The neglected issue of immigration law reform may be about to move front and center again. Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, who will try to steer the bill through the Senate, told reporters he hoped to have a bill proposed by Labor Day and approved by the end of this year or early in 2010.
According to Schumer, a Democrat, the measure would make it easier for skilled people to enter the United States and crack down on future undocumented immigrants, while helping to guide those already here to citizenship.
Last month, President Barack Obama met with members of Congress on the issue. " "He half-jokingly told us that he was willing to use 'any political capital he has left' for this purpose," Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner of New York, who was at the gathering said.
So far, Obama has indicated the need for reform without being specific about how he would change things. His administration has reversed some Bush administration policies that were seen as particularly harsh. For example, according to the New York Times, it has issued "new guidelines that make employers, rather than workers, the target of workplace raids and expanded humanitarian-release rules to keep parents detained on immigration charges from being separated from small children." At the same time, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said the department would order federal contractors to check employees' work documents against E-Verify, an electronic system, to determine whether they were here legally.
The various administration statements, according to the Washington Post, " mark the clearest sign â€¦ of Obama's efforts to chart a middle course on immigration enforcement."
While immigration no longer seems to be the "hot button" issue it was a few years ago, no one expects easy passage of a new bill. Already, the Senate has voted to toughen enforcement of immigration laws, sometimes in direct opposition to the administration's position.
In another national story of special interest to many immigrants in New York City, hearings on the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor begin this week. A number of prominent New Yorkers are set to testify in the Bronx native's behalf, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, as well as former Mets and Yankees pitcher David Cone, who was a representative for the players union when Sotomayor helped end the 1995 Major League baseball strike.
Meanwhile, back in the city, as most public school students enjoy their break from classes, the local foreign language press continues to explore the obstacles immigrant children confront in city schools. Sparked by several reports, including one by Advocates for Children on education issues facing immigrant families, stories reported on the tests for Gifted and Talented programs, the difficulties immigrant parents face in finding a school, bullying of Asian students and more.
This month, The Citizen also looks at New York's housing squeeze, AIDS in the Asian community and whether patties made in New York can rival the savory pies produced in their native Jamaica. These and other stories from the Korean, Polish, Russian, Spanish, Bangladeshi and Chinese-language press, via our partner, Voice that Must Be Heard.
Choosing a Schools Challenges Immigrant Families, Novoye Russkoye Slovo
Navigating the maze of school choice in New York City presents difficulties for all parents but it's particularly daunting for immigrant families who may not know the language or understand the city's school choice system.
GIfted Test Poses extra Challenge for Immigrant Children, Weekly Bangla Patrika
Even though they can take the exam in their native language, immigrant children are less likely to pas the test to enter the city's public school Gifted and Talented programs than their American-born counterparts. For one thing, say Bangladeshi parents, the language used in the translations is too sophisticated for small children, particularly those who do not speak English or Bengali, but rather a combination of both languages
Undocumented Parents Shut out of Schools, Sing Tao Daily
Parents who have no valid U.S. identification often find themselves unable to get past the security desk to enter their child's school. A report focuses on hurdles that limit immigrant parents' involvement in their children's education found the ID issue at the top of the list, along with language barriers, lack of encouragement and responsiveness, and inaccessibility of parent associations and school leadership teams.
Children of Unskilled Immigrants Fall Behind in School, Indian Express
Children of unskilled immigrants who come from non-English speaking countries often do very poorly in New York's schools. Lacking a profession and speaking little English, the parents often feel helpless to participate in their children's education and improve the student's performance.
Asian Groups Protest Bullying in Schools, Korea Times
Asian advocacy groups demonstrated in front of the Department of Education headquarters to demand increased protection against bullying and bias crimes in the city's schools. "On-going, widespread harassment" they stated, "puts students in an atmosphere of fear that undermines their academic potential" and can lead to drug and alcohol abuse and even suicide.
Immigrant Parents Volunteer in City Schools, Aramaica
Schools across the city are increasingly seeking immigrant volunteers who understand the linguistic and cultural heritage of students from other countries. For their part, the volunteers say the work helps them be actively involved in their children's schools.
Translating for Parents Creates Stress for Children, World Journal
Children of Asian immigrants often must act as translators, helping parents with limited English navigate through their daily life. Though their parents praise these children as capable and quick-witted, a recent survey found that the children often find it stressful to have to swap roles with their parents and be the grown-ups of the family.
Korean Children Hooked on the Internet, Korea Times
Internet addiction has become such a serious problem among the city's Korean-American children that some parents are turning to professionals for help.
In New York, Living Space Gets Even Tighter, Diario de Mexico
Despite the slumping economy, New York rents remain high and keep climbing, leaving many poor people to double and triple up in already cramped homes.
Death Places an Economic Burden on Bangladeshi Families, Bangla
Along with the sorrow of losing a loved one, many families must also cope with death's financial burdens. In the current recession, organizations offering insurance to cover the cost of carrying of a body back to Bangladesh have raised their prices and other groups have cut back on donations to families that need help.
Despite Recession, Bangladeshi Area Thrives, Bangla
Despite an economic downturn, Jackson Heights, the commercial hub for Bangladeshis in New York, is beating the odds by thriving and expanding. Bangladeshi businesses not only continue to stay alive but commerce is increasing with the opening of new businesses.
No Decline Seen in AIDS Rate among Asians, Indian Express
Asians and Pacific islanders are the only group in New York that has not experienced a decline in the number of new HIV diagnoses, and only 6 percent of these New Yorkers report that their doctor recommended an HIV test.
Crime Increases in Russian Neighborhoods, Russian Bazaar
Following a month when shootings and robberies plagued beachfront areas of Brooklyn, the police have designated Brighton Beach and Coney Island as impact zones, areas that have experienced an upsurge in criminal activity and require additional measures to ensure order.
Bill Would Require Election Information in Russian, V Novom Svete
A bill approved by the New York state Senate would require that all cities in New York with more than 1 million people -- meaning New York City -- translate all ballots and other election materials into Russian. If the bill wins approval from the state Assembly and governor, it would mark the first time in the history of the United States, that Russian would be an of official language of the election system.
Voter Registration Drive Focuses on Polish-Americans, Nowy Dziennik,
A new campaign focuses on getting the city's Polish-Americans registered to vote. The effort by the Polish American Congress has attracted considerable interest, although some people have been disappointed to learn that, without U.S. citizenship, they cannot register or vote.
Italian Restaurant Relies on Mexican Workers, Diario de Mexico
The success of a popular restaurant offering southern Neapolitan cuisine rests in the hands of Mexican workers who have learned the secrets of making good pasta and traditional tiramisu.
Can Patties from New York Pass Jamaica's Test Taste?, Daily Gleaner
Patties -- savory turnovers -- produced in New York by a Jamaican- owned company and then exported to Jamaica have created a furor in Kingston, reflecting, some say, an ambivalence that Jamaicans on the island have toward their compatriots abroad.
The Stonewall Rebellion, when lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people fought back against police repression at a Greenwich Village bar with a six-day riot in June 1969 is considered the birth of the modern "gay rights" movement. President Barack Obama just declared June LGBT Pride Month in the United States, following an example set by President Bill Clinton during his second term. (This year, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued her own proclamation at the State Department.)
Obama then switched his position and let his Justice Department file briefs supporting both the Defense of Marriage Act, prohibiting federal recognition of legal same-sex marriages, and the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy excluding open gays from the military -- even though he campaigned against both laws.
The 40th anniversary will be marked by the usual LGBT Pride Parade down Fifth Avenue and by pride marches all around the world from Youngstown, Ohio, which is having its first this year, to Moscow, Russia, where activists get beaten every year by skinheads and police. There now are separate African American pride parades across the U.S. as well.
Stonewall gives New York a certain preeminence in the LGBT movement, but the clash was neither the first public display of gay resistance, nor has the city and state maintained their claim to be the world leader in progress since then. Five states -- from Massachusetts to Iowa -- have already beat us to opening up marriage to gay couples.
Maybe it is New York arrogance, but it was not until this year that New York City launched an ad campaign, euphemistically called "Rainbow Pilgrimage," seeking gay tourism -- something that cities such as London and Amsterdam have been doing for years. (Maybe the rainbow theme is meant to pick up on the 40th anniversary of the death of Judy Garland, whose signature song was "Over the Rainbow.")
With gay issues so much in the forefront this year, it's a good time to look at some examples of where New York has led and where it has followed -- despite its reputation as the birthplace of the modern movement.
While the religious right likes to speak about homosexuality as something that was always condemned, plenty of cultures have celebrated it -- the evidence appears on some of the Greek urns in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. There is even evidence of same-sex union ceremonies in early Christianity, not to mention the Bible's celebration of the love of such pairs as Ruth and Naomi as well as David and Jonathan. These couples may or may not have been gay in the modern sense, but their ardency for each other certainly goes beyond friendship. Indeed, Ruth's words to Naomi ("whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God" -- Ruth 1:1 6) are often used in wedding ceremonies.
In the modern Western world, German physician Magnus Hirshfeld founded the Scientific Humanitarian Committee to fight for gay rights and overturn Germany's anti-sodomy laws in 1897. He enlisted such supporters as Albert Einstein, Thomas Mann, Rainer Maria Rilke, Martin Buber, Herman Hesse and Richard von Krafft-Ebing. His Institute for Sexual Research was housed in a villa near the Reichstag from 1919 until the Nazis drove him out in the 1930s, famously burning the group's library in 1933.
New York's first gay center was a space the post-Stonewall Gay Liberation Front rented above what was then Gerde's Folk City on West Third Street in 1969. The Gay Activists Alliance worked and played in a space called The Firehouse at 99 Wooster from 1971 until it was destroyed in a suspicious fire in 1974. The current LGBT Community Center opened in 1980.
The first significant American gay group was the Mattachine Society, founded in Los Angeles by Harry Hay and Rudy Gernreich in 1950 -- and now being dramatized in a new play called The Temperamentals at the Barrow Group Theatre through July 5 with Thomas Jay Ryan as Hay and "Ugly Betty" star Michael Urie as Gernreich, who became a famous designer. New York got a Mattachine chapter in 1951, and it lasted until 1976.
What may well have been the first public gay demonstration in the United States took place here in 1964 when Randy Wicker led the Homosexual League of New York and the League for Sexual Freedom in a protest against the exclusion of gays from the military on Whitehall Street in lower Manhattan at the U.S. Army Induction Center.
Two years later, New York Mattachine leader Dick Leitsch, John Timmons and Craig Rodwell, who went on to establish the recently departed Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop in the Village, successfully challenged the law banning bars from serving gay people with a 1966 "sip in" at Julius' bar, which is still operating on the corner of Waverly and West 10th Street.
Stonewall had immediate repercussions in the movement. Soon after, a group of gay activists formed the Gay Liberation Front, which was of a piece with the radical liberation activism of the day and made alliances with other left movements, including the Black Panthers and the Young Lords. Its members were confrontational and unapologetic, and their intense group splintered and ultimately burned out in April 1971. (Some veterans of the group are having a reunion panel on June 25 at 6 p.m. at the LGBT Community Center, which I'll be moderating.)
The Gay Activists Alliance broke with the front to focus on single-issue gay activism in 1970. The alliance lasted about 10 years, spawning splinters of its own such as Lesbian Feminist Liberation, part of a lesbian separatist movement.
On the first anniversary of Stonewall -- in June 1970 -- New York City saw the world's first big gay march. Craig Rodwell played a key role just by posting a sign in the window of his gay bookstore calling on people to mark the first anniversary of the rebellion, but he was aided by both Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activist Alliance.
During the 1960s, states around the country began repealing anti-sodomy laws as part of the effort to rid legal codes of archaic laws. New York's legislature, however, would not act on repeal despite the urgings of a young member of the State Assembly named Ed Koch. The New York Court of Appeals ruled the state law was unconstitutional in 1980. It took until 2003 for the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the nation's 13 remaining state sodomy laws.
New York City was the first municipality in the world to propose amending its human rights law to ban discrimination on the basis of "sexual orientation," a legal phrase coined by the Gay Activists Alliance in 1971. The City Council, though, refused to pass the law for years, while many other major U.S. cities moved ahead and passed gay rights bills. New York did not join them until 1986.
Village Assemblymember Bill Passanante introduced New York State's gay rights bill -- the first such state bill in the nation -- in 1971, but that didn't pass until 2002, long after states such as Wisconsin led the way in offering statewide protections in 1985. New York State still has not added protections on the basis of gender identity and expression covering people of transgender experience, but the city did in 2002.
New York State's hate crimes law was held up by a Republican-controlled Senate until 2000 -- more than 13 years after it was first proposed following the Howard Beach racial killing in 1986. The sticking point was including "sexual orientation." Most states had passed hate crimes laws in some form by the time New York did.
A school anti-bullying bill, the Dignity for All Students Act, has also been held up in the State Senate for more than a decade despite almost unanimous support in the Democrat-led Assembly. The barrier is, again, the category of "sexual orientation," as well as "gender identity and expression."
Two members of Congress from New York, Bella Abzug and Ed Koch, introduced the first federal gay and lesbian rights bill in 1973, then an amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1965. The bill was eventually watered down to just provide some job protections through the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and passed the House last year but not the Senate.
In the 1970s, out gays began running for -- and getting elected to -- public office. Here, too, New York lagged.
The first out gay officials anywhere in the U.S. were such pioneers as Kathy Kozachenko in January 1974 to the Ann Arbor City Council, Allan Spear, a state senator in Minnesota who came out in 1974, and Elaine Noble, elected that same year to the Massachusetts legislature as an out lesbian. Harvey Milk wasn't elected a supervisor in San Francisco until 1977, only to be murdered by former Supervisor Dan White the following year -- and immortalized by Oscar-winning Sean Penn in the movie "Milk" just last year.
In 1991, Passanante was succeeded in the Assembly by Deborah Glick, the first out gay or lesbian person ever to be elected to a legislative office in New York.
Significantly, New York now has an out lesbian City Council speaker in Christine Quinn, one of the highest ranking out gay or lesbian officials in the United States.
The big gay news these days concerns the fate of same-sex marriage in New York. With the Republicans taking over the State Senate in a coup with dissident Democrats, the prospects for the bill letting gay couples marry here is up in the air, even though new Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Long Island Republican and opponent of same-sex marriage, has said his members can vote their consciences on the bill. The dissidents Democratic senators, Pedro Espada Jr. and Hiram Monserrate, are for the marriage equality bill. However, it apparently had nothing to do with their coup, which observers have attributed to billionaire Tom Golisano's desire for lower taxes and the landlord lobby's fear the Senate Democrat majority would strengthen rent regulations.
Assemblymember Daniel O'Donnell, a Democrat from Manhattan's West Side, who got the marriage bill passed in his house, remains hopeful it will pass the Senate. Prior to the coup, Sen. Tom Duane, also a Manhattan Democrat was insisting it had the votes to pass.
While the Republican-led majority can block action on the bill, it does not now nor has it ever had the votes to block New York State from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other place. Legislation that would have denied legal recognition to those marriages was introduced in the 1990s in Albany and never even received a hearing in the Senate.
As a result, New York is alone among states in that it recognizes legal same-sex marriages performed elsewhere but does not perform them itself. All New York gay couples have to do to be married is travel to such neighboring jurisdictions as Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts or Canada and wed legally. When they come home, they will be married in the eyes of the state -- just as if they had been able to legally marry here.
This has been true since same sex couples in New York began legally marrying in Canada in 2003. Gov. David Paterson drew much more attention to this quirk in New York law last year, though, when he ordered state departments and agencies to report on how they were complying with it.
Like all other same-sex married couples, New Yorkers lack federal rights associated with marriage due to the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act. Sen. Charles Schumer, who voted for that anti-gay bill, this year became the last statewide official to come out in favor of same-sex marriage, joining Paterson, Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who announced her support the day the governor picked her to succeed Sen. Clinton, who does not support same-sex marriage.
Beyond the political arena, New York has played central roles in the development of the LGBT community, especially in the arts (a whole other column) but also in the provision of services.
Lambda Legal Defense, founded in 1973 in New York as the first legal group devoted to defending gay rights, now has offices around the country.
The New York LGBT movement, which I was very much a part of, was tragically rather weak when the syndrome that came to be called AIDS was first noticed in 1981. AIDS devastated the gay community but also led to development of a vast gay social services establishment starting with the Gay Men's Health Crisis co-founded by Larry Kramer and five others. Kramer went on to give a speech in 1987 that sparked the creation of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power or ACT UP, a group dominated by dying gay men and supportive lesbians who radicalized activism again and changed forever the way people with diseases advocate for what they need to survive. ACT UP chapters spread around the world, and the New York contingent still has a few stalwarts carrying the torch of AIDS activism.
New York City had the first predominately gay, lesbian and transgendered high school with Harvey Milk High School founded by the Hetrick-Martin Institute for LGBT youth in 1985. Its continued existence is testimony to the fact that many mainstream city schools are still not safe places for such students. The institute itself, where I once worked as director of education, was founded to advocate for these youth in 1979 by the late Damien Martin and Emery Hetrick.
New York's SAGE -- for Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders -- was the first U.S. group for older gays and lesbians in 1978.
Gay journalists founded the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation in 1985 to fight anti-gay defamation in the media, especially at the New York Post. Originally a fierce watchdog, it has gone on to become a largely West Coast operation famous for big annual dinners honoring positive LGBT portrayals in the media. Such has been the arc of the movement.
For better or worse, the political movement has become much more institutionalized, too. None of the early activists, from the Gay Liberation Front in 1969 to the Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights, with which I worked in the 1970s and '80s, had paid staff. The National Gay Task Force (now the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force) began to change that in 1973. Its executive director, Bruce Voeller, received a (modest) salary, and it favored the suits of lobbyists over jeans, t-shirts and the "zap" actions of the Gay Activist Alliance. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force now has offices all over the country with a major presence in New York.
In New York, the Empire State Pride Agenda with paid lobbyists in New York and Albany and organizers around the state, dominates the movement in New York politics. The city also has lots of LGBT political clubs, mostly Democratic but also the Log Cabin Republicans.
Diverse New York has also had a wealth of racial and ethnic LGBT groups, including the defunct Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization whose exclusion from the St. Patrick's Parade sparked international campaigns for LGBT Irish people seeking to participate in mainstream. (Now gay Irish can march in the parade in Dublin and Queens but still not Manhattan's.) There are also groups for people of color such as the Audre Lorde Project, named for the late lesbian poet laureate of the state. Virtually every major religious sect has an LGBT caucus of some kind.
Stonewall, while a spontaneous reaction to police abuse, resulted from the liberationist and anti-war activism that was in the air in 1969 along with the actions of individual LGBT folk at the bar and in the street that night who collectively reacted with anger to the latest indignity to which they were subjected.
Forty years later, New York City still beckons as somewhat of a Mecca for people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, though it has become too expensive for many young people just starting out and less than hospitable when you look at the recent false arrests of gay men for prostitution. At the very least, New York and its gay and lesbian residents sparked a nascent movement that spread across the country and around the globe. Their effort made it easier for millions of people to live open and satisfying LGBT lives -- without moving to New York.
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.
Although there is debate over whether Sonia Sotomayor's parents are immigrants -- they came from Puerto Rico -- little doubt exists that many immigrants cheered the Bronx native's nomination to the Supreme Court by President Barack Obama.
"Sotomayor represents the aspiration of immigrants currently in the U.S.," said Columbus Caribbean. "Her background is not atypical of many first generation born Caribbean immigrants who have parents of humble roots... Her mother, who worked as a nurse, a popular career choice for many Caribbean immigrants, raised her and nurtured her passion for learning."
"This is a Jackie Robinson moment," Assemblymember Adriano Espaillat, the first Dominican elected to the New York Legislature, told the Times. "Puerto Ricans, who have been Hispanic pioneers in so many fields in this country, have broken another barrier for all of us."
New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, himself the son of Cuban immigrants, said Sotomayor's choice would help "diversify a bench that has never truly reflected the diversity of our society."
Amid the praise for Sotomayor's selection, however, a few commentators raised the issue of immigration reform and noted the Obama administration has still not acted to change the country's immigration laws.
Saying Latino groups have been "grumbling somewhat" about "the fact that immigration reform doesn't appear to be on the White House's front-burner," Chuck Todd of NBC continued, "This pick buys Obama A LOT of time with Hispanics... on immigration and other issues."
Meanwhile, in Sotomayor's home town of New York, immigrants prepared for the upcoming City Council races, grappled with the continuing economic recession, worked to oust a member of the city's Commission on Women's Issues and helped West Point cadets learn English. These and other stories from the Spanish, Bangladeshi, Russian, Polish, Korean and Chinese press, via our partner, Voices that Must be Heard:
The Sotomayor Nomination, El Diario / La Prensa
Among many other things, the story of Sonia Sotomayor, nominated to the Supreme Court by President Barack Obama, is the story of the generation that left the homeland blind in the faith that their children would have a better shot here in the United States. Her story has particular resonance for Latina women who struggled for their children's success.
Koreans Push to Elect City Councilmember, Korea Times
As four Korean-Americans run for City Council seats -- and hope to become the first Koreans on the council -- the NY Korea Times spoke with community leaders about the candidates, the issues and the election.
Kelly Denies Watching Mosques, Weekly Thikana
With imams and Muslim devotees concerned that mosques might be under police watch, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly told Bangladeshi Muslims in a Brooklyn mosque that the police are not immigration agents and that no mosques are under police surveillance.
Mexican Community Pushed for Official's Resignation, El Diario de Mexico
The Mexican-American community scored a victory in their successful push to oust Betsy Perry, who was appointed to the city Commission on Women's Issues by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Perry, who had written a column calling Mexicans "bandit swine flu carriers," among other insults, resigned.
Greenpoint Seeks Promised Parks, Nowy Dziennik
In 2005, the Bloomberg administration rezoned parts of Brooklyn's Polish neighborhood and, as part of the deal, promised to create new parks and sports fields. Now -- years later -- those promises remain unfulfilled.
Fleeing Recession, Irish Come Here, Irish Voice
As bad as the economy may be here, it's worse in Ireland, prompting an increase in young undocumented Irish workers in the area. Many want change in immigration law to allow them to work in the United States.
In Tough Times, Some Bangladeshis Turn to Gambling, Weekly Thikana
Despite the arrests of three chronic gamblers, unauthorized gambling joints are popping up in New York City neighborhoods with a strong Bangladeshi presence as many Bangladeshis look to betting to supplement their earnings or to make a living.
Recession Forces Some Immigrants to the Streets, El Diario de Mexico
For years many immigrants with jobs providing a regular income could turn up their noses at odd jobs. Now, the situation is so precarious for some that they seek out that work and have even lost their homes.
With Suicide Increasing, Few Counseling Centers Serve Koreans, Korea Times
The economic depression and difficulties of immigrant life have sparked an increase in suicides among New York's Korean community. Meanwhile, New York has only three nonprofit treatment facilities for Koreans, leading to waits of up to three months for an appointment.
Mentoring Mexican-American Children, El Diario de Mexico
For nearly a decade, a volunteer task force of young Mexican-Americans has worked to identify low-income children in immigrant families and connect them to role models in the hopes of building bridges between the Mexican community and the educational system.
In Chinese Community, School Report Card Get Low Marks, Sing Tao
Many Chinese parents pay little attention to the report cards the Department of Education issues on each school because of their weak stance on student academic performance.
West Point Cadets Practice Russian in Brighton Beach, V Novom Svete
People in Brighton Beach recently were surprised to see large groups of cadets from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. The students were not there simply to enjoy the boardwalk. Under an agreement with the Shorefront Y Jewish Center, West Point periodically sends students studying Russian to practice the language with Russian-speaking residents of Brighton Beach and Manhattan Beach.
One case involves middle-aged gay men at adult bookstores. The other concerns black and Latino teenagers on their way to a wake. One centers around Manhattan, the other in Bushwick.
Both cases, however, involve false arrests and possible abuses of police power. And in the two instances the police and district attorney have had to retreat from their original stands, although many questions and concerns remain.
In February, this column looked at what Council Speaker Christine Quinn, an out lesbian, called a pattern of "false arrests" of middle-aged gay men for prostitution at adult bookstores. The city was apparently using the arrests in an effort to close the businesses under the nuisance abatement laws. Duncan Osborne of the Gay City News uncovered the pattern.
Now, law enforcement -- from the police department to the Manhattan district attorney's office -- appears to be stepping back from those arrests.
By mid-April, six men who had pleaded guilty to minor charges had met with the district attorney's office to have their cases reviewed. There were concerns, Osborne reported, that while "at least 30 men were busted in at least six Manhattan porn shops last year, the district attorney" appears to be reviewing only the arrests made by one undercover officer. The office, Osborne said, was not looking into other suspicious arrests at "spas, private apartments, and on the street in the West Village and in Midtown."
That district attorney's action follows weeks of furor over the arrests. At Quinn's behest, police brass met with the Coalition to Stop the Arrests (now called the Campaign to Stop the False Arrests) on Feb. 11, led by Robert Pinter, a 52-year-old gay man who claims he was falsely arrested in October in the East Village by a young undercover cop who at first asked him for consensual sex and then accused him of soliciting prostitution. Despite protesting his innocence, Pinter pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct to avoid a heavier charge on the advice of his lawyer at Legal Aid, who was not aware of the pattern of false arrests.
Demonstrators protested against the arrests on Feb. 14 at Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Upper East Side residence and on Feb. 21 in Sheridan Square, near the site of the Stonewall Inn. Forty years ago next month, that gay bar was the scene of the Stonewall Rebellion that catalyzed the modern gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights movement as patrons of the bar fought back against police harassment.
An astounding 66 percent of those arrested at the bookstores that the city wanted closed were over 42 even though only 17 percent of prostitutes arrested citywide are over 42 years of age. The police department is not answering questions about why they would use a use a young, good-looking cop to snare alleged prostitutes when most sex workers are young and seeking older clients.
Initially, the police department and Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended the arrests. When I asked Bloomberg at a Feb. 7 press conference about the issue, he said, "Some of the men arrested pleaded guilty. Whether or not they really were or not, the investigation continues. I don't think I have to justify my devotion to tolerance, but there are laws and if you break the laws the police department is going to enforce the laws."
Asked about the disproportionate number of men over 42 arrested, Bloomberg joked, "Careful, don't criticize people over 42 years old."
Bloomberg said he had not personally looked at the pattern of arrests and added, "The police department is looking at it, and you can rest assured that Speaker Quinn is working with our administration to take a look and make sure that whatever was done was done correctly."
Shortly after that, police spokesperson Paul Browne told the New York Times that police were not targeting gay men. However, he continued, police officials and activists agreed at a meeting "that the police should address quality-of-life issues and illegal activity ... in a way that reassures the gay community that none of its members are being targeted because they are gay."
In March, the New York Post reported that Police Commissioner Ray Kelly had called the head of the department's Organized Crime Control Bureau, which oversees the vice squad, to police headquarters. They decided, the paper said, that any further operations would have to be cleared by bureau chief Anthony Izzo.
The office of the district attorney, which prosecuted the cases, also seemed to acknowledge mistakes. On March 6, Pinter and other activists met with Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau at the behest of out gay State Sen. Thomas Duane. Joey Nelson of the Queer Justice League told the Gay City News "The first thing Morgenthau said was, 'we're going to investigate all these cases.'"
"They weren't trying to cover things up or hide," Pinter told the paper. "Morgenthau himself brought up that he has prosecuted police over 300 times in his career." However, Linda Proust Lopez, a supervising attorney at Legal Aid, told the paper she was "disappointed" that the office was not expanding its investigation to include "all of the male prostitution arrests made by these undercovers."
At the meeting, Duane and Assemblymember Deborah Glick, an out lesbian, were reportedly "very outspoken" about what they see as the anti-gay nature of the arrests.
The District Attorney's Office said that it does not comment on ongoing investigations, but a reliable source was told by the office that "they are first investigating the people who pleaded not guilty and after that they will investigate the people who pleaded guilty -- like Rob Pinter," who has just filed a motion to vacate his conviction.
Pinter said that Morgenthau promised to investigate, but Pinter is frustrated with the pace of the investigations. "Maybe they are going to call in everyone else [who was arrested under these circumstances], but it seems very slow," he said.
Osborne also reported that the District Attorney's Office denied his Freedom of Information filing for details on the cases, based on the fact that they are being "re-investigated." The paper is appealing the denial.
The administration still has not provided a full account of the status of the sting operation and those who carried it out.
The police department did not respond to e-mailed questions about the investigation into the officers who made the arrests or whether these men are still conducting the operation.
The mayor's press office did not answer an e-mail asking whether Bloomberg has looked into the arrests. It also did not respond to a query about why the police department reportedly withdrew its nuisance complaint into Chelsea's Unicorn DVD bookstore -- a complaint based on these arrests -- just two weeks after it was cleared to go to trial by Judge Michael D. Stallman.
When Osborne asked Bloomberg on May 1 if City Hall had approved the stings, the mayor passed the buck to the police department. "I've heard people are worried about it, have concern about it," he said. Gay City News is seeking details of the cases from the department under the Freedom of Information Law.
City Councilmember Rosie Mendez has been among those urging the mayor to look deeper into the cases. "The mayor has an election and doesn't want to lose votes," she said. "We need to put on more pressure to see what happens with those officers. From what I'm being told, the police overstepped their boundaries and did not have sufficient information to leap to the position that these were prostitutes."
Then there are the larger issues. "The arrests in porn stores are part of a larger and wider war on sexual civil liberties in New York," veteran gay activist Bill Dobbs said. He expressed concern that the current protests by the Campaign to Stop the False Arrests are not taking on that bigger issue.
Two years ago, police arrested a group of 32 young people of color on their way to the subway in Bushwick to attend a friend's wake. At the time, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes defended the arrests. The young people "were not just walking on one car, they were trampling on all sorts of cars," Hynes said at the time. "It was almost as if they were inviting arrest." Kelly also reportedly said the kids were yelling, blocking traffic and climbing on cars.
Bob Herbert, columnist for the New York Times who drew attention to the case in his column, soon cast doubt on the police statements, speaking with witnesses who completely disputed the police account.
Now, although the city has admitted no wrongdoing on the part of the police, the charges against the 32 have been dropped. Additionally, the 16 young people who sued the city reached settlements in April of between $9,000 and $23,000 each.
These young people not only had Herbert and witnesses on their side. Some of them were members of Make the Road New York, a civil rights and community empowerment group with bases in Bushwick as well as Queens and Staten Island. It held a press conference to announce the settlements on April 19 outside police headquarters.
Michael Scolnick, a civil rights attorney who represented the young people, said those arrested "were being orderly -- not even acting like children normally do" when walking in the street because they were mourning.
Some of the young people, he said, were accompanied by their parents. Those parents, according to Scolnick, "were told [by the police] to 'shut the fuck up and get out of the way or we'll arrest you too.' One [parent] hollered out, 'don't anybody run. You didn't do anything.'"
The fact that the youth stuck together and did not panic or flee probably led to their rare exoneration.
Scolnick said that the settlement "was compensation for alleged violations of their civil rights," which included being handcuffed to pipes or the Snapple machine after arrest at the 83rd Precinct. Some were held for more than a day.
When Scolnick met with the young people to review the settlement he told them, "You all behaved in a sane, responsible way. You refused to accept an ACD [Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal]. You did not plead guilty. You have a lot to be proud of. You whipped the system in criminal and civil court."
"The NYPD and DA had it in for these youth because of the fact that they live in a low-income community," said Oona Chatterjee, co-executive director of Make the Road New York. "They didn't hesitate to lie about these youth in the press. Now they are faced with the consequences." She added, "They wouldn't have done this if these kids were from the Upper East Side."
Jesus Gonzalez of Make the Road New York said the group has trained about 200 young people in what their rights are in these situations. Given the hundreds of thousands of youth of color who have been subjected to a stop-and-frisk by the police, it seems many public school students might benefit from such a training progra.
I've written this column for more than seven years, but recently have developed a conflict that readers are entitled to know about. One of my jobs is with Bill Lynch Associates, a consulting firm that has lately taken on representing City Comptroller William Thompson Jr., who is running for mayor against Bloomberg. I don't think that I would have written this column any differently if I didn't work for the firm. Whether I have agreed or disagreed with a public official or candidate, I have always tried to be fair in reporting on them. But readers are entitled to know when some of my income is derived from a source profiting from politicians competing with anyone I write about and this story could not be written without covering Bloomberg's role.
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.
With the U.S. Census -- the decennial count of all of us -- slated for next year, New York officials already are taking steps to insure immigrants include themselves in the tally.
"In a city with approximately 500,000 illegal residents -- potentially more than 5 percent of the population -- getting an accurate count has been a challenge," the Queens Tribune reported recently. The task has prompted the Bloomberg administration to alert immigrants -- documented or not - that being counted will not put them at any risk.
Applauding the Polish-American Congress for encouraging Poles to be counted, the Polish language paper Nowy Dziennik said, "The count results can visibly help or harm each one of us." A full enumeration is particularly vital in these tough economic times, the paper continued, when population figures could determine who gets what funds for social programs.
Meanwhile, another counting -- this one of the unemployed - paints a picture of continued hard times, particularly for the city's immigrants. As the city unemployment rate increases, "indicators suggest that the population without working papers is faring even worse," Andrew Silverstein wrote in City Limits. He reported from Woodside, Queens, where dozens stand "competing for low-skilled jobs in construction, carpentry, moving and cleaning. They used to get picked up for day jobs - but now they just keep waiting. The lack of work has led some to become homeless."
In the restaurant industry, a recent report found widespread discrimination against immigrants -- making them particularly vulnerable as that industry sees fewer patrons and smaller tabs.
But there was some humor last month. In one of the few national television appearances by a New York City Council member since the Daily Show's Jon Stewart showed footage of Allan Jennings hurling an object at a reporter, John Liu got a shout out on Saturday Night Live earlier this month. And Liu wasn't even doing something dumb. Instead the Queens politician, now running for comptroller, was demanding "that a Texas lawmaker apologize for saying that Asian-American voters should adopt names that are, quote, 'easier for Americans to deal with.'" SNL's Seth Meyers continued, "Liu was shouted down by fellow Asian Councilman Cowboy Baseball."
And here's a roundup of stories on the economy, education, politics and other hot topics, selected from the Spanish, Korean, Chinese, Russian and Bangladeshi press via our partner, Voices that Must be Heard:
Wanted: Lawyers for Immigrants, Novoye Russkoye Slovo
In Manhattan, which has perhaps the largest corps of lawyers in the world, hundreds of poor immigrants sitting in an immigration detention center are unable to find an attorney who will help them avoid deportation.
As Economy Declines, African Immigrants Consider Return Home, African Abroad
Finding it difficult to ask for help and getting little assistance from the economic stimulus package and other government programs, many African immigrants wonder whether they should give up on their American dream.
More Latinos Going to Food Pantries, El Diario/La Prensa
As the economic recession worsens and more people lose their jobs, the number of Latinos showing up at churches and food pantries has increased considerably, according to the New York City Coalition Against Hunger and other agencies that donate food.
Hard Times for Small Businesses, El Diario/La Prensa
For evidence that the city's small businesses are disappearing, one only has to walk down Fordham Road in the Bronx.
Bias in City Restaurants, World Journal
Only about 55 percent of minority restaurant employees believe they have the same opportunities in the industry as their white counterparts, according to a new study released by the Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York. Although three quarters of restaurant workers are minorities, white employees tends to make more money, have higher positions and receive bigger bonuses.
Union Urges Boycott of Restaurant, Sing Tao Daily
The Nice Restaurant -- renamed the Splendor Restaurant -- in Manhattan's Chinatown has not reopened yet but members of the 318 Restaurant Workers' Union picket the premises, accusing the owner of discriminating against union workers.
Pakistani Americans Consider City-Wide Campaign, Urdu Times
Two Pakistani Muslims have launched campaigns for citywide municipal office, with Imtiaz Sayyid a candidate for public advocate, and Saleem Ejaz running for comptroller.
An Election You Might Have Missed, NY Korea Times
The contest for the New York Korean Association cut across racial and ethnic barriers to generate excitement, interest and participation. "This local Korean election campaign has everybody excited. The streets are full of music, and people are dancing and having fun," said one Bronx resident -- not a Korean.
Students Asked About Immigration Status, Weekly Thikana
In a violation of New York City regulations, school officials are asking students about their immigration status when they fill out lunch forms and other school-related documents.
Polish Schools Face Declining Enrollment, Nowy Dziennik/Polish Daily News
As Poles move away from traditional Polish neighborhoods, schools that teach Polish language, culture and heritage have seen their student bodies shrink, forcing principals to struggle to make ends meet and attract pupils.
Immigrant Students Learning English, El Diario de Mexico
More English language learners in New York City public schools have achieved proficiency in English than was the case in 2003, according to a report by the city Department of Education.
Schools Offer Few Services to Immigrants, World Journal
Most immigrants with children in New York City's public schools cannot participate in school activities because of language barriers -- even though the city Department of Education requires that schools provide parents with translation services, according to a recent report.
The Pothole That Ate Koreatown, New York Korea Times
Well not quite, but the pavement on 32nd Street in Manhattan is uneven and so plagued with huge craters that merchants have placed makeshift "bridges" over the potholes in front of their stores.
"Civil rights don't wait for the right time. I hope we've cleared that up once and for all," said Gov. David Paterson Thursday morning as he introduced legislation that would allow New York to follow in the footsteps of Vermont and legalize same-sex marriage. Flanked by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, members of the legislature and gay rights activists, Paterson laid out his case for introducing a gay marriage bill and he did it in the bright of day.
A lot of people did not expect this to happen this year. In Albany bills generally are not brought to the floor of the Assembly or Senate unless they are certain to pass. And as Assemblymember Daniel O'Donnell pointed out, in 2007 the gay marriage bill was sent to the legislature at night "so no one would see it coming."
Paterson, though, came out swinging, "I read today that I'm rushing things. I'm rushing things by re-releasing a bill that the former governor released in 2007? What is going on with the world right now?" asked Paterson. As for introducing a bill that might not pass, "What is this Iran?" he wondered out loud. "Where are all those good government people now not calling for a vote on this in both houses?" he asked in amazement.
Bloomberg echoed Paterson's sentiment. "I'd also like to add that I've never believed that the state legislature should only debate and vote on legislation that they are 100 percent sure is going to pass," said the mayor. "That is not democracy. We have to have a debate. We have to have a vote. We have to let people, or force people, particularly elected officials to stand up and say explicitly, on the record, where they stand. That's what democracy is all about."
So why, on a day when Paterson introduced legislation that would mandate equal marriage rights for gays, did he and his allies spend so much time arguing that he was not hurting the cause by introducing a bill without being certain he would have all the votes it would need to pass?
Some say Paterson's move is a brash attempt to boost his poll numbers. Whatever it does for Paterson, though, the same-sex marriage bill is expected to cause the Democrats major headaches. A number of Democrats think Republicans will try to use the bill to attack vulnerable Democratic senators in upstate districts where same-sex marriage is very unpopular.
Paterson said he has heard "'we have to wait until we talk to Republicans!" "You don't think we've done that?" he demanded. Paterson said it was simply time to act.
The Assembly, thanks to its Democratic supermajority, is likely to pass a gay marriage bill, as it did in 2007. That year, 81 Democrats and four Republicans voted in favor. Thirty-eight Republicans voted against the bill as did 23 Democrats. The bill did not come to a vote in the Senate in 2007 due to opposition from the Republican Senate majority.
On the Senate side, though, at least four Democratic senators stand against such a bill. Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. of the Bronx and upstate Sens. David Valesky, Darrel Aubertine and William Stachowski have all indicated that they would vote against it.
On top of that, many believe that in his attempt to become Senate majority leader Malcolm Smith had assured Diaz he would not bring gay marriage to a vote. Diaz, a Pentecostal minister, has strongly opposed legalizing same-sex marriage, and Smith needed his support, along with that of two other rogue Democrats. While Paterson had his press conference Thursday, Diaz held a meeting of Hispanic ministers to plan their next steps to address "homosexual marriage."
Smith did not attend Paterson's press conference because he reportedly had previously scheduled meetings. (Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver did not attend either because, Paterson said, he was celebrating Passover.) However, Paterson said, Smith "is a strong supporter of the legislation."
"I have been and continue to be a strong supporter of marriage equality and remain steadfast in my commitment to passing the marriage equality legislation submitted today by Gov. Paterson," said Smith in a statement released Thursday. "No person should ever be denied their civil rights or the basic freedoms others can enjoy. I am fully committed to continuing the process of securing the 32 votes necessary for passage and ensuring that all New Yorkers can realize the right of marriage equality which is fundamentally theirs."
Smith said earlier this year that he supports gay marriage but will not introduce legislation until he has enough support among Senate Democrats to pass it. Smith's spokesperson, Austin Shafran, repeated this week that Smith still does not believe bringing the bill to the floor is the right move unless it is guaranteed to pass.
Sen. Thomas Duane, the only openly gay member of the Senate, initially called Paterson's plan to introduce the bill a "gamble" and insisted it should only reach the floor if it will pass. But Duane changed his tune this week and has told reporters that he has been assured by some Republicans that they support the bill. He declined to name names.
Spokesmen for the Senate minority have insisted that their conference "continues to be opposed to the bill." The Republican Senate conference is notorious for acting as a unit.
"I doubt that the Republicans are going to join the Democrats to pass this now. They are dying for the upstate Democratic senators ... to come out in favor of this," Diaz recently told the Albany Times Union.
Republicans are expected to try to seize on the issue of gay marriage in their attempts to further play up the divide between upstate and downstate. They likely will paint the push for gay marriage as another example of New York City Democrats forcing their values on upstate residents.
"I certainly support equal rights, and I think same-sex couples should have equal rights, but I believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman," Sen. Betty Little of Queensbury, recently told Jimmy Vielkind of politickerny.com. She also noted that she was surprised that Paterson introduced the bill.
For much of this year Republicans have stressed that the Senate is now controlled by "three Democrats from New York City." Senate Minority Leader Dean Skelos of Long Island repeatedly referred to this year's budget process as "negotiated in secret by three New York City Democrats," with emphasis on "New York City."
Upstate Republicans assailed the budget for its cuts to agricultural programs and the closing of upstate prisons. Republicans also pushed for property tax relief, saying that New York City Democrats aren't sufficiently concerned about property tax issues because most of their constituents rent rather than own property. Four upstate senators went so far as to introduce a bill calling for a statewide vote on whether upstate New York should become the 51st state by separating from New York City and Long Island.
One of the bill's sponsors, Sen. Joe Robach of Rochester, has said the bill is not designed as a novelty but to allow voters to address what he sees as a disparity between the way upstate and downstate are treated.
To say the measure is unlikely to pass is an understatement. But despite the absurdity of the bill, Senate Democrats remain extremely sensitive to the issue of the upstate-downstate divide.
Smith has touted his approach as "one New York." Upstate Democratic members note that Smith has toured their districts and spent time on farms and say he is very attentive to the needs of upstate.
When asked about what seems to be the Republican strategy of playing upstate against downstate Shafran became uncharacteristically emotional. "Times are tough. People should be coming together, but they want to divide," he said. "I think it is a poor political strategy, and they need to focus on policy. We are fixing the mess they created. After 12 years of a borrow and spend Republican governor and after 40 years of a Republican majority that took care of special interests, now we face the greatest fiscal crisis since the Great Depression. In a time when we should be trying to pull the state together all they are doing is trying to further divide the state. I think it is disgusting."
Against this backdrop, advocates for gay marriage have stepped up their lobbying efforts to secure votes for the bill in the Senate. And they insist that no senator should be worried about a backlash in the voting booth if they vote to approve gay marriage. O'Donnell recently cited Assembly Republicans who voted for the gay marriage bill in 2007 and won re-election.
Advocates point to Vermont, which was the first state to legalize gay marriage through legislation. "I'm embarrassed for New York State," said Alan Van Capelle, executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda in a statement on April 7 after Vermont's legislature legalized gay marriage.
Activists like Capelle say it is a shame that a progressive state like New York has not been a leader on the issue. Van Capelle pointed out that Paterson and U.S. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer openly support gay marriage.
"Every statewide official, the New York State Assembly and a majority of New Yorkers already support passing a bill that would provide same-sex couples with the 1,324 rights and protections that come with a New York State marriage license," said Van Capelle. "Despite the prevailing wisdom that Albany is hopelessly dysfunctional," he continued, "we have -- time and time again over the years -- proved that we can break through the gridlock and pass legislation providing equality for our community when most people thought it couldn't be done
More than half of all New York City public school students are immigrants or the children of immigrants, and one out of four is not a native English speaker. How well do the city schools serve those hundreds of thousands of kids?
This topic has received a lot of attention in the past month and the answer, it seems, depends upon who you ask.
Not surprisingly, the Department of Education thinks it has made important strides in this area. In an analysis released earlier this month, the department highlighted a substantial increase in the number of English language learners becoming proficient in English. According to the department, "more than 29 percent of fourth-grade English language learners met standards on the State English Language Arts test in 2008, compared to just over 4 percent in 2003." Results for the fourth and eighth-grade math tests improved as well, leading the department to conclude, "English language learners without special needs met standards on the math exam at the same rate as other students."
But, as the Inside Schools blog noted, the report includes other less rosy figures not featured in the press release. It found that "the less dramatic gains by middle school ELLs, relatively flat Regents scores and flat graduation rates (31.6 percent in 2003 and 30.8 percent in 2007) underscore the immediate demand for deeper, more focused attention."
The report came only days after a Bronx hearing on mayoral control of schools, where, the Daily News reported, "State lawmakers grilled city education officials ... on the lackluster progress of English Language Learners since the mayor took control of the schools."
English language learners lag on some key measures, according to Deycy Avitia of the New York Immigration Coalition. For example, she told Gotham Schools, only 5 percent of middle school English language learners meet state standards on the language arts test.
And while the city hails increases in the overall high school graduation rate, Avitia said that less than a third of English language learners graduate -- with the percentage remaining virtually unchanged since 2003. According to Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of the Immigration Coalition, only 10 percent of the students learning English graduate with the more rigorous Regents diploma that will soon be required of all high school students in the state. "We're sounding the alarm because I don't think it does anybody any good to try to gloss over this problem," she told the Times.
Meanwhile a report by Advocates for Children released in mid March concludes that many immigrant parents feel shut out of the schools. They "described being blocked at the door by school security because they do not have official identification, intimidated by school staff who are insensitive or unresponsive to their needs and discriminated against because of their background or limited English abilities," the group said in a release.
For the past several weeks, our partner, Voices that Must Be Heard, has been taking a close look at immigrants in city schools. The findings of reporters from various ethnic papers reflect many of the concerns in the Advocates for Children report, along with other issues affecting students from Russia, China, Bangladesh and Latin America. Also, this month a look at ethnic media, competition for scarce jobs, a food fight on Roosevelt Avenue and more from the Russia, Bangladeshi, Chinese and Spanish-language press courtesy of Voices that Must Be Heard.
Less Than a Quarter of English Learners Graduate, El Diario / La Prensa
The city's high school graduation rate for English language learners is a shockingly low 23.5 percent. This does not bode well for immigrant communities and a city that increasingly relies on them for productivity and growth.
High School Drop-Out Rate Remains High Among Latino Teens, Latin Week New York
Scores of Latino high school students don't graduate from high school on time, forcing them to get a GED or disappear from the education system altogether. What prompts these students to drop out?
Assigning Immigrant Children to Special Education, Diario de Mexico
With an increasing number of students who do not speak English, educators must determine whether children are struggling academically because of learning or developmental disabilities or simply because they do not know the language. To ensure the best placement, parents must advocate for their kids -- an unaccustomed role for some immigrants.
Immigrant Students Struggle to Adjust to City Schools, Novoye Russkoye Slovo
Facing a new country, new kids, new culture, new food and new school, immigrant students face many challenges, but the city schools offer little help to ease the transition.
Bangladeshi Parents Unfamiliar with City Schools, Bangla Patrika
Many Bangladeshi parents know little about the city's schools or are reluctant to approach the schools, while others say the schools do not do enough to reach out to immigrant parents. Whatever the reason, the parents' lack of involvement can put their children at risk.
More Chinese Parents Turn to Private Schools, Sing Tao Daily
Chinese teenagers and their parents, concerned about large class sizes in city public schools, are checking out private schools, spurred by a surge in scholarships.
Groups Call for More Chinese Classes in City Schools, World Journal
Many children of Chinese immigrants want to learn their native tongue. But such classes are not offered in city public schools, even in Chinese strongholds like Flushing and Sunset Park, so students attend private language classes after the end of the regular school day.
With Jobs Tight, Program for Foreign Workers Gets New Scrutiny, Russkaya Reklama
With hundreds of thousands of people out of work, many Americans, including some immigrants, have come to view skilled foreign workers here on special visas as a threat.
U.S. Will Continue to Deport Haitians, Carib News
The Department of Homeland Security says it will deport undocumented Haitian immigrants, despite appeals by the Haitian government, which has warned that the deportations could destabilize the impoverished Caribbean country.
Development Could Cause Sleepless Nights in El Barrio, El Diario / La Prensa
The massive East River Plaza shopping mall under construction at 116th Street and the FDR Drive could dramatically increase noise and traffic in the area, affecting the health and well-being of thousands of people.
Despite Growing Readership, Ethnic Media Struggle, Carib News
A recent City Council hearing on New York's ethnic media brought up an apparent paradox: Unlike daily papers, ethnic and community newspapers are not suffering from a lack of readers, but they do suffer from a lack of advertising revenue, the mainstay of their existence.
Drugs A Growing Problem Among City's Bangladeshis, Bangla Patrika
An unintended consequence of the Bangladeshi community's progress is the incidence of drug addiction among Bangladeshi women, a problem that has created turmoil in a number of families.
Mexican Family Brings Healthy Food to Brooklyn, El Diario de Mexico
The brothers Gregorio and MartĂn Quechol, both Mexican immigrants, recently saw one of their greatest dreams realized as their own business, a supermarket specializing in organic food products, opened in Brooklyn.
Street Vendors vs. Restaurants on Roosevelt Avenue
Food vendors on the Queens street do a booming business -- much to the consternation of restaurants that have seen their business diminish.
The appointment of upstate U.S. Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand to fill Hillary Clinton's Senate seat sparked concern among many immigrant advocates across the state. As the representative from a partly rural and largely Republican area, Gillibrand opposed any kind of amnesty for the undocumented, supported efforts to make English the country's official language and fought former Gov. Eliot Spitzer unsuccessful effort to give driver's licenses to immigrants, regardless of their status.
In response, Gillibrand, who has also come under attack for her pro-gun views, met with Hispanic leaders earlier this month in an effort to assuage their fears. As she has on other issues, Gillibrand reportedly attributed some of her positions to the district she represented. It remained unclear, though, how her ideas might "evolve" now that she represents the entire state. Nonetheless, Hispanic leaders said they would be watching.
In other news, a report by the Immigration Justice Clinic at New York’s Cardozo School of Law found that in 2006 the Bush administration changed the focus of the National Fugitive Operation Program to focus on the number of undocumented immigrants arrested rather than the danger they posed. As a result 75 percent of the people arrested under the program -- originally designed to concentrate on people who posed a threat -- had no arrest records. Advocates in New York and elsewhere are looking to the Obama administration to change these and other policies, but so far the president has offered little indication of what he might do.
Locally, the city's schools have seen an increase in the number of teenage immigrant students who have never attended school -- even in their native countries. While some 150,000 city public school students have to learn English, the New York Times reported, "An estimated 15,100 ... have had little or no formal schooling and are often illiterate in their native languages."
In addition, New Yorkers from Pakistan's Swat Valley, a Taliban stronghold, have seen tensions from their native home trickling across the Atlantic. Some have been threatened, kidnapped and even murdered on trips back to Pakistan, and others report they have received threats here as well.
The economic recession continues to batter New York's immigrant communities. The crisis has even promoted the reversal of our traditional remittance -- immigrants here are receiving money from back home, instead of the other way around. With so many immigrants in need of services, Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum's office released a comprehensive Guide to Public Benefits for Immigrants to tell immigrants what assistance they can -- and cannot -- receive. The guide is available in English and five other languages.
The economic gloom did not keep Asians in the city from marking the Lunar New Year (For a video of the celebration in Chinatown, go here). It did though put a bit of a crimp in the festivities. Korean merchants were forced to cut back on the free calendars they traditionally distribute this time of year.
These and other stories from the Chinese, Korean, Spanish and Bangladeshi language press via our partner, Voices That Must Be Heard.
Immigrants Fall Victim to Unscrupulous Mortgage Brokers (New York Carib News)
Immigrants across New York have been duped by lenders from their "home country" and now face losing their homes.
Fallout from Wall Street Hits City's Mexicans (Diario de Mexico)
The collapse of the stock markets affects not only Wall Street financiers, but also Mexican workers who have lost jobs because of the disappearance of hundreds of positions in the financial sector in Lower Manhattan.
Recession Hits Bangladeshi Businesses Hard (Weekly Thikana)
In neighborhoods with large Bangladeshi communities, shops are fighting to stay alive. Many have already either been closed or sold, and owners worry that, if the situation gets worse, more businesses will have to declare bankruptcy.
Not Homeless But Still Hungry (World Journal)
Some hungry people who have a roof over their heads have begun frequenting a Chinatown program to feed the homeless. The organization that runs it says there just isn’t enough food to go around.
Recession Reverses the Flow of Money (El Diario / La Prensa)
The financial and economic crisis is leading many Dominicans to transfer money to the United States from the Caribbean country, a change from the usual practice.
With Companies Cutting Back, Koreans Turn to Nursing (Korea Times New York)
As corporations announce layoffs, many Korean exchange students have decided to switch careers and enter nursing, a field likely to be in high demand in the coming years.
Recession Sparks Increase in Crime (Weekly Thikana)
Crime -- including theft, robbery and carjacking -- seems to be on the rise in parts of the city among Bangladeshi residents and businesses.
Fighting Bias Crimes (El Correo de Queens)
Facing an increase in hate crime, a Queens community decides to take action.
Gillibrand Softens Her Stand(La Tribuna Hispana USA)
Latino groups greeted the new appointment of Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand to the U.S. Senate with alarms. Now, facing an avalanche of protests, she is toning down her stance.
Plans to Close Two Hospitals Alarms Queens Residents (El Diario / La Prensa)
Saint John's and Mary Immaculate hospitals could close their doors on Feb. 28. This would add 2,500 people to the rolls of the unemployed and some Queens residents without vital health services close to home.
Census of Muslims Planned (Iran Times)
A new private census hopes to more accurately count the number of Muslims living in the United States. At the same time, it is reviving controversy over the number of religious minorities, how they are counted and why it matters.
Bribing One's Way to Affordable Housing (V Novom Svete)
Can it really be that in the Big Apple you have to pay a large bribe to move into a low-rent apartment under the Section 8 federal housing voucher program?
NY's Immigrants Live in Bad Housing (India Post)
Immigrant tenants in New York City have a hard time finding safe, decent and affordable housing, according to a recent report.
Push to Make Lunar New Year an Official New York Holiday (Korea Times New York)
The campaign to recognize the Lunar New Year as a holiday is in full swing in New York, with proponents calling on parents to let their children stay home from school that day.
Free Calendar Another Victim of Hard Times (Korea Times New York)
Korean businesses have a tradition of giving free calendars to anyone for the New Year. However, due to the economic depression, many Korean businesses this year cancelled the calendar or gave them only to customers.
Anger is building against the police department in the wake of an increase in arrests of gay men for prostitution at Manhattan adult video stores. Last week, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn joined in the outcry. She said she is working with the mayor's office and commanders of the police department to set up a meeting that will include gay community groups "to get to the bottom of this."
The arrests have been documented by Duncan Osborne of the Gay City News over the last several months. Police are allegedly using handsome young undercover cops to cruise middle-aged gay men, offering to go home with them for consensual sex. As they leave the store together, the cop offers to pay the man for the sex, confusing the victims who can't imagine why the younger man would make such a proposal. Then, as they walk out of the store, the victim, despite never having agreed to any exchange of money, is surrounded by undercover cops, handcuffed and charged with prostitution.
Gay activists and civil libertarians see the arrests as part of a continuing effort to shut down porn operations in the city and a tendency by the police department to criminalize gay sexual behavior.
We need to see [the arrest policy] stopped and to figure out how it started," Quinn told Gotham Gazette, calling the arrests of gay men "the most egregious I have heard of" going back to her days as executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project, which is part of a coalition to stop these arrests. "It's not even entrapment," she said. "These are false arrests."
Anger over the arrests also brought more than 200 people to a town hall meeting at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center in January.
Robert Pinter, a 52-year-old gay man who was arrested for prostitution at the Blue Door in the East Village on Oct. 10, spoke at the town hall meeting. He said a young man — a 29-year old undercover cop who, Pinter said, looked even younger — cruised him in the store. He was "charming and persistent, and we agreed to go home for consensual sex, but as we were leaving he said, 'I want to pay you $50 [to have sex].' I didn't respond, but I thought it was strange," Pinter recounted. As the men left the store, Pinter said, a group of men who did not show police identification pushed him against the wall
"I thought I'd been set up by a gang," he said. "I asked them why they were doing this to me. I was totally clueless. They handcuffed me and said, 'Why the f--- do you think we're arresting you — loitering for the purpose of prostitution.'"
Pinter spent several hours in a police van, more time at the Seventh Precinct, and "16 or 17 hours in the Tombs," the city jail downtown. His Legal Aid attorney "strongly suggested I plead guilty to disorderly conduct," which he did, although he now regrets it. He was also ordered to go to city-sponsored classes on how to engage in prostitution more safely.
Most of the victims, some of whom are foreign tourists and almost all of whom have never been arrested before, have been encouraged by their lawyers to plead guilty to "disorderly conduct" and end their ordeal, rather than risk trial on the much more serious charge of prostitution. But as the arrests have piled up, civil rights and Legal Aid lawyers have convinced some of the men to fight the charges.
Michael Spiegel, a veteran civil rights litigator, who won a landmark case in 2006 against the Port Authority police for targeting and falsely arresting gay men in Port Authority restrooms, is the process of identifying men caught up in the current sweep who are interested in fighting the charges. "Their civil rights have been violated," he said.
The arrests at the Blue Door, Osborne said, "are suspect and improbable. While overall, 17 percent of men arrested for prostitution in New York City are over 40 years of age, 66 percent of the men arrested at this location targeted by police were over 42.
The experience has radicalized Pinter, who founded a Coalition to Stop the Arrests that meets on an ongoing basis at the LGBT Center. "We have to hold the NYPD accountable," he said, "and keep the pressure on until it ends."
At the town hall meeting and in his stories in Gay City News, Osborne has tied the arrests to the city's aggressive enforcement of the 1977 "nuisance abatement law." Former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and now Mayor Michael Bloomberg have used the law to sue and close businesses where alleged "criminal activity is demonstrated." According to Osborne, such nuisance abatement cases increased from 110 in 1994 to 709 in 1996 to 899 last year, closing everything from chop shops to unlicensed massage parlors.
"The commander of Midtown South said that civil enforcement is a police commander's best friend," Osborne said, who noted the city has had an ongoing effort to shut porn stores.
Following a spate of arrests at another porn shop, the Unicorn in Chelsea, the city sued to close it, citing the arrests by undercover officers.
The Police Department did not respond to Gotham Gazette's e-mailed query after the town hall meeting. Previously, Paul Browne, the department's deputy commissioner for public information, told Gay City News, "The fact remains that the locations had become notorious for solicitation of sex acts, with complaints from the public resulting in police attention."
Bloomberg's press office refused comment, referring questions to the police department. District Attorney Robert Morgenthau's spokesperson, Alicia Maxey Greene, also "declined to comment" on the arrests or his office's prosecution of these cases.
State Sen. Thomas Duane said he has been in contact with the district attorney's office and placed a call to Morgenthau himself, but almost a week later had not received a call back from the district attorney.
Duane, who spoke at the town hall meeting, called for the arrests to stop immediately. "People's lives are being ruined," he said. He was noncommittal about whether there should be a criminal investigation into the police conduct. "We have to take things one step at a time, "he said.
City Councilmember Rosie Mendez of the Lower East Side issued a statement criticizing the police for "targeting and criminalizing behavior that is legal."
"In this instance, they are targeting the sexual conduct of gay men. This type of targeting is simply the harassment of certain type of commercial ventures and of potential customers of legitimate businesses. This type of harassment infringes upon an individual's civil liberties," she wrote.
At the town hall meeting, some speakers said police use of false prostitution charges has gone beyond the video stores. Jennifer Ramirez of the Anti-Violence Project said that police go on the "casual encounters" section of Craig's List to trawl for potential arrestees.
"The cops go on the assumption that everyone's a sex worker," she said. "It's not getting better, it is getting worse." As a transgendered outreach worker, she said, "When I'm out on the street doing education, I'm perceived [by the police] as a sex worker and I'm criminalized."
Andrea Ritchie of the Urban Justice Center's Sex Workers Project said police arrest gay and transgendered people for conduct "that would be ignored or winked at in heterosexual people." African American and Latino people are particularly at risk, she added.
There was a sense at the town hall meeting that the public outcry might prompt the police to end their arrests of middle-aged white gay men on false prostitution charges. However, they said, the wider problem of police abuse of their arrest powers for gay, lesbian and transgendered people will continue unless the political leaders protesting the former look into the latter.
Five More Prostitution Busts IDed in Chelsea Video Store (Jan. 22, 2009)
Community Mobilizes Over False Prostitution Arrests at Video Stores (Jan. 16, 2009)
NYPD, City Respond to Questions About Prostitution Arrests (Dec. 5)
Shuttering Porn Shops, City Fakes Arrests (Dec. 3)
Courts Training Prostitutes? (Nov. 6, 2008)