हिमाली स्वरहरु – Immigrant communities of Northwestern Queens hold State Elected Officials Accountable (PR)

Immigrant communities of Northwestern Queens hold State Elected Officials Accountable (PR)

admin January 13, 2013 0
Immigrant communities of Northwestern Queens hold State Elected Officials Accountable (PR)

Sunday, January 13, 2012

Prarthana Gurung, Executive Assistant
Tel: 718-937-1117
Email: prarthana@adhikaar.org

Immigrant communities of Northwestern Queens hold State Elected Officials Accountable

(January 10th, 2013) Jackson Heights, NY: A Coalition of organizations from Northwestern Queens hosted a community forum with State representatives  of the 34thand 39th State Assembly Districts and the 13th and 16th State Senate Districts. The community forum, held at the Community United Methodist Church in Jackson Heights, was attended by more than 150 people. With people from a diverse range of immigrant communities, the forum served as a space for these communities to talk about key issues affecting them and how elected officials and local politicians could address these issues.

Senator Jose Peralta, Assemblyman Michael DenDekker, and Assemblyman Francisco Moya attended and responded to testimony provided in Bangla, English, Nepali and Spanish – reflecting the diverse immigrant communities represented.. Senator Peralta commended the community for putting the event together, “It’s very important to make sure that the community gets involved and that the community understands what their rights are; and what needs to be done to push elected officials and to mobilize to change certain laws and certain policies that aren’t working. This is what we need more of.”

After an introduction from Anna Dioguardi, Director of Community Organizing and Development at Queens Community House and Valeria Treves, Executive Director of NICE, the evening started with powerful testimonies given by community members. Members spoke about issues regarding labor laws, worker exploitation, health care access, growing need of affordable housing and foreclosure prevention assistance and lack of culturally appropriate and safe community public spaces. In her testimony, Saima, leader from Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM) spoke about the problems faced by workers, “Many times, employers retaliate against employees for seeking their due rights under current labor and state laws. This problem is compounded because workers are often worried about governmental labor officials knowing their immigration status.” Vicente from New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE) demanded that authorities “pay greater attention to these issues that affect us immigrants. As immigrant workers, we contribute to the economy of this city and play an important role in the functioning of this society.” Annetta Seecharran and Richard Saenz served as moderators, pulling questions from the testimonies. Assemblyman Moya responded to the testimony, “It’s very important that the community stand together and stand united on the issues to make sure that we can prevent the fraud and the abuse that we see in our immigrant community. [They are] the most vulnerable of communities that [are] out there and it is our duty to make sure that we protect and ensure that we’re doing the right thing [regardless] of immigration status, no one should be abused at the workplace.” He continued, “We’re going to continue very hard to make sure that we can pass comprehensive legislation that will prevent the fraud and abuse that is happening within our immigrant communities.”


Forum organizers represent a significant block,  eleven organizations came together for this forum that cumulatively have nearly 4000 active members and serve over 43,395 community members throughout the four legislative districts. Together this election season, the groups have reached out to and mobilized over 37,275 immigrant voters and registered over 6,721 new voters in the borough of Queens. The immigrant community in Queens is a strong and united community, with many shared concerns.   The testimonies reveal the overlap of issues across the different immigrant groups. One specific issue that stands out is that of language access,  a vital concern affecting all aspects of immigrant life, from health care access to affordable housing to fair wages to preventing consumer fraud.

The community forum served as a platform for the immigrant community to start a critical conversation about holding key State elected officials accountable to the issues that are most relevant to them. Dioguardi, Director of Community Organizing and Development at Queens Community House said, “In the wake of Governor Cuomo’s state of the state address, we are excited to participate in this gathering of such a diverse group of immigrant serving organizations – enabling the local community to present their platform on the issues most important to them. This is an opportunity for new Americans to engage in the political process and for their elected officials to learn about how to best address the issues facing different segments of the population they serve.”

Luna Ranjit, Executive Director of Adhikaar, identifies the importance of holding elected officials accountable. “The Nepali-speaking community is rapidly growing and this is the first time we are mobilizing voters to raise awareness on issues concerning the immigrant community. We want to use this opportunity to show electoral candidates that we are able to strengthen our collective voices, and that candidates must be held accountable to addressing the needs of the immigrant and low-income communities.” Adhikaar member, Bindu Malla spoke of her experiences as a Nepali-speaking immigrant having to deal with the healthcare system, and brought up the issue of language access in hospitals. “I have had to overcome many hardships, both financial and emotional because of my inability to communicate in the hospital. Had there been a Nepali translator available, I would not have had this many issues.”

While the coalition was excited about starting a conversation that involved the immigrant communities they worked with, groups were also excited to see a platform where immigrant issues were given voice. Seema Agnani, Executive Director of Chhaya CDC, for example highlights the need to address housing issues,: “The housing crisis has impacted residents of Queens quite considerably – although, we have some of the fastest growth rates, we have the lowest number of affordable housing units in the city; informal and unsafe housing; and ramped foreclosures as a result of predatory lenders preying on families that needed to find a way to live here in the borough.  Many of those owners that are at risk of losing their homes rely on income from rentals of basement units.  We should be pushing for the creation of legal, safe, and affordable apartments within the single and multi-family homes.  It would ensure tenants have right, and that owners have the income they need.  More importantly, it would create direly needed affordable housing in the borough.”

Pauline Park, Acting Executive Director of Queens Pride House spoke to the need of organizations like the Queens Pride House, the only center for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in the borough of Queens. “Many of our members and clients are immigrants. LGBT immigrants are often reluctant to go to mainstream organizations and institutions for fear of discrimination based on their sexual orientation and/or gender identity or expression,” she added. “It is vital that there should be sufficient funding and support for organizations and institutions that serve LGBT immigrants and address the multiple oppressions that they face in this borough and this city.”

The community forum was a crucial moment in presenting a strong and unified voice. As Treves, of NICE said, “Today the immigrant community says: Presente (We are here! Hear what we say!) as eleven immigrant organizations come together to engage in direct conversation with our elected officials.  This fall demonstrated we have the power to mobilize and engage immigrant voters, tonight was about reminding our elected officials that their job is to represent the interests of ALL their constituents in our state houses of government.”

The Forum was organized by the following organizations:
Chhaya CDC
Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM)
New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE)
Queens Community House (QCH)
South Asian Youth Action (SAYA!)
Make the Road New York (MRNY)
La Fuente
Immigrant Movement International (IMI)
Voces Latinas
Queens Pride House (QPH)


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