We'll fight to stop the deportations

Luisa G. reports on a Queens forum that brought together residents and organizations to discuss how to bring one neighborhood closer to a real sanctuary for immigrants.

Residents of Queens, New York, demonstrate against Trump's assault on immigrantsResidents of Queens, New York, demonstrate against Trump's assault on immigrants

ON MARCH 31, nearly 100 Queens residents and activists braved a downpour to come together for a forum in Jackson Heights titled "No ban! No deportations! How do we defend against the attacks on immigrants?"

Jackson Heights is the hub for many of New York City's immigrant communities and advocacy organizations, and the forum, which was organized by the International Socialist Organization and the Parents Association of PS 69--the elementary school where the event took place--was intended to give residents a chance to learn about the work local groups are already doing and to discuss how to organize a network to help people in neighborhood defend one another from the racist attacks on the immigrant community by the Trump administration.

More than 10 community and political organizations co-sponsored the event and provided information at tables in the back of the PS 69 auditorium. There were speakers from several groups such as Make the Road New York and Chhaya Community Development Corporation. Organizers arranged for simultaneous translation in Spanish, as well as some Bengali translation.

Janet Hossain of the New Sanctuary Movement NYC discussed watching her husband being taken away by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) under the Obama administration and how this harrowing experience pushed her to keep organizing against cruel immigration policies that tear families apart.

Ariela Rothstein shared her experiences as a member of Teach DREAM, a group of New York City educators training themselves to help and serve their undocumented students.

Other speakers touched on what their individual organizations have been doing already to support the immigrant community, including organizing "know your rights" trainings, providing access to legal help, organizing day laborers, and fighting around housing issues, deferred action for childhood arrivals and education scholarships and grants.

Almost all attendees stayed for the discussion after the speakers and were eager to help. There were a lot of questions from the floor, including, "What does sanctuary actually mean?"

The majority of the discussion revolved around brainstorming about what concrete actions could be built in Jackson Heights to both help protect our neighbors and to send out a political message against these racist attacks. Some ideas included a solidarity committee around May Day organizing, an accompaniment program for parents who may be afraid to take their children to school and building a network of individuals, local businesses and organizations to build a rapid response network against ICE raids.

The forum ended with a breakout session for people who were interested in meeting again and continuing this work. There was a general gut-level feeling that something has to be done. As one teacher said, "I care about my students, and I want them to be okay. I don't want this to be the new normal. I want there to be a backlash."

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THE NEXT week, about 20 people attended a follow-up meeting. The group was mostly made up of local residents, plus members of a few supporting organizations like Movimiento Cosecha, which also organizes in Queens.

The group came up with a name for itself--the Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Committee--and two main principles to guide their work:

1. We are against all deportations regardless of someone's criminal conviction or any other reason the government uses to justify deportation. We need unity and solidarity with all people facing anti-immigrant racism or policies.

2. We need to build a grassroots organization to fight deportations. We cannot rely on politicians to fight this problem for us.

The meeting also discussed possible areas of work, including researching churches and other religious institutions in the neighborhood that might be willing to be a part of the sanctuary movement; setting up tables in the community to hand out legal information; and signing people up for the group and creating a Facebook page to advertise their efforts and possibly use as a space for people to share stories about life under the threat of deportation.

The group also discussed May Day organizing and putting on another forum where neighborhood organizations doing this work can collaborate and coordinate their efforts. The next meeting of the group will be held on April 22.