The intersection of immigration and other issues
There is finally starting to be some reprieve from the intense heat that has saturated New York City the last several weeks. The last couple days have been hot, but as soon as the sun sets, there is the unmistakeable cooler temperature in the air. It's been a treat.
And things in NYC are still chugging along in terms of my immigration work. This past week, I have been doing legal work:
1. At my weekly Friday clinic at St. Luke's on E 138th & St. Ann's in the South Bronx
2. There have been some folks who have stopped by the house I'm living at (with 2 retired nuns and 3 other women who are from/work in the community). In exchange for a place to crash for 2 months, I am doing a few chores around the house and giving immigration legal services to those who the retired nuns refer over to me (an interesting work/exchange, no doubt!).
3. At Make The Road in Queens (Jackson Heights) where I am helping out on a handful of immigration cases for folks who identify as part of the LGBTQ community.
There are so many realizations I have been having this past week alone working in New York City, but here is one of them:
That immigration in the United States intersects with housing rights, LGBTQ rights, and many, many more social issues in this country. It's a big part of the reason why I decided to specialize in immigration law -- as one single case can not only have an immigration claim, but hit upon other rights, as well.
She Works 40 Hours a Week and Still Needs the Food Pantry
Oh man. There is so much that could be written about housing in New York City -- how capitalism and globalization (and more) and its miscellaneous side effects have created ever-increasing rent prices in NYC. It appears that the South Bronx is hovering on the edge of a massive gentrification wave; developers have already moved in along the river in the Port Morris area.
When I was running my legal clinic the other week, an undocumented woman came up to me and told me that aside from her immigration claim, she was afraid to ask a question about her Section 8 housing voucher because of her immigration status.
She was nervous to assert her rights because she didn't want to rock the boat too much. And I thought about other undocumented folks in the neighborhood who may be facing similar issues.
Another woman stopped by the clinic last Friday, who didn't need legal immigration help. She said she saw my clinic announcement run in the church bulletin and she came to chat for awhile -- about how "nobody wanted to move into the Bronx" and now developers are wanting to come in.
She told me that she had a 40 hour/week job but she still needed to come to the food pantry at the church to make ends meet. That she had been living in her Bronx apartment since the late 1990s and remembers growing up in this area when it was burning/razed to the ground. How communities of color were redlined here.
She said that across the street from some of the housing projects down the road, development companies are offering long-term families who have occupied those homes (likely for generations) over a million dollars to get out so they could develop and flip the properties.
She told me it was just a matter of time until her rent was going to be raised. And even though she had a full-time job, she could barely make ends meet.
She spoke with passion as she told me about how she had grown up in the Bronx and didn't want to live anywhere else -- but wondered where she would go once rent became unaffordable.
We also talked about other undocumented community members who faced the same issue -- and she looked at me with sadness in her eyes and said: "It's a huge problem."
Sometimes after work to unwind, I amble down the streets of New York City, trying to take in all of the sights and sounds. Everywhere I turn (especially in Manhattan), there are skyscrapers and luxury condo buildings shooting up into the sky advertising purchase prices of millions.
And I think about such wealth as I pass by someone who is homeless on the street.
I know this discrepancy (to put it mildly) exists nearly everywhere in the world. But I wonder: when does it end? When do the increasing rents and displacement reach at least a plateau of sorts, or a respite from the ever-soaring increases?
It's so discouraging to think of there being no end in sight.
But, community organizing in the Bronx is inspiring. With long-time residents in this area, there are amazing organizations (such as CASA pictured above) who seem to be able to quickly organize based on these familiar ties. And be able to be effective as a result.
I feel that my handful of connections to the South Bronx are what has enabled me to have the clinic up and running in a short amount of time (I am most grateful). And I'm excited to announce there will be the addition of a Thursday morning clinic starting in late September!
It's always the community and the people who are able to fight back. Here in a city where immigrants make up so much of the population, there is leverage in organizing the community -- here's to the next step. And the step after that.