotten a new burst of energy and is making a comeback. This time, the advocates are hopeful.

"There are going to be big elections in New York City in 2009, so we are latching on this big event to bring more attention to this issue," said David Andersson, the rally's main organizer. "It is a fantastic time for us." He added that many City Council members will have to leave office at the end of next year, and if non-=citizen voting is not a reality by then, he hopes to garner more support from the new members.

Abut half a dozen candidates running for City Council, have expressed support for the bill, including Julissa Ferreras of District 21 in Queens, Mark Levine of District 7 in Manhattan, Brad Lander of District 39 in Brooklyn, Ydanis Rodriguez of District 10 in Manhattan and Daniel Dromm of District 25 in Queens.

"I believe anyone who pays taxes should be able to vote," said Dromm, a Democrat. "That's the principal our country was founded on. It's a basic civil right. Voter participation is the basis for our democracy."

Taxation without Representation

According to the coalition, New York City is now home to more than 1.3 million immigrants of voting age who are not yet citizens. The organizers said these city residents have no political representation but remain subject to all the laws that citizens must observe, pay taxes and make substantial contributions to New York's economic and cultural life.

The coalition also cited the old "No taxation without representation" rationale. "Why should immigrants pay taxes when they have no say in how their hard-earned money is spent?" read one of the signs held by protestors. According to a 2007 report by Fiscal Policy Institute, immigrants are responsible for $229 billion in economic output in New York State and account for 22.4 percent of the state's gross domestic product, a share slightly larger than their percentage of the population.

Similar bills that would allow non-citizens to vote in local elections have been introduced in Washington D.C. and San Francisco. Many states, including California, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Colorado, also are reviewing legislation that would allow long-term residents to vote.

Passing a Bill

The subject was officially brought into the public debate in 2005 when Brooklyn City Councilmember Charles Barron and nine other members introduced a bill to allow all legal residents who have lived in New York City for at least six months to vote in local and municipal elections. The bill, the Voting Rights Restoration Act or Intro 628, fell through at the end of that year.

In 2006, Barron, along with 13 other City Council members reintroduced the bill, also known as Intro 245. It is still pending in the Committee of Governmental Operations.

"They used to have legal residents who are non-citizens voting many years ago when immigrants were predominantly white," said Barron, an outspoken advocate for the African American community. "And when the complexions of the immigrants change, the policy change."

Noting legal residents can fight and die in wars for the country but cannot vote in local elections, Barron added, "I think it is racist that they can't vote. I think it is unjust that they can give up their life and they can pay taxes, but they cannot have a say in major quality-of-life issues."

A spokesperson for City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said she does not support allowing non-citizens to vote.

Barron said this will make it hard to get the bill through City Council. "It is very difficult when the speaker doesn't support something," said Barron. "She would tell her chair that she appoints to not even have a hearing on it. And then she can kill it in the committee by getting that committee to not vote on it or vote favorably for it. .... So we got a little struggle ahead of us, but we are used to that kind of struggle."

An Old Idea

Until Mayor Michael Bloomberg dismantled the Board of Education in 2003, non-citizens were allowed to vote in community school board elections for more than three decades. Barron said even some parents who were undocumented immigrants voted in those elections.

In fact, non-citizens voted in local and national elections in many states and territories from the founding of the country until 1926. Currently, resident non-citizens can vote in several townships in Maryland and in Chicago school board elections. Globally, more than 40 countries allow their legal residents to vote in local and/or national elections, including many countries in the European Union and some in Latin America.

The Debate

Allowing non-citizens to vote in local elections could lead to greater immigrant integration and participation, according to Ron Hayduk, a professor at the Borough of Manhattan Community College and a co-director of the Immigrant Voting Project, said non-citizen participation.

He cited the story of Guillermo Linares, the commissioner of the Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs. An immigrant from the Dominican Republic, Linares first gained a spot as a parent representative on the school board in Washington Heights before he became a citizen. He went on to become the first Dominican elected to the City Council in 1991 and was later appointed by President Bill Clinton to lead the White House Initiative for Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans.

"Our policy process and outcomes would be more representative if non-citizens have access to the ballot," said Hayduk. "Elected officials would be attuned to making sure they are aware of all of their constituents' needs, and be more responsive to those and be more representative of them."

Bloomberg disagrees. He has repeatedly stated his view on this issue, saying that only citizens should be able to vote. In an e-mail message from his spokesman, Stu Loeser, the mayor affirmed his pro-immigration stance but at the same time insisted that the "right to vote is a privilege and responsibility for citizens only."

Meanwhile, a report released this month by Dr. Stanley Renshon for the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank that supports immigration control, cites statistics that it say show that, even when non-citizens can register and vote, they don't. The report also emphasizes the importance of the process of naturalization because its standard five-year wait allows the immigrants to immerse themselves in the language and culture, and develop attachment to the country.

"Each of the five elements of the naturalization process -- residency, good character, language facility, civics knowledge, and affirmation - are essential elements," wrote Renshon. "Naturalization as a requirement of citizenship and voting is not so much a series of hurdles to surmount, but an essential part of becoming American."

Larry Tung, a native of Taiwan, teaches media and film courses at Kean University in Union, New Jersey. He is also a documentary filmmaker whose work focuses on immigrant and Asian American issues.

 



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