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Citizens Union

City Council Passes Bill to Establish Commission on Day Labor Centers


Jian Quo Shen left his native Shanghai, China, five years ago to come to work in America so his aging parents can have a better life in their final years. Often working as $75-a-day laborer, he slept on a bunk bed in a tiny room in Chinatown.

But on July 7, 2004 in a construction site in Elmhurst, Queens a concrete wall collapsed and crushed him. He was the 14th day laborer killed since 1999. This accident came just two weeks after the death of Angel Segovia, a native of Ecuador, who fell from a third-story balcony roof in Brooklyn.

In an effort to prevent more such tragedies, the City Council passed a bill to establish a commission to look into how more job centers could be developed across the city to serve its estimated 8,000 day laborers who struggle to find employment each day are often subjected to low pay, long hours, and hazardous working conditions.

The bill, Intro 592-A, was passed by a vote of 43 to 2. According to the bill, A recent survey of day laborers in New York City found that almost 85 percent of those surveyed have experienced some type of abuse in the industry: 50 percent experienced non-payment of wages, and 56 percent were paid less than the agreed upon wage.

The temporary commission will consist of 20 members, appointed by the Council Speaker and the Mayor. At least 12 of them will be immigrant day laborers or representatives of groups with experience working on issues affecting immigrant day laborers. Officials from the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, the Department of Small Business Services, and the Police Department will also be on the commission.

Councilmember Vincent Gentile from Bay Ridge, who helped draft the bill, said it was a "win-win" situation.

"Laborers are protected," said Gentile. "And for the community, laborers are not congregating on street corners."

Councilmember Helen Sears from Jackson Heights, who also contributed to the bill, admitted that undocumented immigrants pose another difficult issue.

"While there are many day laborers who are undocumented, there are many who are not," said Sears. "And those undocumented immigrants have been mistreated and abused. This bill will be able to prevent that."

But Councilmember Peter Vallone, Jr. from Astoria objected to language in the legislation that would grant 12 of the 20 seats on the commission to immigrant day laborers or representatives of groups working with laborers.

"This is giving the official sanction... to illegal aliens," said Vallone, Jr. "We are a body that makes the law. We should not be sanctioning breaking the law."

Similar issues have generated heated discussion in cities and suburbs across the country. While some cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco, welcome immigrant workers, others do not. Residents in Danbury, Connecticut, and Farmingdale, Long Island, have long complained about day laborers on their street corners, saying that they have threatened the quality of life in their neighborhoods.

According to the bill, job centers are organized to connect day laborers with employers seeking work in settings that provide accountability and help prevent workplace exploitation. But different from the employment agencies, which are prevalent in many immigrant communities, those job centers do not charge day laborers for their services and are administered by the local government or community-based groups. Most job centers require employers to sign a contract attesting to the wages agreed upon by the employer and the day laborer.

In addition, those job centers will provide a secure space for day laborers to congregate and offer bathrooms and shelter from bad weather conditions. Some sites will also help to connect day laborers to additional services, including classes on vocational skills, labor and immigration laws, and literacy skills in both Spanish and English. Community organizations may also offer social services on sites, including health care services, legal services, food pantries and peer support groups.

A native of Taipei, Taiwan, Larry Tung is a frequent contributor to the Citizen.  

Campaign 2005: Real Estate Boom; Corporate Developments; Immigrant Entrepreneurs.


Bloomberg’s obsession with West Side Manhattan development and Brooklyn Councilwoman Letitia James’ objections to the proposed Nets Stadium (In PDF format) are both big-time community development issues.

But most such issues play out in individual neighborhoods. And with crime and the crack epidemic on the decline, the popular belief that the public schools are improving, and with white and middle class people actually throwing elbows to move into once forsaken neighborhoods, community development is increasingly seen for its added economic value to the middle class, and less for who it might be leaving behind or displacing.

Following are three of the issues on the minds of the electorate this political season.

New York’s Real Estate Boom (or “Help: I can no longer afford to live here”)

A woman I know, formerly of Fort Greene, is living the up side of what has become an all too common story in the Big Apple. Having bought what is generously called a two bedroom apartment looking out on Lafayette Avenue six years ago for $155,000 – a price she feared at the time was inflated - she recently sold it for $630,00 to a young woman with a healthy trust fund. “Personally, I don’t think it’s worth it,” my friend comments. “There’s too much noise on the street outside of the apartment. And yet now, I can’t even afford to live there myself.”

Speaking with the new real estate savvy she’s attained, she explains that the level of home seeker desperation has risen in areas like Fort Greene because “there’s just no inventory left”.

Affordable housing in New York is hard to find and at a premium. Community activists and vulnerable residents have been grumbling for years about the transformation of neighborhoods across the city in which rents and sale prices have gone through the roof and low-income people are finding themselves priced out of areas where they’ve lived for generations. What’s perhaps most striking is that neighborhoods all over the city which were once seen as unrecoverable pockets of poverty and blight, like Red Hook for instance, are now hungrily looked upon by developers and yuppie settlers alike.

A report by the Center for an Urban Future (In PDF Format) noted that the Mayor of New York has considerable power in controlling housing production and community development through his authority over zoning and land use, building code changes, appointments to the City Planning Commission, among other things.

But on the neighborhood level, where gentrification battles are most intensely fought and are as much about emotionally charged race- and class-based land claims as they are about residential or commercial change, most politicians are studiously agnostic on the question of what kind of development befits their neighborhood; when they offer their opinion on the subject there are too few “right” answers and simply too many opportunities to piss people off.

As a result, for better or worse, it’s far more difficult for voters to hold politicians accountable for their position on gentrification. Take Harlem, one of the most high profile community development battlegrounds in the city. With middle class and non African Americans pouring in, glossy commercial development pushing small businesses off of 125th Street, and Columbia University creeping around its borders, politicians have no choice but to acknowledge the tension between those who want Harlem to dismantle the legacy of poverty, and those who denounce the changing complexion of area residents and commercial corridors. But few will offer a clear vision of what Harlem should look like. Recently, city council candidates who vied for Harlem’s District 9 city council seat, in response to questions about proposed development projects, criticized the community review process undergone by recent community development projects and declared that as candidates they seek “responsible development” – arguably one of the most meaningless and non committal terms in civic discourse.

Large Scale Corporate Neighborhood Development (Or “But what if I don’t want a highway running through my backyard?”)

The question of whether to allow the proposed building of land grabbing sports stadiums and box stores has given rise to this year’s highest profile community referendums.

The Forest Ratner proposed development of 21 acres in Brooklyn, which includes the Nets stadium, housing and commercial development, became a rallying cry for opponents of eminent domain, which represents the government’s ability to seize property needed for the completion of a public project.

But more than anything else, outer borough projects like Ratner’s stadium plan and the Ikea store which is now destined to arrive in Red Hook, are important because they pit two distinct camps against each other: On one side you have those who champion job creation or who define economic progress as upscale development; on the other side you have residents and business people who will likely be displaced or who object to the inevitable traffic congestion and other environmental implications..

The Nets Stadium was originally cast as government teaming up with big commercial interests to literally bulldoze over small, defenseless residents and small businesses. But Ratner and Ikea were both able to win overwhelming support from local elected officials by offering huge buy-outs to residents and enticing folks with jobs, particularly the public housing populations of Fort Greene and Red Hook respectively. Both the Nets Stadium and Ikea battles took on racial and class dimensions as predominately white, middle class activists found themselves being shouted down by African American residents from the projects demanding jobs.

In the end, most city wide and local elected officials (with the exception of Tish James) opted to support Ikea and the Nets stadium rather than risk being perceived as obstacles to neighborhood economic progress. The Nets stadium first demonstrated its city-wide profile as Public Advocate contender Norman Siegal joined with residents to fight Ratner’s plans, but Virginia Fields and Gifford Miller, along with Bloomberg, were strongly in favor of Ratner’s economic development vision. Ferrer, the Democratic party nominee, has been wishy-washy on the issue, both praising the project and raising questions about who will be displaced by it.

The importance of job creation will continue to be a pivotal issue in deciding the political futures of large scale commercial development in New York, but this knife can cut both ways: Wal Mart was successfully thwarted from gaining a foothold in New York, because it is perceived as an exploitative employer and poor corporate citizen.

Immigrant Small Business Development (Or “I am yearning to breathe free, not to be a terrorist”)

The obstacles facing small business entrepreneurs in New York City are legion. Seen as representing the bottom of the economic food chain, immigrant entrepreneurs fight for respect wherever they set up shop. Most have limited access to conventional forms of working capital and many possess little or no formal business training that will help them grow and make a bigger contribution to the city’s economy.

Some areas, like the ethnically kaleidoscopic streets of Northwest Queens, have been reborn over the last few years, spurred on by the business activity of new arrivals. One would think that in a city where immigrant levels are at historically high levels -almost 3 million New Yorkers were born in a foreign county - the needs and contributions of immigrant small business people would be more fully appreciated. In fact, the term micro-entrepreneur has become popular over the last fifteen years largely as a way to categorize a culture of subsistence-level commercial activity honed in the developing world. Some research estimates that micro-entrepreneurs now make up 35 percent of the employment force in Brooklyn, Bronx and Queens.

The reality is politicians and policy makers, who rarely pay attention to constituencies they perceive as largely unorganized non-voters, are only now beginning to wake up to the importance of immigrant entrepreneurs. One possible indication that policy advocates are taking immigrant business development more seriously is the fact that the Center for an Urban Future is releasing a report on immigrant entrepreneurs and how the city can support them.

Perhaps in another sign of things to come, organizations like the East Harlem’s Esperanza del Barrio, Bushwick’s Latin American Workers Project and Urban Justice Center’s Street Vendor Project, have been putting pressure on the administration to improve conditions for street vendors in the city, including better treatment by the police, more public space to accommodate vending and an increase in the number of vending licenses the city provides.

The Bloomberg Administration asserts that it has reorganized the Department of Small Business Services to focus more on micro-entrepreneurs and has opened up Business Solution Centers in all boroughs to provide technical assistance to entrepreneurs. But beyond this gesture, immigrant constituencies and interest groups are sure to demand more from city officials. For instance there are efforts to gain support for immigrant entrepreneurs through measures as varied as public capitalization of loan funds, to the rezoning of areas to accommodate and incubate small businesses. Some of this advocacy goes beyond small business development issues and challenges the formal and informal status of immigrants in the city: Esperanza del Barrio is leading an immigrant rights campaign to allow undocumented entrepreneurs more freedom to pursue work opportunities.

Mark Winston Griffith, a founder of the non-profit Central Brooklyn Partnership and a fellow at the Drum Major Institute, has been in charge of the community development topic page since its inception in 2003.  

Mayoral Issue Grid: Civil Rights



Mayoral Issue Grid

CIVIL RIGHTS

-Use City Contracting Power for Civil Rights Issues?
-Gay Marriage?

For decades, the city government has its enormous financial power to move social agendas. In the 1980s, the city used its pensions to force corporations to divest from South Africa to protest Apartheid.

This year, the City Council passed an Equal Benefits Law, which requires contractors that offer benefits to spouses of their employees to extend the same package to domestic partners of workers. Mayor Michael Bloomberg vetoed the measure.

Gay marriage has also become a key civil rights issue in the campaign. While marriage is legally a state issue, in February, a Manhattan Supreme Court Justice ruled that the city should not discriminate against same-sex couples. She ordered the city clerk to begin issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. Mayor Michael Bloomberg appealed the ruling.

Fernando Ferrer

Fernando Ferrer supports the use of city contracts to advance social agendas. “Whether it’s… the extension of domestic partnership rights to those you do business with the city, or the rights of the transgendered - for me it fits into the same category,” Ferrer said at a forum earlier this year. “You cannot believe in some human rights and not all.”

Ferrer said he also supports gay marriage.

Michael Bloomberg

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has supported using the city’s contracting power to advance social agendas in certain cases, but he vetoed the City Council's Equal Benefits Law, which requires contractors that offer benefits to the spouses of their employees to extend the same package to the domestic partners of workers.

Bloomberg says that he while personally supports gay marriage, it is a state issue.

Last year, Bloomberg appealed the Manhattan Supreme Court ruling to begin issuing marriage licenses. He told the New York Times in February, “I do not want to see happen here what happened in California,” where gay marriages were authorized by Mayor Gavin Newsom and overturned by the state court.

RELATED ARTICLES:
- Civil Rights Issues Divide Bloomberg and Democratic Rivals
- Bully Busting
- Democratic Mayoral Candidate Forum: Gay and Lesbian Issues
- Lagging Behind In The Fight For Gay Rights
- Can Critical Mass Negotiate a Truce?

 

Human Rights Law: Will It Become An Issue In The Mayoral Campaign?


The most comprehensive strengthening of the city’s human rights law in 14 years was passed overwhelmingly on September 15, but Mayor Michael Bloomberg -- who opposed the bill in public hearings -- is not saying whether he will sign it or not.

“This bill broadens the scope of the city’s human rights law, and adds protections for people who may currently be slipping through the cracks: couples who have entered into domestic partnerships and people who have experienced retaliation for reporting violations of the human rights law,” said Councilmember Gale Brewer, the chief sponsor of the legislation, The Local Civil Rights Restoration Act, Intro 22-A. “Perhaps more importantly, it clearly acknowledges that the city’s law often provides more protection than state and federal law." The bill would require the application of the stricter standards of city law when someone is discriminated against illegally in New York City.

"Intro 22-A sets the city human rights law free from being treated as nothing more than a carbon copy of its ever-narrowing state and federal counterparts," said Craig Gurian, a former staff member of the city's Human Rights Commission who is now executive director of the Anti-Discrimination Center of Metro New York.

The vacancies on the United States Supreme Court were much on the mind of the bill’s sponsors. "Years of Republican administrations have taken their toll on state and federal laws designed to protect people from discrimination," said Councilmember Bill DeBlasio. "We have every reason to believe that the assault on civil rights will continue as President Bush continues to appoint conservatives to the federal bench.”

Almost a month ago, Avery Mehlman, the Human Rights Commission’s Deputy Commissioner for Law Enforcement, said they were “reviewing the latest form” of the legislation to see if it is acceptable to the Bloomberg administration. When the bill passed, he referred comment to the mayor’s press office where Jordan Barowitz, a spokesman for Bloomberg, said, “We’re still reviewing it.” The mayor had 30 days to review after the bill's passage.

The timing is such that this legislation could become an issue in the mayoral campaign. Fernando Ferrer “strongly supports it,” according to his press office. "The Civil Rights Restoration Act is an important step towards ensuring that the civil rights of New Yorkers are construed by courts in the broadest possible terms," Ferrer said in a statement. "Equally important, we must ensure that we both strengthen the protections against retaliation for those who bring discrimination suits and increase the potential penalties on those who violate the law. Finally, I believe that it is simply the right thing to do to make clear that discrimination against domestic partners will not be tolerated in this city."

Ali Davis, legislative director for Brewer, said that the revised bill “came out of negotiations with the mayor’s office.” If Bloomberg does decide to reject the bill, she said, “the Council is willing to pass it over his veto."

Human Rights Commissioner Patricia Gatling testified against many of the key provisions of the legislation in April. When I wrote extensively about the bill in June, the administration was outright opposing it, though the administration does support a clause forbidding discrimination on the basis of “partnership status,” a compromise provision.

“This legislation poses a simple choice for the mayor," says Craig Gurian. "Align himself with progressive legislation supported by more than three dozen civil rights organizations, or facilitate the anti-civil rights agenda of the Bush and Pataki administrations. We hope the mayor abandons his opposition to the bill.”

Intro 22-A was backed by a coalition of more than 40 organizations, including the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Disabled in Action, Habitat for Humanity (New York chapter), Lambda Legal Defense, the New York Civil Liberties Union, and the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund.

NYCLU v. NYPD

One year after the protests and mass arrests at the Republican National Convention here in New York, the New York Civil Liberties Union issued a 64-page report (in pdf format) critiquing police practices that week and calling for the creation of an “independent City agency to oversee the planning and management of large demonstrations.”

“The historical account provided by ‘Rights and Wrongs at the RNC’ is particularly important since the NYPD has defended all of its actions during the convention and has insisted it made no mistakes,” said Donna Liberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “The performance of the police was a decidedly mixed one. While hundreds of thousands of people were able to make their voices heard, the right to protest was severely undermined by the mass arrests of hundreds of peaceful demonstrators and bystanders, the pervasive surveillance of lawful demonstrators, and the illegal fingerprinting and prolonged detention of nearly 1,500 people charged with mostly minor offenses. This compromised the Constitutional right to protest.”

More than 1,800 protesters and bystanders were arrested by the police during convention week. More than 87 percent of them were “found not guilty or had their cases dismissed or adjourned in contemplation of dismissal,” the New York Times reported. Some of those who believe they were falsely arrested are pursuing lawsuits against the city.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly told the Times that police conduct during the convention was “a model of expert planning, professionalism and restraint.” He did not respond to the call for a new agency to deal with demonstrations, but did call the complaints catalogued in the report “a collection of old, untrue assertions and uncorroborated, self-serving statements by individuals who were arrested.”

Chris Dunn, associate legal director at Civil Liberties, told Newsday, “Protests are not a criminal event. They should not be treated as a law enforcement problem.”

 

Campaign 2005: Much At Stake For Immigrants


There is no question that New York, with its nearly three million foreign-born residents representing 200 ethnicities and speaking 175 languages, is a city of immigrants, as it always has been.

It should not be surprising that both the incumbent mayor and three of his four major Democratic opponents have said they support amnesty for undocumented immigrants – that the federal government grant legal status to those who have been in the United States for a certain period of time. (Only Anthony Weiner answered “no, not to all” at a mayoral forum.)

But in this city that more or less invented ethnic politics, advocates say they are hearing very little in this year’s local campaigns that directly addresses the local problems facing New York’s new immigrant population.

“There is a lot at stake this year for immigrants,” said Chung-Wha Hong, deputy director of the New York Immigration Coalition, an umbrella organization consisted of more than 170 immigrant advocacy groups in New York. “But I haven’t seen any comprehensive plan in any of the candidates’ platforms.”

Almost by definition, immigration issues, it is true, are federal issues. But there are many immigrant issues that do not necessarily involve the federal government directly -- such as language barriers, immigrant students’ specific educational needs, employment obstacles and the difficulties of obtaining legal and social services.

And nothing that New York does in this area can be considered completely local. “Historically and politically, whatever New York’s locally-elected officials do,” Hong said, “has significant influence in the national debate in immigration policies.”

Education

 

New York City has the largest public school system in the United States, with more than a million school children from K-12. About one in seven are identified as English Language Learners, or ELL students (they used to be called Limited English Proficiency, LEP students), students who need extra help in English. Over the past four years, fewer of them are being taught in their native languages and more are being placed in English as a Second Language (ESL) classes.

According to a 2002 report by the Manhattan Institute, less than ten percent of ELL students in elementary schools, and less than five percent in middle schools, achieved acceptable math test scores in the year 2000, much lower than the general city-wide average.

“Everybody wants to be the ‘education mayor’,” said Hong, whose organization counts immigrant education as a priority. “But they did not address one of the most serious problems: The LEP [Limited English Proficiency] students’ dropout rate is over 50 percent. It is a major crisis.”

However, C. Virginia Fields, the Manhattan borough president and one of the four Democratic candidates for mayor, promises on her campaign Web site to “develop small schools and programs focused solely on the instruction of high school-aged English Language Learners. I will also ensure that vocational education programs are capable of accommodating students with limited English proficiency.”

And former Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer’s education plan, as outlined on his campaign Web site, does focus on addressing “the dropout crisis” in general, and also promises to dedicate $850 million a year “to expanding early childhood education programs and to strengthening special education and English language acquisition programs.”

Hong also stressed the importance of providing translations and translators to the non English-speaking parents of school children, in order to have them be involved in their children’s education. Under the Bloomberg’s new “Immigrant Opportunities Initiative”, the New York Immigration Coalition was able to get $9.1 million from City Hall to provide ESL classes, as well as legal and employment services to immigrants, up from $2.8 million last year. But the amount, she said, is “not at all sufficient.”

Another must, Hong believes, is professional training for schoolteachers in learning how to get through to children from varying cultural backgrounds.

Civil Rights and Criminal Justice

 

With post-911 heightened security and the introduction of the Patriot Act, many immigrants in New York City, particularly those without documentation, are fearful of deportation and police harassment. Under pressure from immigration groups and the City Council to protect the privacy of immigrants, Mayor Michael Bloomberg issued Executive Order 41 in September 2003 to forbid city agencies from reporting illegal immigrants to federal agencies.

“It gives assurance to all law-biding New Yorkers -whether you are an immigrant, a victim of domestic violence, or any taxpayer- that the confidential information you give to the city will stay with the city,” Bloomberg said at the time.

However, this “don’t tell” policy is limited and unclear. Immigrants who are arrested by the police are not protected by it, no matter how minor the offense. All New York City police officers are equipped with a NCIC (National Crime Information Center) mobile device, which hooks into the FBI criminal justice information system, which shows outstanding deportation proceedings. Once arrested, one’s immigration record will be revealed and those without documentation will be reported to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which is part of the Department of Homeland Security.

Thomas Doepfner, an assistant deputy police commissioner, said in a hearing held by the City Council Committee of Immigration in April that anyone whose driver’s license is checked by the police, even in a random traffic stop, will have his or her name and birth date run through the NCIC database. If someone is listed there as an immigration violator, ICE will be contacted. And if authorized by immigration officials to detain the person, the NYPD can hold the person for 48 hours for pickup by federal officers.

“It is not a good idea for the NYPD or any law enforcement agency to be involved with immigration,” said Tushar Sheth, of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, which provides free legal services to immigrants. “You want to be able to trust the police so you can cooperate with them. It doesn’t help if the cop will ask you about your immigration status every time you talk to them. It makes it easier for immigrants to come forward in any investigation if they know their city leaders are behind them.”

Hong also denounces the practice as a “back-door” way to disregard Executive 41, which exempt from confidential immigration information about a person suspected of criminal activities by the police. “But illegal immigration is a civil violation. We need to adopt additional mechanism to protect the rights of immigrants. There are many loopholes to cover.”

Driver’s Licenses and “Real ID”

 

A national ID has been in the political debate for many years. It went back to the top of the agenda after 911 as the government tries to tighten the nation’s alarm system and prevent possible terrorists from traveling. The “Real ID Act”, a bill that requires all states to issue federally approved driver's licenses or identification cards to those who live and work in the United States, was passed by the Congress and will go into effect starting in May 2008.

Under the act, a Real ID will be required under federal law to verify a customer’s identity if one wants to drive, visit a federal government building, collect Social Security, access a federal government service or use the services of a private company. In a word, it will be almost impossible to live without such an ID.

“Having a driver’s license is part of many people’s livelihood,” said Sheth. “In a city with a significant immigrant population, I’d like to see our candidates to have that kind of New York sensibility to tell the federal government that it’s not good for New York. We can not comply with that on the local level.”

Non-Citizen Voting Rights

 

For the first 150 years after the founding of the nation, non-citizens voted and held public office: alderman, coroner, school board member. Yet the policy fell casualty to the anti-immigrant backlash of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

While many European countries have been allowing legal immigrants to vote for public offices for many decades, only a few municipalities in Maryland and Massachusetts allow non-citizens to vote for local affairs. Non-citizens in Chicago vote in school board election. New York had the same practice from the 1970s until 2002 when the school boards were disbanded.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said on his weekly radio program on WABC-AM in April of 2004 that he opposed giving legal immigrants who are not United States citizens the right to vote in New York City elections.

The mayor said that while he sympathized with the plight of immigrants, particularly those who pay taxes, he still believed that "the essence of citizenship is the right to vote, and you should go about becoming a citizen before you get the right to vote."

Gifford Miller and Anthony Weiner have said they agree. Fernando Ferrer and Virginia Fields say they disagree, that non-citizens should be able to vote in local elections. A native of Taipei, Taiwan, Larry Tung is a frequent contributor to the Citizen.  

 

Mayoral Issue Grid: Immigrants



Mayoral Issue Grid

IMMIGRANTS

- Non-Citizen Voting?
- Drivers License Requirements?
-Amnesty
-School Translators?

There is currently a bill in the New York City Council that would give non-citizen immigrants (who have residency in the city for more than six months) the right to vote in all municipal elections. Advocates of the proposal argue that the estimated 1.3 million immigrants living in New York City, close to 20 percent of the population, deserve to be represented locally in government if they are expected to pay taxes and live with the decisions of elected officials. In New York City, non-citizen residents were allowed to vote in school board elections before the boards were disbanded.

Since January 2004, the Department of Motor Vehicles has been sending letters to thousands of drivers informing them that there is a problem with the Social Security Number in their files. Drivers who cannot provide a valid Social Security number will eventually have their drivers’ licenses suspended and lose the ability to drive legally in New York State. The crackdown has resulted in the suspension of the licenses of 7,000 immigrants, but advocates said the number of immigrants affected could reach 300,000. Immigrant rights groups say the Department of Motor Vehicles should drop proof of immigration status as a requirement for applicants.

Immigrants rights groups have proposed granting citizenship to undocumented immigrants who have been in the United States for a period of time.

The New York City Council has proposed a bill called the Education Equity Act, which would require translation and interpretation services be provided to parents of children in the New York City public schools. It would also provide translation of report cards and interpretation at parent-teacher conferences.

Fernando Ferrer

Fernando Ferrer supports giving non-citizens the right to vote in municipal elections. When asked about the bill, Ferrer responded in a written statement: “Non-citizen immigrants pay taxes, contribute to our economy, and are subject to our laws, but are not represented in our government. That is not right. Democracy thrives on allowing everyone access to their government.”

Ferrer’s position on what kind of information should be required for driver’s licenses has not been located.

Ferrer said if he had the power he would give amnesty to undocumented immigrants.

Ferrer said he would support translation services for parents of public school children.

C. Virginia Fields

C. Virginia Fields supports giving non-citizens the right to vote in municipal elections.

Fields’ position on what kind of information should be required for driver’s licenses has not been located.

Fields said if she had the power she would give amnesty to undocumented immigrants.

Fields said he would support translation services for parents of public school children.

A. Gifford Miller

Gifford Miller does not support giving non-citizens the right to vote in municipal elections.

When asked about the bill, Miller responded in a written statement: “I am opposed to non-citizen voting. I support citizenship and expanding citizenship, and have been a consistent supporter of increasing and protecting rights of immigrants by leading the council in such efforts as lobbying the mayor to revise his immigration policy and expand protections for immigrants. As mayor, I will continue to work for increasing immigration rights and protections.”

Miller’s position on what kind of information should be required for driver’s licenses has not been located.

Miller said if he had the power he would give amnesty to undocumented immigrants.

Miller said he supports translation services for parents of public school children and plans on passing the bill in the City Council.

Anthony Weiner

Anthony Weiner does not support giving non-citizens the right to vote in municipal elections.

Weiner’s position on what kind of information should be required for driver’s licenses has not been located.

At a recent forum, Weiner was asked: Would you give amnesty to undocumented immigrants? Weiner answered "No, not to all."

Weiner said he would support translation services for parents of public school children.

Michael Bloomberg

Michael Bloomberg does not support giving non-citizens the right to vote in municipal elections.

When asked about the bill, Bloomberg responded in a written statement: “Without question, our country’s current immigration system is broken and in dire need of an overhaul. However, I believe that the right to vote is at the very heart of what it means to be a citizen, and therefore I support government efforts to speed the process by which non-citizen residents can become citizens if they choose, so that they can become fully integrated in our country’s economic, social and democratic culture.”

Bloomberg’s position on what kind of information should be required for driver’s licenses has not been located.

At a recent gathering of New York's Caribbean and African leaders, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that undocumented immigrants should be able to stay in the country without having to worry about being caught and deported to their homelands.

The Bloomberg administration testified against the Education Equity Act, arguing that it would add burden and costs for the Department of Education.


RELATED ARTICLES:

- Non-Citizen Voting
- Citizenship and Voting
- Immigrants and Driver's Licenses 

Mayoral Issue Grid: Civil Rights



Mayoral Issue Grid

CIVIL RIGHTS

-Use City Contracting Power for Civil Rights Issues?
-Gay Marriage?

For decades, the city government has its enormous financial power to move social agendas. In the 1980s, the city used its pensions to force corporations to divest from South Africa to protest Apartheid.

This year, the City Council passed an Equal Benefits Law, which requires contractors that offer benefits to spouses of their employees to extend the same package to domestic partners of workers. Mayor Michael Bloomberg vetoed the measure.

Gay marriage has also become a key civil rights issue in the campaign. While marriage is legally a state issue, in February, a Manhattan Supreme Court Justice ruled that the city should not discriminate against same-sex couples. She ordered the city clerk to begin issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. Mayor Michael Bloomberg appealed the ruling.

Fernando Ferrer

Fernando Ferrer supports the use of city contracts to advance social agendas. “Whether it’s… the extension of domestic partnership rights to those you do business with the city, or the rights of the transgendered - for me it fits into the same category,” Ferrer said at a forum earlier this year. “You cannot believe in some human rights and not all.”

Ferrer said he also supports gay marriage.

C. Virginia Fields

C. Virginia Fields supports the use of city contracts to advance social agendas.

“I am for marriage equality,” Fields said at a recent forum. “I am for the Dignity for All Students Act. I am for adoption rights for LGBT parents as well as the repeal of “Don’t Ask; Don’t Tell” because it doesn’t work. I am for the protection of transgendered people.”

A. Gifford Miller

As Speaker of the City Council, Miller helped draft and passed an Equal Benefits Law, which requires contractors that offer benefits to spouses of their employees to extend the same package to domestic partners of workers. Mayor Michael Bloomberg vetoed the bill.

Miller also supports gay marriage and, if elected, promises to issue marriage licenses.

“I have been for gay marriage since I ran for office for the first time in January of 1996,” Miller said. “The right choice is to issue those marriage licenses, to stand up and say, ‘The equal protection laws of the State of New York applies to LGBT New Yorkers,’ and I, as mayor - if you choose me, if I’m so fortunate to be elected - will issue those marriage licenses immediately, because it’s the right thing to do.”

Anthony Weiner

Anthony Weiner supports the use of city contracts to advance social agendas.

Weiner also supports gay marriage. “I have a history of fighting for civil rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered New Yorkers,” Weiner said at a forum. “When I was running for Congress in 1998, long before the issue of gay marriage was particularly hot, and at that time civil unions was the big issue being contested, I endorsed gay marriage.”

Michael Bloomberg

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has supported using the city’s contracting power to advance social agendas in certain cases, but he vetoed the City Council's Equal Benefits Law, which requires contractors that offer benefits to the spouses of their employees to extend the same package to the domestic partners of workers.

Bloomberg says that he while personally supports gay marriage, it is a state issue.

Last year, Bloomberg appealed the Manhattan Supreme Court ruling to begin issuing marriage licenses. He told the New York Times in February, “I do not want to see happen here what happened in California,” where gay marriages were authorized by Mayor Gavin Newsom and overturned by the state court.

RELATED ARTICLES:
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- Democratic Mayoral Candidate Forum: Gay and Lesbian Issues
- Lagging Behind In The Fight For Gay Rights
- Can Critical Mass Negotiate a Truce?

 

Street Vending Licenses


Maria Samba, a 49 year-old immigrant from Ecuador, makes a living by selling flavored ices in the summer and hot dogs in the winter. Like many other undocumented immigrants, Samba couldn’t apply for street vending licenses and often has to pay fines for illegal vending.

So when she heard that the city has passed a law allowing undocumented immigrants to apply for street vending licenses, she wanted to be involved.

That is why she was in City Hall last month holding one of the pens that Mayor Michael Bloomberg used to sign into law a legislation that would prohibit the Department of Consumer Affairs from questioning applicants for street vending licenses about their immigration status.

“I won what I wanted,” she said in Spanish through an interpreter, joining many other vendors at the step of City Hall. “I won my dream.”

“We’re all very happy,” Flor Bermudez, staff attorney for Esperanza del Barrio, a group that works with Mexican and Latino immigrants, told Daily News. “The city will no longer discriminate against immigrants in the licensing process.”

In the past, the Department of Consumer Affairs required that applicants had to have proper work authorization or permanent resident cards (green cards) in order to apply for licenses.

When Mayor Bloomberg issued Executive Order 41 in 2003 prohibiting city agencies from inquiring or disclosing immigration status of New Yorkers who come into contact with city government, street vending was the last permit that still used immigration status as a criterion for certification.

The new law will help bring the vending law inline with the executive order, Bloomberg said.

The bill, sponsored by Councilmember Charles Barron was passed in the city council in June with little but vocal opposition.

“It’s a continuation of the city moving in the wrong direction,” Republican Councilmember James Oddo told the New York Sun. “This is the Last permit that allowed the city to ask the immigration status. Instead of removing it, I think we should be asking the status when we hand out all of our permits.”

Some argued that allowing more people to apply for vending licenses would put small stores in jeopardy. “We have people selling fruit on the street in front of a fruit stand that cost less because they have lower overhead cost,” said Richard Lipsky from The Neighborhood Retail Alliance, an umbrella group advocating the rights of small businesses “That’s not acceptable”

However, there are a limited number of street vending licenses. “The general merchandise vending licenses have been kept at 853 ever since 1970s,” said Dena Improta, of the Department of Consumer Affairs. Two other types of licenses are for pushcart food vending permit, capped at 3,000, and seasonal food permit at 1,000.

Still small business are concerned about their future. “What happened here is that they used the over inflated sympathy for undocumented immigrants to help the campaign to increase the number of street vending licenses in the future,” said Lipsky.

Indeed, a bill to increase the number of licenses for street vending is about to get a hearing in the city council.

An immigrant from Bangkok, Thailand, Chaleampon Ritthichai is the editor of The Citizen. 

Howard Beach Is Not Alone


When Nicholas “Fat Nick” Minucci, 19, a white man, fractured the skull of Glen Moore, 22, an African American, with a baseball bat while yelling racial epithets in Queens on June 29, it became an international news story and sparked scores of articles about how far we have or have not come in dealing with racism in our society. Anthony Ench, 21, has also been arrested in the attack.

The racial attack on Moore was only one of several bias crimes in New York over the past month, including an assault on an unidentified 22-year old Asian woman in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn on July 1 and an attack on Dwan Prince, a gay man in Brownsville, Brooklyn on June 8. But these other incidents did not occur in Howard Beach.

Howard Beach has been notorious since December, 1986, when a black man, Michael Griffith, whose car had broken down in the neighborhood, was set upon by a mob of white people from the neighborhood, and, fleeing, was hit and killed by a car on the highway. Howard Beach is a brand name when it comes to bias violence.

Three young white men were convicted of second degree manslaughter and first degree assault in the 1986 incident. But residents of the predominately white Howard Beach neighborhood were quick to say that racism had nothing to do with the attacks. Howard Beach residents said "they were unhappy with the convictions and many viewed the beatings as a simple scuffle--one in which race was not involved, and the severity of which did not warrant the punishment,” according to the Queens Tribune.

The 2005 Howard Beach incident has elicited a similar defensive tone among residents of the enclave. Since it was widely reported that Moore and the other black men he was with the night he was beaten were out to steal a car, according to police, white residents of the area do not want to see this crime attributed to their incurable hatred for black people.

"They got what they deserved," Tim Peterson told the New York Times. "And I'm not justifying it either."

There are similarities in official reaction as well. Mayor Ed Koch vociferously condemned the 1986 attacks. But by that time he was perceived as so racially divisive that he never recovered politically. A couple of more high-profile racial killings followed and Koch was rejected in favor of the city’s first African American mayor, David Dinkins, in 1989.

Dinkins ran afoul of his handling of the 1991 Crown Heights riots, when an African American mob, inflamed by the killing of a 7-year old black child by a Hasidic driver running a light, attacked and killed Yankel Rosenbaum, 29, a rabbinical student visiting from Australia.

Mindful of the potential racial and political minefield, Mayor Michael Bloomberg spoke out right after the June 29 attack, as soon as the police classified it as a hate crime. "I cannot stress it enough: we are going to live together, and nobody, nobody, should ever feel that they will be attacked because of their ethnicity, their orientation, their religion, where they live, their documented status, or anything else. Period. End of story,” he said.

Bloomberg has not, however, called a press conference to address the attack on Dwan Prince, but leaders of the New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project did call one to chastise the political establishment for not dealing with the case. “I reached out to every elected official at the state and local level in Brownsville,” Clarence Patton, director of the project, told me for a story in Gay City News “They acted as if they didn’t understand what I wanted them to do.”

One thing that has defused intergroup tensions in New York is the relatively quick response of the criminal justice system in 2005 versus 1986.

Nineteen years ago, African Americans had so little confidence in the Police Department and the Queens District Attorney’s office that Charles Hynes--now the Brooklyn District Attorney--was brought in as a special prosecutor to bring the Howard Beach suspects to justice.

Today, suspects are in custody in both the Howard Beach and Brownsville cases, a credit to more sensitive and effective police work and the willingness of witnesses in both neighborhoods to come forward.

While the Rev. Al Sharpton is back on the Howard Beach scene all these years later, there has been little call on the part of the political establishment for getting at the roots of the kind of bigotry that leads to these attacks.

The Department of Education has been in the process of increasing somewhat anti-bullying and intergroup relations programs in the schools, but Bloomberg is refusing to implement a school anti-bullying law passed by the City Council, calling it an “illegal” measure.

There seems to be a great desire--especially on the part of politicians--to treat bias incidents as aberrations and police matters, not reflective of some deep-seated problem among the good and unprejudiced people of New York. The gay community, however, has seen reports of anti-gay violence to the police go up 32 percent in the last year, an increase attributed by gay groups to the rise in gay visibility and the very public debate over issues like same-sex marriage.

Norman Siegel, the former director of the New York Civil Liberties Union who is making a second run for public advocate, does not think combating hate crime is simple. He and civil rights activist Galen Kirkland spent years going to schools in Bensonhurt, Brooklyn to conduct classes designed to combat stereotyping. Siegel said if Mayor Bloomberg “wants to end hate crime, he should call a summit of civil rights groups” to address the problem--a route that the mayor is unlikely to go in an election year unless under extreme public pressure (as Mayor Giuliani was after the police shooting of Amadou Diallo in 1999).

The press coverage of the Howard Beach incident is not likely to apply that pressure:

A Different New York,” said Bob Herbert of the New York Times.

Howard Beach is not the same place,” wrote Ellis Hennican in Newsday.

Thug-on-Thug Violence,” concluded the New York Post editorial page.

The columns were all about how Howard Beach in 2005 is not the same as Howard Beach in 1986. None of them explored what's happening in 2005 in other neighborhoods.

Andy Humm, a former member of the City Commission on Human Rights, has been in charge of the civil rights topic page since its inception in 2001. He is co-host of the weekly "Gay USA" on Manhattan Neighborhood Network (34 on Time-Warner; 107 on RCN) on Thursdays at 11 PM.  

Immigration Reform


Teddy Lim, an immigrant from China, is about to enter a limbo. After graduating from business school last year, he was given a practical training card – a piece of identification that allows international students to work in the United States for a year. But his time is running out.

The card will soon expire leaving him with three choices: one, he will have to leave the country, two, find a sponsor to support him to work here, or, three stay here illegally.

“I’d rather be here waiting tables and make more money than going home,” he said.

Stories of students turned undocumented immigrants are common. Soon Lim will be one of the estimated 500,000 undocumented immigrants in the city and more than 10 million across the country.

But that may change because the federal government now has two pending bills to reform immigration policy and another one will be introduced later in July.

Last year President George W. Bush proposed a “temporary worker" programthat would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain a three-year work permit, and enjoy other rights, such as minimum wage and union benefits.

Immigrant advocates were initially delighted but argued that the President’s plan didn’t go far enough because it didn’t give a path to a permanent residency, commonly known as a green card.

“President Bush’s proposal is a dead-end, not an opportunity,” said Moises Perez, executive director of Allianza Dominicana, the largest organization serving New York’s Dominican community.

In May 2005, U.S. Senators John McCain and Edward Kennedy and US Representatives Jeff Flake, Luis Guitierrez and Jim Kolbe introduced legislation that is similar to that of the president but provides current undocumented workers with a path toward green cards. Under The Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act, illegal immigrants would have to register, pay a $2,000 fine, clear a background check, pass an English exam and possibly also pay back taxes.

“This bill has win-win provisions that allow employers to get the workers they legitimately need,” said Margie McHugh, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition. “At the same time, it gives immigrants a chance to gain permanent residency and eventually citizenship.”

The legislation is expected to face tough opposition in Congress. “Even if the bill is passed into law,” wrote Cyrus Mehta in the India Post, “ it is likely to look very different from the current proposal.”

Meanwhile, two Republican senators, John Cornyn of Texas and Jon Kyl of Arizona, are scheduled to introduce another immigration reform that will allow undocumented immigrants to temporarily fill jobs shunned by U.S. workers but require them to return home at the end of three years.

The plan is dubbed by supporters as "work and return," as opposed to called "work and stay."

Despite all differences, both supporters and critics believed that immigration reform is much needed and that all the pending legislation means that some kind of reform is imminent.

“The decisions that Congress makes this year will affect every meaningful aspect of life in America for generations to come,“ said Dan Stein, president of FAIR, a group favoring immigration control.

For Lim, it doesn’t matter which bills will pass eventually. “ I just want to be able to work and stay here legally,” he said.

An immigrant from Bangkok, Thailand, Chaleampon Ritthichai is the editor of The Citizen. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



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