Gotham Gazette

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Academic Freedom, Intimidation, And Mayoral Politics: The Case of Rashid Khalidi

Disputes between students and professors at Columbia University over how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is taught have escalated into national news, with partisans on both sides claiming to fight on behalf of academic freedom and against intimidation.

Last October, aggrieved Jewish students put together a half-hour film called "Columbia Unbecoming" through a pro-Israel group based in Boston called The David Project. In the film some of the students describe conduct by professors at Columbia's Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures Department that they felt constituted intimidation and smacked of anti-Semitism.

The accusations got much attention, in The New York Timesand elsewhere. One Israeli accused Professor Joseph Massad of asking him, "How many Palestinians have you killed?" Another student said she asked Massad whether it was true Israel sometimes give warnings before it bombs so that people wouldn’t get hurt, and the professor replied: “If you're going to deny the atrocities being committed against Palestinians, then you can get out of my classroom!" The accused professors denied the incidents had occurred, or said the accusers’ versions were twisted beyond recognition.

Columbia President Lee Bollinger appointed a panel to investigate. In late March, the panel's reportfound that while no professor was guilty of anti-Semitism, student complaints about how they were treated when they dissented from a professor's view were not dealt with in a timely or thorough fashion.

One name not mentioned in the report, though, was Professor Rashid Khalidi, director of the Middle East Institute at the university. His was the one case that spread beyond the Morningside Heights campus into the city’s public school system and even into mayoral politics.

The New York Sun began this particular controversy on February 15, when it reported Khalidi’s involvement in a teacher training program on the Middle East for the city’s public school teachers. The newspaper said that Khalidi’s “professorship is named in memory of Edward Said, a divisive scholar, and is paid for in part with a donation from the United Arab Emirates,” and said that Khalidi had called Israel a “racist” state with an “apartheid system,” a charge Khalidi denies.

When the Sun contacted public officials for comment, Congressman Anthony Weiner(D-Brooklyn), a candidate for the Democratic nomination for mayor, said : "For my money, this guy shouldn't even be teaching at Columbia, let alone being recruited to train our Board of Ed teachers.” (He told me later, though, that he had not said that Khalidi should be dismissed by Columbia.)

The case against Khalidi did not involve his conduct as a teacher trainer, about which nobody complained. In fact, Mark Wilner, an assistant principal at Midwood High School in Brooklyn who took Khalidi’s training course on the Middle East, later told the Forward that “his session was completely apolitical,” focusing on geography and demography.

Nevertheless, the day the Sun’s initial report appeared, Chancellor Joel Klein barred Khalidi from the teacher training program. “Considering his past statements, Rashid Khalidi should not have been included in a program that provided professional development for [Department of Education] teachers and he won't be participating in the future,” the Department of Education said in a statement.

Bollinger reacted to Klein’s action against Khalidi by pulling Columbia out of the training program for public school teachers entirely.

Khalidi himself e-mailed me that the teacher-training program “has been going on successfully for over 12 years. They have never paid it the slightest attention until the gutter press and publicity-hound politicians raised the matter…From his own statements, it is clear that Rep. Anthony Weiner has no idea what I have said or not said. This is no surprise if he relies on the gutter press for information about my views, as he apparently does. He has misrepresented and taken out of context what I have said, as have the trashy newspapers on which he relies for his ‘facts,’ and for publicizing his own outrageous anti-Arab statements.”

Weiner did not reply to Khalidi’s specific charges, but said, “you are perfectly free to say hateful things, but that doesn’t mean you are entitled to a city contract.”

When the Forward pressedWeiner to be specific about things Khalidi had said that troubled him, Weiner said, “I am by no means an expert on the guy’s work, but what I have seen anecdotally on this guy is troubling.”

When I did my own pressing, Weiner’s office e-mailed me three quotes they said that Khalidi made that the Congressman thought justified the professor’s dismissal by the Department of Education:

1) "Occupation and settlements are the basic sources of violence in this conflict, and only if they are ended can the violence be halted. It cannot be simpler than that,” Khalidi wrote for the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in “Challenges and Opportunities” in 2002.

2) References to Israel being a "racist" and "apartheid" state. That America has been "brainwashed by Israel." (Interview for the Miami Herald, October 2000)

3) "For these American Likudniks and their Israeli counterparts, sad to say, the tragedy of September 11 was a godsend: It enabled them to draft the United States to help fight Israel's enemies." ("Attack Iraq: The real reasons" In These Times magazine, Jan 27, 2003.)

I was unable to verify the second quote from the Miami Herald and Khalidi has denied making any such statements. Indeed, he is quoted in the Forward as saying that there are “scholars who will not talk about these things without using the word racist, but I am not one of them. I do not think Zionism is racist. When we talk about some of the contemporary laws, there are policies that I consider racist and discriminatory.”

Asked if as mayor he would try to dismiss a teacher if he objected to his or her statements made outside of school hours, Weiner said, “if someone’s hateful ranting outside the classroom raises questions about his credibility in the classroom, the chancellor would have it in his rights to question his academic qualifications.” He added, “It is all of our obligations to find a balance between freedom of speech and our obligation to speak out when someone says something very hurtful or tries to intimidate students.” Elaborating on this idea at a conference at Columbia in mid-March on “The Middle East and Academic Integrity on the American Campus,” Weiner said that “free speech does not come without equal part responsibility. There is a rise of anti-Semitism that is almost indisputable on college campuses.”

Marc Stern of the American Jewish Congress, however, told the Forward, “It’s not as if we’re rejoicing that Khalidi gets an audience. But we don’t think the way to go about it is by treating Khalidi as if he is not qualified to teach on the Middle East.”

At a recent press conference outside the Department of Education, the New York Civil Liberties Unionwas joined by playwright Tony Kushner and some student leaders from Columbia to protest Klein’s dismissal of Khalidi.

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said, “When a government agency seeks to punish or to retaliate against an individual based on the individual’s political views or association, which amounts to ‘viewpoint discrimination,’ [it] raises serious First Amendment issues.”

Kushner called Klein’s decision “shameless.” He said, “even if Professor Khalidi’s views resembled those that have been attributed to him by his critics--and they do not--firing a teacher on the basis of his or her political beliefs is impermissible. Chancellor Klein certainly knows this.”

Whatever Klein knows, he is not saying. The only response that the Department of Education would make to our inquiry on the Khalidi matter was the statement (without elaboration), “This is a matter of providing professional development for teachers who are instructing our children.”

If Khalidi were an employee of the public schools, it is extremely doubtful that the Department of Education would have any recourse against him whatsoever for expressing his views outside of school hours. As Ron Davis of the United Federation of Teachers points out, “our teachers are covered by the First Amendment. What a teacher says off school grounds when they aren’t working is strictly up to the individuals.”

But when you are dealing with non-government employees who either volunteer in the schools or do so under contract, it is a grayer area. The Gay Men’s Health Crisis, which did a lot of AIDS education in the schools in the late 1980s and early 1990s, was once banned from doing so by a vote of the Board of Education after one of their more sexually explicit brochures was discovered on a table at a school health fair.

But Khalidi was not accused of unbecoming conduct as a teacher trainer. The Department of Education is not revealing what regulations or standards he violated, if any.

Andy Humm is a former member of the City Commission on Human Rights. 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.  




























Latinos and the Mayor

(L to R)Jose Serrano, Fernando Ferrer, Nydia Velazquez, Anabel Palma, Adolfo Carrión and Joel Rivera. The number of Latino officials in New York City is growing as Latinos make up a greater percentage of the city's population. But is there a Latino vote? What issues are Latinos concerned with?

The following is an edited transcript of “The Latino Vote and the 2005 Mayoral Election”, an event co-sponsored by the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and New School University’s Milano Graduate School. It was held on February 16, 2005.

GABE PRESSMAN: One advantage of being around for a long time is that you get some perspective about both life and politics. When I was growing up in the Bronx, Ed Flynn was the Democratic boss and the Irish still controlled politics in all five boroughs. There was a need, said all politicians - especially those in power - for a balanced ticket. And a balanced ticket meant that the three citywide offices, mayor, council presidents and comptroller, had to be three different groups. Usually the mayor was Irish, and the comptroller was Jewish, because Jews were supposed to be able to handle money, and the council president could be anything, but preferably Italian.

For decades, this Irish-Italian-Jewish ticket was they way New York worked. But in recent years, Italians and Jews have won the mayor’s job; the election of David Dinkins as mayor made it clear that the old rules no longer apply. As Latinos and blacks demand their place in the New York power struggle, times may be changing.

Of course there are subdivisions within each group: There are Caribbean blacks and Southern blacks, there are all kinds of ethnic divisions within the Latino culture, and there are more and more immigrants coming from places like Asia.

I don’t see all of this as a prologue to divisive political warfare. Rather I see it as part of a never-ending symphony of changes. New York is a wonderful city, and it’s a marvel that we go on and we change and different ethnic groups take command.

We’re going to hear tonight from people who are, I hope, experts about the Latino influence in New York politics, and whether there’s a real chance of Latino/Latina mayor this year. I’d like to introduce the panel and then start out with that question.

First, there’s Juan Gonzalez, a columnist for the New York Daily News. He has won many awards and is considered one of the most prominent of all Latino commentators in the New York area.

Alice Cardona is the Hispanic liaison of the office of Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan. She’s a trustee of the National Latina Caucus.

Angelo Falcon is a political scientist and president and founder of the Institute of Puerto Rican Policy.

Randy Quezada is the Civic and Electoral Participation Coordinator at the New York Immigration Coalition.


Juan Gonzales

JUAN GONZALEZ:There most definitely is, and I think there was four years ago to some degree. Some would argue that the time wasn’t right for a Latino mayor, but it’s also a question of what are the policies of that particular person or anyone who is going to aspire for mayor in a city.

Four years ago Joel Siegel, the political reporter for the Daily News kept telling me: “Juan, Freddie isn’t even getting a high percent of the Latino vote. It doesn’t even seem like he’s getting much support in his own community; how does he expect to branch out into other areas.” I told him, “Joel, don’t pay attention to any of those polls. Most Latinos are not going to pay any attention to the race until a couple of weeks before the race happens. Then you’ll see an enormous shift right away.” It turns out that Fernando Ferrer got about 80 percent of the Latino vote in the primary.

The issue has always been how Latinos will turn out and vote. Over the last several elections, they have made up about 10 to 15 percent of the Democratic electorate. Last time around it was 25 percent.

To me, it’s all a question of paying attention to the changing nature of New York. If Latinos comprised 28 percent of the population in 2000, it definitely has to have passed 30 percent by now if not more. And it’s not only that, but because there are so many younger people who are turning 18 and being eligible to vote, there is huge growth potential in the Latino vote.

But that does not mean that all Latinos are going to vote for Latino candidates, or that the Latino candidate will do well among other groups, depending on who else is out there. It all depends on the policies that that person has adopted, the campaign that they run, the level of mobilization in Latino communities.

ANGELO FALCON: I think it’s important to say that what we’re talking about now is that we have a credible Latino candidate in Freddie Ferrer. Whether he’s going to win or not is another story. He’s got the name recognition, and that’s an important milestone for New York City. There’s this credible person who is getting support from a lot of different sectors. We didn’t have that before.

Ferrer has been talking about bringing back the whole issue of the two New Yorks. Let’s see how he does that. But as soon as anyone talks about linking it to anything racial he pulls back.

He’s also been talking about the plight of the middle class, fine tuning that message at the Drum Major Institute.

The Latino community should be asking tough questions like, “Who cares if he’s Latino? What does this person stand for?” We need to go beyond genetic politics.

If you look at the Quinnipiac poll Ferrer actually doesn’t do that well with Latinos. He gets 57 percent support in a match-up against Bloomberg, which is exactly the amount he gets from the black community. So I think the thing with Freddie in terms of energizing the base is that he may be falling into that Percy Sutton syndrome, where you had a black candidate, and the black community was not enthusiastic about him, and didn’t turn out in large numbers. Ferrer, right now, should be getting 80 or 90 percent in the polls from the Latino community, and he’s not doing that. So he has a long way to go, obviously. But it’s very early.


JUAN GONZALEZ: I think that there are two myths that need to be dispelled at the same time.

One is the myth that all Latinos are the same. They’re not: there are divisions based on class, nationality, and, most importantly, whether they are U.S.-born or whether they are immigrants.

There are major differences between U.S.-born Latinos and immigrant Latinos in terms of attitudes toward abortion and divorce, with immigrant Latinos much less accepting of either than U.S.-born Latinos. This breaks across ethnic groups within Latino community. So what that means is that the U.S.-born Latinos are being acculturated to a certain degree to American views or different American views from those of their immigrant parents.

While immigrant Latinos are more conservative than the U.S.-born Latinos on social issues they are more progressive on international issues, on the war, on U.S. policy abroad. Why? Because they have come from countries that have suffered from U.S. policy, and so they have a different attitude toward the U.S. role in the world.

For instance, the Pew Hispanic Center just did a very interesting poll that shows that immigrant Latinos are more opposed to the Iraq war than U.S.-born Latinos. With the lone exception of the Puerto Rican community - the Puerto Rican community is the most anti-Iraq war of any group. I think that has to do with the military in Puerto Rico and Vieques

There are also varieties based on class or nationality within the groups, so it’s a complex group. It doesn’t make for an easy read.

The other myth that needs to be dispelled is that there is not a Latino vote. All Latinos are united in that they don’t like to be disrespected; they don’t like their language to be unappreciated; they don’t like it when politicians don’t pay attention to their needs. So on those bigger issues of how they’re treated as Latinos within the U.S., they can suddenly all get fiercely nationalistic no matter from what nationality or group they’re from. And you saw that in the switch from Ferrer in the Democratic primary to Bloomberg in the general election. They were rejecting Mark Green because of that feeling of disrespect, of mistreatment of Ferrer.

Gabe Pressman

GABE PRESSMAN:They didn’t like the way Freddy Ferrer was treated by Mark Green. What’s your reaction to all this, Mr. Quezada?

RANDY QUEZADA: I felt slighted in 2001, and I actually did vote for Bloomberg although I am a registered Democrat, and I voted Democrat since I was 18. But [the fact that Latinos will stick together if they feel they are being disrespected] is really right on.

ALICE CARDONA: Another thing that nobody is looking at is the immigrant power that’s coming. People in our boroughs are registering new citizens. And we don’t know which way they’re going to fly.

ANGELO FALCON:The Latino electorate is changing. Everyone assumes it’s Puerto Ricans and it’s not immigrants, but that’s not true. There’s a Dominican population that is immigrant. It’s growing in numbers. I think that either at this point or pretty soon, they’re going to overtake Puerto Ricans as the biggest Latino group in the city, as Puerto Ricans begin to move out of the city.

In the Puerto Rican community there is a feeling that the community’s become invisible. Even though most of their elected officials are Latinos, there’s a feeling somehow that in terms of the popular community, in terms of the issues that are out there, those have become invisible, and it’s been creating competition where there isn’t really strong political competition between these communities

RANDY QUEZADA: There are distinct cultural and historic differences among Latinos. But I think it’s important to understand that there’s a distinction between an electorate and the people. I think as a people we’re very different: we have very distinct cultural backgrounds. But as an electorate, we live in the same places. My neighbors are Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, and Mexicans and so on and so forth. We all have the same problems with the schools, with access to the hospital, and so on and so forth. So as an electorate, we’re going to need the same things.

Immigrants aren’t aggressively targeted by the traditional political order in the city, so registration rates are lacking. But one thing that we do know is that when immigrants are reached out to, and they are registered, they actually turn out in higher rates than native-born population. At the New York Immigration Coalition we’re doing a lot of work to get a lot of people registered, and to get a lot of people educated on the issues, so that when they just see a Spanish name, they don’t think, “Oh, I got to go vote for that.”


JUAN GONZALEZ: The stadium is not one of those issues that is going to fire up the Latino community. It’s a development issue, and development issues only attract the political class and folks concerned with economic development, even though these issues are immensely important. I don’t think it’s a major issue except to the level that people understand the simple things. When you’re putting all this money into a stadium, you’re obviously not putting it into education.

RANDY QUEZADA: I agree. It’s not a sexy issue for people that are worried about “am I making enough money to support my family? Is the school my kid is going to falling apart? Why is it overcrowded?”

ANGELO FALCON: This issue will not resonate unless you link it to something else, like the fact that Bloomberg is this rich guy who’s doing all these inside favors for his rich friends and avoiding accountability to the public. Some of the Democrats are going to have to make the case that this is a billionaire who’s not accountable to people. He’s accountable to his class, and that’s going to be to the detriment of working people. I assume that some of them are going to try to make that argument. So the stadium is a good case.


ALICE CARDONA: I am convinced that we completely moved out of the area of job training, job preparedness, and the questions of looking at really new industries, and the question of the kids and how are we getting them money. In school, kids are taking all these tests so they can pass them, but they are not getting ready for life.

Let’s deal with the issue of gay marriages. It’s an American issue; and it’s only one issue. Because Freddy Ferrer comes out and says he’s for gay marriage doesn’t make it the issue for us. What about the rest of what’s going on in this city? What about the economy? What about the education? What about health? Our people are dying of AIDS, and nobody’s really taking that on as an issue.

RANDY QUEZADA: Education, jobs, healthcare. A lot of people work in places where they don’t have health insurance to begin with, and then they have to use emergency room healthcare, which is not preventive care. It’s not the kind of care that would be the most appropriate for them and their family.

Children are not getting the kind of education that’s going to prepare them for life. Their classrooms are overcrowded; there’s a constant need for new classrooms. There is a great need for resources so the parents can be more involved in the schools and be able to communicate with their teachers and their children because a lot times you have the experience like I have of growing up where I had to be the translator for my mother.

JUAN GONZALEZ: There was an August 2003 nationwide poll of Latinos on what’s the most important issue to you and your family. The top three issues were:


  • 30 percent: jobs and the economy
  • 12 percent: education
  • 6 percent: immigration


Jobs and the economy was by far the biggest issue for Latinos nationwide because most Latinos are workers, and they are low-paid workers. The biggest thing that’s happened for Latinos in the last 10 years was the increase in the state minimum wage. That’s money in your pocket, something the government has done to help your situation.

I would say that in New York City, you also have a particular issue that has fallen off the chart for most of the people in the political class. What people have to pay for housing in this city is outrageous, especially if you are lower income. Public officials have stopped talking about it ever since Koch housing program a few years ago. That is something that is definitely affecting hundreds and thousands of Latinos. They are paying so much more money for housing now than they were before.

So the city’s focusing all this money on Manhattan development and not paying attention to the neighborhood commercial strips and centers except to build new big-box stores that are going drive all these small Dominican businesses out of business; I think the city is really hurting the Latino community.

Another issue is that as minority groups gain increasing power in municipal government, they find that this government has less power. Between 65 and 70 percent of New York City’s population is now African American, Latino or Asian. But political power is increasingly being removed from control of municipalities. The power is being stripped away by public authorities, by other off-the-book companies that are being established to siphon off public money from the regular budget that that mayor would control.

A savvy political leader has to wage a fight against suburban control, and domination and milking of the major cities. Major cities provide the jobs, the life and the culture, and everything else that the suburbs and the rural areas live off of. But then they’re being denied the proper resources to be able to function. Political leaders who are going to win the support of the population have to fight this New York City versus Albany fight, and versus the suburbs.

Angelo Falcon

ANGELO FALCON:I think we have to talk about these issues very differently. And that is that the idea of “what is the most important issue” doesn’t really resonate with our community. The reality of our community is that all these issues are important in the way they interact. We have to be talking about how education impacts on people’s ability to get jobs. How the job market affects people’s health. These things are all interrelated.

Something that is really important in the Latino community is our nationalism and our identification as a people. How we’re treated. The whole notion of how we’re treated in different places, the feeling of alienation from the political process, and the feeling also that we’re not being represented well is a serious issue.

For example, in the last year of the Giuliani administration, Latinos made up 18 percent of the people who worked for the City of New York. The latest figures for the year 2003, we make 16 percent. Our numbers dropped in city employment. Nobody’s talking about that issue and what it means. No one is talking about our participation in government. I’m not talking about jobs in general. I’m talking about administrative management jobs in the city government.

So what happens when certain issues -- the level of racial residential segregation, and all the poverty and poor health and poor education - do not get discussed? Freddy Ferrer comes up with a broad thing of two cities and most of us say, “Yeah, that’s right. There’re actually more than two cities. There are a lot of inequities in the city.” What happens? Well, someone says, “You’re being racially divisive, drop the damn issue.” So the issues that are important to our community become issues that are not legitimate to talk about.

But as this society treats Latinos and immigrants worse and worse, it actually motivates people to turn out and vote. It happened in California with [anti-immigrant governor] Pete Wilson - he got Latinos to vote in higher levels than ever before in reaction to that. So it’s kind of a funny process, but politicians make calculations for future voters.

Right now one of the big things that’s really holding people back is delays in getting people naturalized. That’s costing the Latino community, people who should be eligible to vote because the bureaucracy is taking their time.

But immigration is not a very positive thing to talk about. People are trying to criminalize it; they’re trying to make a serious problem. [In New York it is not as tough as other places], but it’s a tough issue. Many people separate it into two issues. They say there is the issue of immigration, which is really a federal issue that has to be debated. Then there is the issue of immigrant rights for people that are here at the local level.

You have people who are hardworking people that are here already. Why do you want to treat those people badly and create problems for them? Most of us in the Latino community talk mostly about defending the rights of immigrants that are here.


The Seven Year Suit; Also, Lynne Stewart's Conviction

A Manhattan jury finally heard the case of “Mark A. Taylor against New York University Medical Center and Peter L. Ferrara,” a civil rights case that had taken more than seven years to go to trial. The jury deliberated for just thirty minutes, and decided in Taylor's favor.

While there is no typical civil rights case, Taylor’s shows what a plaintiff sometimes has to go through to get his or her day in court and to prevail.

Taylor was working at New York University Medical Center as director of External Affairs in 1994 when his problem began. A biography of the late Leonard Bernstein was published describing Taylor as the maestro’s “last love.” It was passed around the office with the pages on Taylor marked.

That is when Peter Ferrara, a colleague, publicly called him a pansy and started making gay jokes, according to Taylor. (Ferrara, who is now director of public affairs for Yeshiva University, has denied Taylor's charges). "Every gay man has been called a faggot or a pansy," Taylor says. "I tried to make a joke about it to defuse a potentially volatile situation. I worked hard and kept to myself." But three years later, Ferrara was promoted to be Taylor's boss. Taylor was fired within months.

That’s when Taylor decided to go to court, charging job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, which has been illegal in New York City since 1986.

“Ninety-five percent of the cases are settled out of court,” said Michael O’Neill, Taylor's attorney. “If you have smart lawyers on both sides, they will be able to evaluate the case. In cases that don’t get settled, it is because one side is being unreasonable.”

New York University Medical Center strongly contested Taylor’s charges from the start, Taylor says, filing motion after motion. "They tried to beat me into a stump," he says. New York University spokesman John Beckman has said that Taylor’s claim was “baseless.” When the case finally came to court, the jury obviously disagreed. It awarded Taylor two million dollars in back pay, and for "mental anguish."

These seven years have not been easy for Taylor. After he filed his lawsuit, he says, "I started getting harassing phone calls at home. I don't know if it was anyone from NYU."

He also had trouble getting another job. "One of the consultants I hired for the court said that when you’re fired, you’re ‘damaged goods,’” he said. Filing a lawsuit against a previous employer can make potential employers wary of you.

“I had thousands of good working relationships after 15 years at NYU,” he said. After he filed the suit, “I found out about five of those relationships were real.” For a while, he worked for friends and took freelance assignments. “The theory is that it takes five years to get back on your feet. In five years, I went bankrupt." Today, he has "a very good job," he says, but "there is no describing the damage that you incur being in litigation when you’re out on the job market.”

Would Taylor go through this litigation again, knowing what he does now after seven years? “I don’t think so,” he replies. Taylor helped Bernstein through the last disease-ridden year of his life, saying that it included “the greatest highs and lows, but I would do it again in a minute. But this case? I’d have to think long and hard.”

Taylor doesn’t think New York University would today tolerate the kind of treatment to which he was subjected and had complained about. “They have to take legitimate complaints seriously,” he said.

But the case is not necessarily over; a spokesman for New York University says it plans to appeal.

O’Neill said, "I’m confident that we will prevail in the end. It is important for people who have had their civil rights violated to do right by themselves. Some people, however, walk away for good reasons. Suing a big institution is never easy. They have so much more in resources. It is ludicrous to say the plaintiff has the upper hand in these cases. People go through an awful lot.”

Lawyer for Terrorist Convicted of Aiding Terrorism

In one of the most closely watched cases in the city this past year, civil rights attorney Lynne Stewart was found guilty of “aiding Islamic terrorism by smuggling messages out of jail from a terrorist client,” the New York Times reported.

Stewart, who has represented many unpopular clients over the years, had been the lawyer for Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman who was convicted in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. She is vowing to appeal and has set up a Web sitearguing her case and seeking support.

Andrew Napolitano, a former judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey, argued on the op-ed page of the Timesthat Stewart’s conviction was perverse, in part because it was based on a regulation issued by Attorney General John Ashcroft rather than a law passed by Congress. He sees it as a fundamental undermining of the principle of attorney-client privilege. The regulations give the government the right to eavesdrop on conversations between terrorist suspects and their lawyers.

New York Post columnist John Podhoretz titled his column after the verdict, “Lockin’ Up Lynne: Justice for an Evil-Doer.”

David Cole in The Nation magazineargued that while she violated an “administrative agreement,” Stewart committed no crime. “I think Stewart crossed the line from zealous advocacy to wrongful conduct. But she is no terrorist. At most she deserves a disciplinary proceeding before the bar.”

Stewart is free awaiting sentencing on July 15, which could put her away for 30 years.

Andy Humm is a former member of the City Commission on Human Rights. 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.  

Immigrants and Driver's Licenses

A 60-year old licensed asbestos remover who shuttled back and forth to the site of the World Trade Center as part of the cleanup effort, the father of an American born daughter who needs to be driven to the hospital because of her frequent seizures, a Barbadian immigrant who drives a delivery truck for a living -- these are examples of people whose driver licenses were suspended by the Department of Motor Vehicles.

For many undocumented immigrants, obtaining a driver’s license has become an almost impossible task ever since the department began a crackdown on giving driver's licenses to non-citizens who cannot provide satisfactory immigration documents. The policy was so controversial that it sparked ongoing litigation between New York State and immigrant groups.

“This is just one of the perils of living and working in this country,” said a Barbadian immigrant. “You never know when you are going to get hit by the authorities, and you are never quite sure where relief is going to come from.”

It all begin last Marchwhen the Department of Motor Vehicles began crosschecking drivers’ social security numbers with information at the Social Security Administration and found that some numbers were used more than 50 times. The department then sent out letters to 112,000 New Yorkers asking them to come in and explain why their social security numbers did not match. If they didn't report within 15 days, they risked having their licenses suspended.

Under a 1995 federal law, a Social Security number has been required to obtain a driver's license in New York City but up until last year applicants in New York would have to provide only proof of birth and several forms of identification or utility bills.

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.

State Motor Vehicles Commissioner Raymond Martinez insisted that the policy is not targeting immigrants but added that the people who used fake immigration documents are subject to arrest and the immigration agency will be notified.

“As a home-owner and a mother of a four year-old child, driving is essential. I am not a terrorist, a deadbeat dad or a criminal,” Allie P told the New York Immigration Coalition. “If this measure was not intended for people like me, then why am I the target?”

Since last year immigrant advocacy groups have tried to raise awareness of the issue by organizing press conferences and protests. They also filed lawsuits against New York State.

One class action lawsuit was filed last summer by the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund. In February the case reached the New York State Supreme Court where Justice Karen S. Smith issued an injunction to halt the department’s crackdown.

Smith argued that the Department of Motor Vehicles is not authorized to enforce immigration law or to make rules without public notice.

“The judge’s order is temporary,” said El Diario editorial. “But we urge the state to abandon this flawed policy permanently.”

Less than a week later, New York State filed an appeal to the court’s order.

Joe Picchi, a spokesman for the department, has said that the appeal automatically cancels the restraining order and that the state will reinstate the requirement.

“It’s very frustrating,” Cesar A. Perales, the president of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, told the New York Times. “ I think it’s clear that they’re trying to avoid complying with the court decision.”

To make the matter more complicated, in February the U.S. House of Representatives passed a billto stop states from giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. The bill will now go to the Senate and if passed, will be signed by President George W. Bush, who has said that he supports the bill.

Meanwhile, some immigrants, delighted by the short-lived court order, have gone to get their licenses renewed but many were turned down.

“This policy will make the roads less safe, just as license restrictions have done in other states throughout the country,” said Bhairavi Desai of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance. “Immigrants who need to drive to work will now face an impossible choice between breaking the law and make a living.”

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



















Legalizing Gay Marriage In NYC

Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Doris Ling-Cohan ordered Victor Robles, the Clerk of the City of New York, on February 4th to stop discriminating against people on the basis of sex in licensing marriages. The next day, Mayor Michael Bloomberg vowed to appeal the court order, while for the first time announcing that he supports the right of gay couples to marry. That night, Bloomberg addressed two major gay rights dinners and while his recent conversion to support for gay marriage in principle was applauded, he was bitterly heckled and booed when he said he would appeal the judge’s order.

By February 6, all of Bloomberg’s major potential Democratic opponents for mayor--Council Speaker Gifford Miller, former Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer, Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields, and Congressman Anthony Weiner--condemned his refusal to comply with the court order and the issue of same-sex marriage moved to the center of the 2005 mayor’s race.

Justice Ling-Cohan ruled in a lawsuit brought on behalf of five lesbian and gay couples by the Lambda Legal Defense, a gay and lesbian legal advocacy group, last March. In her ruling, she compared the denial of marriage to gay people to the miscegenation laws that forbade interracial marriage in many states until the United States Supreme Court struck them down in 1967. Indeed, she noted that one of the plaintiffs, Curtis Woolbright, had a white mother who had to move to California from Texas in order to be able to marry a black man in the early 1960s.

Addressing due process and constitutional issues raised by the plaintiffs, Ling-Cohan ruled that “the words ‘husband,’ ‘wife,’ ‘groom’ and ‘bride,’ as they appear in the Domestic Relations Law shall be construed to mean ‘spouse,’ and all personal pronouns, as they appear in the relevant sections of the Domestic Relations Law, are and shall be construed to apply equally to either men or women.”

Professor Arthur Leonard of New York Law School, in an extensive legal analysis of the decision, said that the while the city's attorneys agreed with the plaintiffs that gay couples form families and need support, the city argued there was nevertheless a state interest in “maintaining the traditional form of marriage as a union of one man and one woman” and “in avoiding conflict with the laws of other jurisdictions, including the federal government, that would not recognize same-sex marriages performed in New York.” Ling-Cohan rejected those arguments.

Justice Ling-Cohan stayed her own order for 30 days to give the city the chance to appeal; Bloomberg announced that this was his intention the day after she issued it. Assemblymember Dick Gottfried, sponsor of a Right to Marry Bill to legalize same-sex marriage in Albany, said that if the mayor truly supported same-sex marriage now, he could take the side of the plaintiffs in bringing the case to the Court of Appeals.

“The mayor is a coward,” said State Senator Tom Duane, an out gay sponsor of the Right to Marry Bill in the Senate. “He should stand up with us in this most important civil rights battle of our lifetimes.”

Bloomberg said, “I do not want to see happen here what happened in California,” where gay marriages were authorized by Mayor Gavin Newsom last winter and overturned by the state court. But in the New York case, it is a court that is ordering the city to issue the licenses.

Hunter College political science professor Kenneth Sherill saw electoral politics behind the mayor's decision to appeal: “Bloomberg says that [issuing licenses to gay couples] will cause chaos -- tens of thousands of people coming to the city! But the Republican Convention and the Olympics are okay. Somebody's worried about the Republican primary.”

Bloomberg is facing a Republican primary from conservative former Councilmember Tom Ognibene and may indeed be concerned about not taking positions too at variance with the Republican base nor the core Giuliani constituency that elected him in 2001.

There are other pending same-sex marriage lawsuits around New York State, one brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and another led by civil rights lawyer Norman Siegel. These cases did not get positive lower court rulings and are on appeal.

If the issue is to be resolved judicially, it will be the decision of the Court of Appeals which now is made up of three appointees by former governor Mario Cuomo, a Democrat, and four by the Republican incumbent, George Pataki. While it is still one of the more liberal high courts in the country, having struck down the state’s death penalty law last year, it is more difficult to predict how it will rule on same-sex marriage. Only the Massachusetts high court has opened marriage to gay couples, and that led to a movement backed by President Bush for a federal amendment to ban same-sex marriage and passage of thirteen state amendments against it with more on the way.

Assemblymember Deborah Glick, an out lesbian, said, “There is no support for a Defense of Marriage Act in the Assembly.”

One prominent Democrat said that polling by the Assembly leadership found that while a majority of New Yorkers do not support same-sex marriage, a majority also doesn’t like politicians taking anti-gay positions. The source said that this is why though the Senate rarely takes pro-gay actions, they hesitate passing anti-gay bills even on marriage.

While Republican Governor Pataki opposes same-sex marriage, he has taken incremental steps to support lesbian and gay rights, including protecting gay relationships, in recent years.

A conservative who welcomed Ling-Cohan’s decision was William Donahue, director of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights who said that he believed it would inspire a backlash against “activist judges” and will help build support for the amendment to the United States Constitution banning same-sex marriage. That amendment is given little hope, even from Bush, of gaining the necessary two-thirds vote in both houses of Congress. It fell far short last year. But all bets would be off if a court were to strike down the federal Defense of Marriage Act that bans federal recognition of same-sex marriage and allows states to deny such recognition to legal same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions.

New York is already grappling with the reality of legally married same-sex couples, mostly New York couples who married in Canada. State

Comptroller Alan Hevesi last year said that they would be recognized by the state pension system and Mayor Bloomberg followed suit with the city pension system. But the state Department of Taxation and Finance will not let these couples file as married with New York State, even though Attorney General Eliot Spitzer issued an opinion in 2003 that New York should honor these marriages even if it does not yet perform them.

In neighboring jurisdictions, Massachusetts has allowed gay couples to marry since last March, but has closed the door to out-of-state gay couples marrying there--an issue being litigated. A state constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage and mandate civil unions passed a joint session of the Massachusetts legislature last year, but it must pass again this year before it can go to the voters in 2006, a less likely prospect now that the state has had a year to get used to gay married couples.

Seven of ten Canadian provinces or territories permit gays to marry and the parliament just got a bill legalizing it for the entire country with a close vote expected in June. New Jersey has a same-sex marriage case that is at the appellate level. And Connecticut is considering same-sex marriage and civil union legislation, with the state gay lobby group on the issue saying they will settle for nothing less than full marriage rights.

Ossie Davis 1917-2005

Ossie Davis was hailed at his deathon February 4 as a consummate artist for his work in theater, movies, and television, but equally honored as one of the major civil rights figures of the 20th century. He worked not just to improve the status of African Americans in the entertainment industry, but for the advancement of all people in the larger society.

Davis, often with his wife Ruby Dee, worked closely with such seminal figures in the civil rights movement as Paul Robeson, WEB DuBois, Martin Luther King, Jr., Fanny Lou Hamer, and Malcolm X. He was the chief eulogist at the funeral of Malcolm X in 1965.

Andy Humm is a former member of the City Commission on Human Rights. 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.


Immigrant City

New York has always been a city of immigrants. Even the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001 and the economic downturn that followed did not deter immigrants from moving to the city.

New York saw a net gain of 339,000 immigrants from April 2000 to July 2003. The foreign born population in New York City is now at all time high at 3.2 million out of the city’s population of 8 million, according to a new study by the Department of City Planning.

The report attempts to examine the countries of origin of the foreign-born, their paths of entry, residential distribution, and demographic and socioeconomic characteristics. But the reason immigrants are drawn to New York remains the same.

“Immigrants keep coming here,” co-author of the report Joseph Salvo told the Daily Times. “The reason they keep coming here is opportunity.”

Countries of Origin: The Emergence of Mexican Immigrants

In earlier decades, the overwhelming majority of the foreign-born population in New York City was from various part of Europe. But in the 2000 census European immigrants comprised only 19 percent.

The Dominican Republic sent the most immigrants to New York City, numbering 369,220 or 13 percent of the total, followed by China (262,600), Jamaica (178,900), Guyana (130,600) and Mexico (122,600).

Even though Mexico has long been the origin of most immigrants in the United States, in the past Mexican immigrant preferred other cities to New York City as their destination. According to the 1990 census, Mexican ranked 17th with 32,689 of population in the city. City demographers expected the actual growth of Mexican immigrants at 200,000.

Rounding up the top ten are Ecuador, Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago, Colombia and Russia.

Generally, immigrants from non Hispanic Caribbean countries are moving disproportionately to New York. While they account for five percent of the nation’s foreign-born population, they comprised of more than one-fifth of the city’s foreign born.

Foreign-born Population by Country of Birth, New York City, 1990 and 2000
Growth, 1990-200
Total/Foreign Born
Dominican Republic
Trinidad & Tobago

* The USSR was ranked 5th in the 1990 with 80,815 residents. It if were a single entity in 2000, it would have ranked 4th with approximately 164,000 persons.


Legal Pathway of Entry

Traditionally, immigrants were admitted to the country mainly under family reunification or refugee and asylum clauses. But the 1990 Immigration Act allowed immigrants to enter the country through working visas and diversity visa (visa lottery).

In the 1990s, only 37 percent of immigrants coming to the city entered under the family preference, down from 61 percent in the 1980s. Ten percent of immigrant, mostly Filipino, Korean and Chinese immigrants, used employment visas to stay in the country.

While accounting for only 8 percent of immigrants entering the country, visa lottery program helped increase the numbers of immigrants from Poland, Ireland, Bangladesh, Ghana and Nigeria.

The number of refugees in the city tripled in the 1990s due to the massive influx of refugees from the former Soviet Union countries.

The report did not offer numbers of undocumented immigrants.

Residential Settlement Pattern

Over one million immigrants, around 36 percent of the total, settled in Queens, while 33 percent live in Brooklyn, 16 percent in Manhattan, 13 percent in the Bronx and 3 percent in Staten Island.

Washington Heights has the most immigrants (90,300) followed by Flushing (86,900), Astoria (84,700), Bay Ridge-Benson hurst (78,600) and Elmhurst (74,600). Other neighborhood in the top ten included Graves-Homecrest, Flatland-Canarsie, Jackson Heights, Corona and Sunset Park Industry City.

Some immigrants chose to settle outside of the New York City. In 2000, there were 5.2 million immigrants in the New York Metropolitan Region, which includes the city’s five counties, an inner ring of 12 counties closest to the city and outer ring of 14 counties. While the inner counties accounted for one-third of immigrants, the outer counties accounted for less than one-tenth.

But counties close to the city have a disproportionately higher immigrant population. For example, 39 percent of population in Hudson County, New Jersey are foreign born.

Socioeconomic Attainment of the Foreign-born

Regardless of their income or educational background, immigrant families usually have more than one worker, making their household income close to the city median ($37,770).

Household Income and Poverty Status by Country of Birth,
New York City, 2000
Household Income
Public Assistance*
Ratio: Subgroup to Total
Avg. workers per household
Persons for whom poverty status has been determined
Percent in Poverty
Total Households
Percent with PA income
Total/New York City
Dominican Republic
Trinidad & Tobago

* Households with at least one person receiving public assistance income


While just one third of Mexican immigrants had high school degree, their household has in come that is 85 percent of the city’s median because multiple family members are in the work force.

Generally, Latin Americans had low level of social economic attainment. Only one in ten Dominicans and Hondurans had completed high schools, and both males and females had low labor force participation. On the other hand, Jamaican, Trinidad, Haitian, Guyanese households, headed mostly by females, have one of the city’s highest female labor force participation.

Some groups, such as Korean immigrants, have advanced education but 70 percent were not proficient in English. As a result, many chose to start their own business. Self-employment is also popular among some European immigrants such as Italians and Greeks, many of whom do not have high school education.

Impact of Immigration of New York City

The report concluded that immigration help to stabilize population growth and comprised for 40 percent of all city resident in labor force. Many industries such as manufacturing, construction and service industries rely heavily on immigrant laborers. Finally, immigrants also help maintain the city’s housing stock, 48 percent of recently occupied housing units are immigrant households.

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
































Death Penalty

Support for the death penalty was credited with electing Ed Koch mayor of New York City in 1977 and George Pataki governor in 1994, each in races with Mario Cuomo, a lifelong opponent of capital punishment. Pataki brought the death penalty back to New York State in 1995 and while there have six convictions under it since then, there have been no executions. Last June, the state's highest court, the Court of Appeals, declared the law unconstitutional.

Pataki continues to support the death penalty, touting it in his State of the State address January 5 among the reasons crime has gone down dramatically during his tenure.

But the political landscape may have changed around him. Opponents of the death penalty, who see it as a major civil rights issue, have reason to feel encouraged that it will not be reinstated in New York.

Yes, State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, the almost certain Democratic nominee for governor next year, has said he is in favor of capital punishment for “premeditated acts of terrorism.” But he told Joyce Purnick of the New York Times, “I would be surprised if it’s an issue that is paramount in the public debate.”

Yes, the New York State Senate has passed a new death penalty bill that is supposed to address the concerns of the high court. But opponents call the Senate bill itself, which was passed without hearings, constitutionally flawed. The court struck down the 1995 law in June because it said that if a jury could not agree unanimously on giving a defendant either death or life without parole, the convicted person would get 25 years to life with parole. The court felt that this coerced the jury to be unanimous for a more severe penalty. Under the new Senate bill, if a jury deadlocks on a sentence, the defendant automatically gets life without parole.

Whether or not the senate bill could pass constitutional muster, the Democratic-controlled New York State Assembly seems to be opposed to it, and may not bring it to the floor for a vote. At its first hearing on the issue in December, Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau spoke out strongly against it: "The death penalty exacts a terrible price in dollars, lives and human decency. Rather than tamping down the flames of violence, it fuels them."

Additional hearings are planned for January 21st at 10 AM at the Bar Association of the City of New York at 42 W. 44th Street and January 25th in Albany. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a supporter of the death penalty in the past, has given no indication of when or if he will take up the State Senate’s bill to reinstate it.

The death penalty will play a more nuanced role in the mayor’s race this year, with incumbent Republican Mike Bloomberg opposed to it and his Democratic rivals split on the issue. Former Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer, the only Democrat who leads Bloomberg in recent polls, opposed the death penalty until 1997 when he came out in favor of it for cop killers. When he ran again in 2001, he supported a moratorium on the death penalty, a position that many have embraced in the wake of DNA evidence exonerating scores of death row inmates. U.S. Representative Anthony Weiner of Brooklyn is a death penalty supporter who also now supports a moratorium.

The rest of the Democratic field--City Council Speaker Gifford Miller, Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields, and Councilmember Charles Barron--oppose the death penalty. With crime--especially murders--down, it is possible that this issue will play much less of a role in the mayoral election than it has in the past, though Ferrer may be attacked by some of his opponents for his evolution on it.

The New York City Council passed a resolution in 2002 by a 38-13 vote calling on the state to halt all executions "until the application of capital punishment in New York is investigated and issues of fairness, justice, equality, due process and cost are addressed."

All of this encourages death penalty opponents in the state. New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty, founded in 1990, is a coalition that has grown to encompass more than 300 supporting groups , ranging from the New York Bar Association to the New York State Council of Churches. “Too frequently, the death penalty is imposed not on people who commit the worst crimes, but who have the worst attorneys, limited resources, and the wrong skin color," said David Kaczynski, the coalition's executive director (brother of Ted, the "Unabomber"). "You could call it a negative lottery where on the names of the poor are ever entered.”

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said, “There is clear evidence that it does not deter crime and that whether or not someone faces it depends more on race, geography, and politics than the gravity of the events or the misdeeds of the perpetrator.” But she added, “even if our society could insure that capital punishment could be administered with unfailing accuracy, fairness, and justice, we would still be opposed to it because it is immoral for a society to kill people.”

Lieberman noted that has proven cheaper to incarcerate convicted murderers for life than for the government to go through the process of trying to execute them. New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty estimates that, even though nobody has been executed, the state spent more than $175 million on that process since reinstating capital punishment.

Ban On Subway Photography

The on-again, off-again plan by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to ban people from taking photographs, films, or videos on public transit or in subway stations (unless they have a permit) is on again, the New York Times reported. Artists are complaining that they will lose the chance to work in one of their favorite environments. Tourists won’t be able to record their presence in our famous hole in the ground.

Tom Kelly, speaking for the autority, told the Times, “Nobody is looking to violate anybody’s civil rights or deny anybody’s constitutional rights. But when you check with law enforcement agencies, they have uncovered photographs of subway and rail systems from various terrorist organizations. And I don’t believe they were going in somebody’s scrapbook.”

Critics of the ban say that the folks at the MTA are kidding themselves about stopping terrorist surveillance of the transit system, which can be done by tiny hidden cameras.

The ban will go into effect as soon as the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has the chance to vote on it.

Andy Humm is a former member of the City Commission on Human Rights. 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.


Immigrants' Reaction To Tsunami Disaster

When the phone rang at four in the morning in his apartment in Elmhurst Queens, Pichet Rasmee feared the worst. He had just learned from the news about the tsunami that hit across South Asia, including Phuket, Thailand, where his two aunts were on vacation at their family resort.

“I dreaded picking up the phone,” Rasmee said in Thai. “Because I knew bad news was coming.” And it was. His brother was calling to tell him that the tidal wave had completely destroyed their family property in Phuket. Both of his aunts had drowned.

Unable to afford the trip for the funeral in Thailand, Rasmee gathered the day after New Year’s day with hundreds of Thais at the Thavorn Vanaram Buddhist Temple in Queens for a mass ceremony dedicated to tsunami victims.

“There’s not much I could do,” he said, “except donate money.”

Rasmee is not alone. After the news of the disaster reached New York the day after Christmas, immigrants around the city desperately tried to contact their loved ones and started to give donations to help out their homelands.

“The donation box was so stuffed with dollar bills,” Rasmee said, “I had to push my money in.”

According to Choltid Kempetch, a Thai Consulate staff member, the money collected at the Buddhist temple and other fundraising events will be managed by the Thai consulate and will be sent to Thailand’s hardest hit areas. The death toll in Thailand is now at 5,288.

Three other countries with the highest casualties are Indonesia (where the toll is at 94,200), Sri Lanka (30,240) and India (9,675), all of which have a sizeable population of their citizens living in New York. There are 68,300 legal immigrants from India in the city, 5,000 from Sri Lanka, 4,200 from Thailand and 2,800 from Indonesia, according to official figure.

Taniya Gunasekara, a native of Colombo, Sri Lanka, who lives in Spanish Harlem, was anxious when she could not reach her family.

“My sister was on vacation to see my mother in Colombo,” said Gunasekara. “The line was busy. It took me about two and a half hours to reach them.”

Gunasekara’s mother and sister were safe but some of her relatives are among the causalities in Sri Lanka. Like many New Yorkers, she decided to help out by donating her money through a Buddhist temple.

At the Buddhist Vihara Temple on Staten Island, where a large number of Sri Lankan immigrants live, monks are collecting foods, clothes and donations and will ship them to the area most affected.

“People from around the community have come over since the morning, and they drop off goods,” temple member Radha Hettiarachchy told Voice of America. “ I think it brought this community closer together.”

In Queens , New York City’s commissioner of Immigrant Affairs Guillermo Linares, along with other city officials, met on January 6 with representatives of the Jackson Heights Merchants Association, a group of 220 South Asian merchants, to show their support and to express the city's ongoing commitment to helping tsunami-devastated nations.

“This is a tragedy and everyone wants to help,” said the association’s president Shiv Dass. The group has placed more than 200 donation boxes in their members’stores and will ask the city to donate some money to the tsunami relief fund.

Even though most Indians in Jackson Heights are from North India – which was less affected by the disaster-- Dass expected the community to give support to the victims.

“We are going to raise about $40,000 and the money will go directly to the families,” he said. The association will send representative to deliver payments to relief agencies in South Asia.

Some are concerned that the relief fund will not reach the people who need it, especially in Aceh, Indonesia, where a conflict between Indonesian military and separatist rebels have been dragging on for decades. After the tsunami, both sides have agreed to a ceasefire.

“It is important that the international community not only send aid to Ache but to help monitor how things are distributed,” said Robert Jerski, a coordinator of the Indonesian Civil Society Coalition for the Victims of Earthquake and Tsunami. “There is a report that the government has only recently allowed aid to enter”

The coalition also organized a demonstration by Achenese in front of the United Nations in early January to call attention on how relief funds are being distributed.

“I would recommend sending money to local NGOs [non-governmental organization] instead of sending it to major organizations,” said Aceh native Munawar Zanal who lost 20 of his extended family members. “It will get there faster than by going through government bureaucracy.”


How To Help:

• Action Against Hunger
• American Friends Service Committee
• American Red Cross
• International Federation of Red Cross/Red Crescent
• International Medical Corps
• International Rescue Committee
• Mercy Corps
• Network for Good
• Operation USA
• Oxfam America
• Save the Children
• Unicef
• World Food Programme


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
























2004: Shorter Lines, Just As Much Frustration

Many immigrants will look back at 2004 as the year when the long lines in front of the immigration office disappeared. That is because appointments can now be made online.

But when the year began, immigrants and their advocates had far higher hopes than just shorter lines. Many thought that there would be an amnesty for undocumented immigrants similar to the one created by President Ronald Reagan in 1986. That did not happen. Here is what did:

Bush’s Guest Worker Program

President George W. Bush unveiled in February his guest worker program that would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain a three-year work permit if they were sponsored by their employers. They would enjoy other rights as well, such as a guaranteed minimum wage and union benefits.

But immigrant advocates only half-heartedly supported the program. They argued that while the proposal benefits low-skilled workers who are unable to get a work permit through regular channels, it does not offer a path to permanent residency (getting the “green card”) or to citizenship, without which the guest workers will have to leave the country eventually.

”Under the guise of immigration reform, the president has proposed a temporary worker program which does not lead to permanent residency and citizenship and essentially says to the immigrant community ‘work hard, pay taxes, and then get lost,’” said Margie McHugh, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition.

Ironically, the program also failed to gain support in Congress, because many representatives viewed it as too lenient – a kind of amnesty for undocumented immigrants. The issue faded as the campaign season heated up. Less than three weeks after his re-election, President Bush said he was committed to the program and will "find supporters on the Hill and move it."

Drivers License

The New York Department of Motors Vehicles began crosschecking drivers’ social security numbers with information at the Social Security Administration. In March the agency sent out letters to 112,000 New Yorkers asking them to come in and explain why their social security numbers did not match. Anybody who does not report within 15 days of receiving such a letter risks having his license suspended.

Many believe the new policy is another crackdown on undocumented immigrants, many of whom use fake social security numbers to apply for driver licenses, according to New York Immigration Coalition.

The Department of Motors Vehicles estimated that 300,000 immigrants are likely to lose their licenses. Immigrant rights advocates fear that some immigrants will go on driving without a license or insurance.

"I need my van to bring food here every day,” a Honduran immigrant who has a mobile lunch station in Corona, Queens told Akhon Samoy, a Bengali newspaper. “I have no choice but to drive. This is my living. I don’t care if I have an ID or not.”

Facing the prospect that many immigrants will go on driving without a driver license, the Department of Motors Vehicles in September said it will review a proposal for a limited "One -Year Immigrant Driver Permit" that could allow hundreds of thousands of drivers now facing license suspension to stay on the road legally.

Regulating Immigration Consultants

Governor George Pataki signed in September a new law that would regulate immigration-consulting businesses.


Under the new law, immigration service providers can transcribe responses to government agencies; translate instructions and questions from forms, assist in getting documentation. However, they are prohibited from giving legal advice to clients.

But there is sharp disagreement over the role of immigrant assistance service providers, some questioning whether the new laws won't legitimize an occupation that shouldn't really exist at all.

According to a federal law, only attorneys and accredited individuals or non-profit organizations can represent immigrants.

Proponents of the bills argue that regulating, instead of outlawing, immigration service providers, allows some room for legitimate businesses to exist. But lawyers said it is difficult for immigrant assistance service providers to avoid giving legal advice. They are considering constitutional challenges on the ground that these bills go against federal law.


Following Miami, Dallas and Los Angeles, the immigration agency in New York City implemented Infopass in late July to help curb the waiting line for walk-in cases.

Infopass is an online appointment system that will allow immigrants to make an appointment without going to Federal Plaza themselves.

Because the agency can only take up to about 150 walk-in cases a day, people started to line up earlier and earlier, and the line got longer and longer. According to the agency, 1,400 people visit the New York office on a daily basis.

Within weeks of its implementation, the long line in front of the building disappeared. But critics said Infopass will only change the way people have to wait.

”Instead of waiting three or four hours outside to be told that their case is pending,” said Dan Smulian of the New York Immigration Coalition, “now they will get an appointment online and go in to the building to be told that their case is still pending.”

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

Looking On The Hopeful Side For 2005

To many New Yorkers who are engaged in the struggle for civil liberties, the signs lately are not so good. Congressman Jerrold Nadler, for example, sits on a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee that used to be called the Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights and Civil Liberties. Now it’s just called the Constitution Subcommittee. “They dropped civil liberties,” he said.

“Today our most fundamental rights are in jeopardy,” Anthony Romero, director of the New York-based American Civil Liberties Union, wrote in a recent direct mail appeal.

But some also insist that, as they set their agendas for 2005, they see reason for hope. “At least on the local level, there is no attack that is not being met with resistance,” said New York City Councilmember Bill Perkins, who cites as an example the continued battle by demonstrators arrested at the Republican National Conventionthis summer to recover damages and preserve the right to protest.

Margaret Fung, director of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, sees hope locally as well: “The entire nation will be looking to us for our leadership and example.”

Some other reasons they see for hope:

Housing Discrimination

The City Commission on Human Rightsmoves into 2005 with its backlog of cases removed and a more aggressive posture towards new cases, actively sending testers out to uncover human rights abuses, particularly in the real estate market. They recently collected fines in excess of $50,000 in two such housing cases, the first time fines have ever been collected by the agency.

Immigrant Rights

Bryan Pu-Folkes, a City Human Rights Commissioner and director of New Immigrant Coalition Empowerment, thinks it is hopeful “that many communities are responding favorably to immigrants in local elections,” and that local public officials are active in immigrants rights.

Perkins will be introducing a bill into the City Council in 2005 to give resident non-citizens the right to vote in municipal elections, the way they were able to in school board elections if they had children in the schools. “It’s another part of that historic movement toward all people participating in democracy and getting a say in how their tax dollars are being spent,” Perkins said.

At the top of Pu-Folkes’s agenda for next year is protecting the rights of immigrants in New York’s “underground economy,” particularly winning them access to health care and enforcing safety regulations on their jobs.

Gay Rights

While most states now ban same-sex marriage, Alan Van Capelle, director of the Empire State Pride Agenda, the state gay and lesbian lobby, said, “One of the most hopeful things is that New York remains one of only a handful of states without a Defense of Marriage Act. That allows our conversation about our relationships and the rights connected to them to continue in New York. While other states are regressing, we’re moving forward slowly.” State Senator David Paterson is even talking about pushing a same-sex marriage bill in the state legislature.

Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who is legally battling City Council legislation to expand domestic partner benefits to those who work for contractors, broke his string of rebukes to gay activists when he followed the lead of State Comptroller Alan Hevesi and called on the city pension boards to recognize employees in the system who marry same-sex partnersin Canada or elsewhere as married.

Abortion Rights

Many anticipate the end of Roe v. Wade, which gave women the right to choose abortion, as President George W. Bush gets to replace United States Supreme Court Justices expected to retire.

But Mary Alice Carr, director of advocacy programs for the New York chapter of the National Abortion Rights Action League/Pro-Choice America, prefers to look for hopeful signs locally: “We’re lucky we have a city and state which regardless of party supports a woman’s right to choose.” She said that in 2005, “we’ll be working with the city to increase access to emergency contraception.”

Death Penalty

Donna Lieberman, director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said, “The good news is that the state legislature has reason to get the message that people are fed up with the lack of democratic process in Albany and the three-men-in-a-room system of governance.” She noted that the assembly has not “jumped to reinstate the death penalty and may refuse to jump on that issue given the massive evidence of discrimination and fallibility in the death penalty nationwide.”

On the other hand, there is just so far these civil libertarians go in looking at the silver lining that is New York. In 2005, Lieberman said, her top priority will have to be “fighting the Bush administration’s assault on fundamental rights that we thought we could take for granted.”

Andy Humm is a former member of the City Commission on Human Rights. 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.  















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