How NY Can Cut Through the Finger Pointing and Meet the Migrant Moment

New York has a proud legacy of offering refuge to newcomers hoping to make life better for themselves and their families. That hope is something we all share, and the promise of refuge has made our state what it is.

New York has a proud legacy of offering refuge to newcomers hoping to make life better for themselves and their families. That hope is something we all share, and the promise of refuge has made our state what it is.

New York is also known for being a place where big things get done. That’s why it’s so disappointing when our leaders scapegoat and engage in fearmongering over the many migrants arriving in New York over the last year-plus, mostly in New York City.

This political finger-pointing and the doomsday predictions uttered by politicians have helped lead to many New Yorkers seeing new migrants in a negative light.

How can we change that narrative and how can we show that new migrants actually offer a tremendous opportunity for our state? And what are some of the less-discussed factors leading migrants to come to New York?

First, we talk about some of the reasons, tied to US foreign policy, that have led thousands of migrants to leave their homes and take the treacherous journey to the United States with author Daniel Denvir, host of the popular podcast, The Dig. Then we discuss what’s been happening in New York and what needs to take place here with NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman.


[00:00:00] Simon: Welcome to Rights This Way, a podcast from the New York Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of New York State. I’m Simon McCormack, senior staff writer at the NYCLU and your host for this podcast, which is focused on the civil rights and liberties issues that impact New Yorkers most.

[00:00:24] New York has a proud legacy of offering refuge to newcomers hoping to make life better for themselves and their families. That hope is something we all share, and the promise of refuge has made our state what it is. New York is also known for being a place where big things get done. That’s why it’s especially galling when our leaders fearmonger about the many migrants arriving in New York over the last year, mostly in New York City.

[00:00:49] This political finger pointing and doomsday predictions uttered by politicians have helped lead to many New Yorkers seeing new migrants in a negative light. How can we change that narrative? And how do new migrants actually offer a tremendous opportunity for our state? And what are some of the less discussed factors leading to migrants coming to New York City?

[00:01:10] We’ll first talk about some of the reasons tied to U. S. foreign policy that have led thousands of migrants to leave their homes and take the treacherous journey to the United States with author Daniel Denvir, host of the popular podcast, The Dig. Then we’ll discuss what’s been happening in New York and what needs to take place here with NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman.

[00:01:32] Before we get started, as we always say with outside guests, Daniel is speaking in his personal capacity and not on behalf of the NYCLU.

[00:01:41] And now I’m joined by Daniel Denvir. Daniel is the host of the podcast, The Dig, and he’s also the author of the book, All American Nativism: How the Bipartisan War on Immigrants Explains Politics as We Know It, which came out in 2020.

[00:01:56] Daniel, welcome to Rights This Way.

[00:01:58] Daniel: Thanks very much for having me, big fan of the NYCLU.

[00:02:02] Simon: Oh, great. Yeah, I know you’ve reached out to us before when you were, you were at Salon. So, great to bring you back into the fold now. Can you start off by just giving us a sense of where you see immigration politics in, in the U.S. at our, present moment and, you know, how have things changed from just three years ago when your book was published?

[00:02:22] I will just start by prefacing sort of my sense, which is like, your book came out and, and there really seemed to be a growing divergence between Democrats and Republicans on immigration policy. And there was a, fight within the Democratic Party primary for president to kind of stake out positions that were very clearly to the left of Donald Trump, but also pretty to the left of what democratic politics has been.

[00:02:48] And now it seems like, you know, as it’s deja vu all over again, as Yogi Berra would say, like, it seems like we’re moving back towards like a, maybe not unified a bipartisan view on, on immigration, but it’s, it’s definitely shifting rightward. So that, that’s my own take and now I will turn it over to, to you.

[00:03:06] Daniel: Yeah, I mean, the conclusion to my book in retrospect was far too optimistic. It’s incredible how quickly center-left opposition to anti-immigrant enforcement, right wing nativism, how quickly that that’s folded over the last few years. It’s shocking, really. And I know that might make me sound, sound naive, but I was – as someone who’s followed and been involved in immigrant rights work for a couple decades– I found it remarkable that during the Democratic presidential primary in 2020, the candidates were tripping over themselves to declare that they would support decriminalizing unauthorized border crossings, which seemed like there was a general consensus of repudiating the democratic embrace of the bipartisan war on immigrants, not to some sort of maximally utopian open borders paradise, but a significant repudiation of Obama-ism. In fact, repudiation of Obama-ism, that one could begin to see the seeds of in the final years of the Obama presidency when immigrant rights activists successfully put an enormous amount of pressure on Obama and did get him to radically ramp down his immigration enforcement.

[00:04:18] So I did see an arc there from the end of the Obama administration through the 2020 primary, where there was increasing partisan polarization on this issue, and I think that’s definitely changed for a lot of reasons. Joe Biden and the Democratic political leadership’s cowardice is, is one of them. But it’s also because there is a profound migration crisis, and that crisis is that people are being forced from their homes by political, economic, and social conditions in which the U.S. is deeply complicit in. And until there’s a politics in the United States that meaningfully seeks to address those conditions and respect people’s, not only right to migrate, but right to stay put, it does seem almost like the spectacular demonization of immigrants as an invading army is going to be the sort of de facto resting place of mainstream American politics.

[00:05:12] I mean, that, that said, I think that the American left is still staunchly pro migrant. It’s just that the American left has not significantly mobilized around that issue in recent years at all. You know, even as the right for those people who tune into Fox News or right wing talk or just read summaries of what’s going on in that world would know the right never tires of talking about immigration.

[00:05:32] It is always and forever a central issue for the right. It’s only for the center-left and left that the sort of salience of immigration seesaws in the way it does, and specifically at the center-left. I mean, the big surprise and retrospect, and again, it might seem naive of me, is that I knew that the kind of mainstream democratic center-left polarization against Trump over immigration was, in significant ways, about sort of like in this house, we believe virtue signaling vis a vis MAGA.

[00:06:00] Yeah. I guess I just didn’t realize that it was so superficially just that, in so many cases

[00:06:05] Simon: Yeah. And I think one of the things that, to me, helps that happen, helps that sort of shift rightward happen is that a lot of the coverage, say of like migrants coming to New York City, I would just v enture to say that the vast majority doesn’t talk about U.S. foreign policy’s role in driving migrants to the United States.

[00:06:28] And this is something that – just to be clear for listeners, I’m sure they’re aware, but just to be clear – like this is, we’re getting outside of the NYCLU’s purview, but I think just to have this conversation more broadly, we do have to kind of talk about it without, you know, just to be clear, the NYCLU is not, like, opining on what the, you know, sanctions policy.

[00:06:45] Daniel: On foreign policy.

[00:06:46] Simon: That, yeah, exactly, exactly. But, there was a recent report put out last month that was called The Current Migrant Crisis, How U.S. Policy Toward Latin America Has Fueled Historic Numbers of Asylum Seekers, and some of the numbers in that report that I just want to highlight for you before I finally asked my question, which is the report notes that back in 2020, there were only 4,500 Venezuelans that were apprehended at the southern border.

[00:07:11] And in the first 11 months of the fiscal year 2023, there were 265,000 Venezuelans who came to the U.S. For Nicaraguans in 2020, it was 3,100 encountered at the border. And in the first 11 months of 2023, 131,000 Nicaraguans came to the U.S. And then for Cubans, those numbers are 14,000 in 2020 and 184,000 in 2023.

[00:07:37] So I set up those numbers just before I say my next question, which is, what are some of the foreign policy factors that are driving migrants to leave their home countries and head to the United States?

[00:07:49] Daniel: Well, let’s start with that report that you just cited. First of all, it’s clear that a program of economic warfare against Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua is destabilizing and undermining those countries’ domestic economies, making people’s life chances lesser and lesser and lesser in those countries. And fueling migration from those countries.

[00:08:09] I mean, that, that is just an obvious fact. All while not accomplishing the purported political goals vis a vis those three governments. But then I think what’s key to keep in mind is that both right wing and center and center-left anti-immigrant politics is premised upon the dehistoricization and decontextualization of migration. Why people move from where they do to where they do, when they do.

[00:08:38] The phenomena of migration is, I think, should be quite obviously embedded in history. Things that have happened, and those things that have happened are, time and again, things that the U.S. has played a major role in making happen. We can start with just like the general structure of the global economy as it’s been put in place by wealthy nations. People leave poorer places to go to wealthier places because life chances in places without resources become so desperate that people must leave.

[00:09:11] But I think what’s obscured on the economic front in terms of the world economic system that’s been put in place, that’s been imposed – since the era of widespread decolonization in the 1950s, 60s, 70s, 80s, the neoliberal capitalist world economic system – that this isn’t the only way. The fact that there even is a global economic system is sort of mystified in dominant discourse because it’s almost just like, wow, that country happens to be poor, probably because they did a bad job setting up their country.

[00:09:42] Our country happens to be awesome and rich, probably because we did a great job setting up our country and are just awesome people who deserve all this cool stuff. And the fact that the wealth of the developed world of the industrialized West of the former and current colonial powers in the world, the fact that, that is deeply premised on the underdevelopment and impoverishment and expropriation of resources from the world’s poorest countries.

[00:10:06] That is a fundamental thing that is mystified. And that mystification is a fundamental obstacle to there being any sort of ideologically, or on a policy level, coherent and just response to the migration crisis. So that’s on the global economic level. We need to set up a global economy that works in a just manner for all countries so that people don’t feel like they need to leave their countries to provide for themselves and their families. That’s a basic point on the economic front and is a significant driver of migration. And then there’s like the geopolitical front. And also there’s like the Venn diagram where the geopolitical overlaps with the economic, such as the sanctions regimes in place against Cuba and Nicaragua and Venezuela.

[00:10:48] On the geopolitical front, I think we could look at a lot of different things. We could look first to the broad swath of the Middle East and to South Asia that the U.S. and various European partners have helped fundamentally and murderously destabilize and set on fire over the past 20 years as part of the War on Terror, which has done so much to drive so called ‘migration crises’ in Europe.

[00:11:11] I mean, they are a crisis in the sense that they’re a crisis for people being forced to migrate. Or you could look over into our hemisphere and wonder, you know, why is it that so many Central Americans in particular have come to the U.S. in recent decades? You know, well, the U.S. for a very long time has supported absolutely the governance of absolutely murderous oligarchs in countries like Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala, and then in the 1980s, the United States under Ronald Reagan propped up and substantially funded vicious, dirty wars against the people of all three countries that permanently destabilized them, and that laid the groundwork, for example, emergence of transnational gangs like Mara Salvatrucha, which along with Calle 18 was founded in Los Angeles amongst refugees or the children of refugees from El Salvador, who then, thanks to immigration enforcement crackdowns under Bill Clinton, were deported back to El Salvador, a country in most cases that these people had not known, which then a country that most of these people had not known, and that had been fundamentally broken by the U.S.-backed dirty war there. And so when we wonder like, ‘Oh, why is the Northern Triangle of Central America, why are these countries so riven by gang violence?’ That’s a history in which the U.S. on a very basic level is just deeply, deeply complicit. But when that information is not available or known to people, and you have this totally dehistoricized context, you have a political framework that emerges in these dehistoricized contexts that encourages people to see Central Americans, for example, who are migrating without authorization to the U.S. or seeking asylum in the U.S. as unfortunate people, whose misfortunes we are not complicit in, who must either be kept away, or if let in, let in as an expression of our beneficence, when really, like, we should be orienting our migration politics around questions of justice and reparations.

[00:13:17] Simon: Yeah, that kind of brings me to my next question, which is – and I think you’re starting to answer it there – but what impact does it have on people’s perceptions and immigration politics in general, that these factors are totally erased from much of the coverage and much of the framing around debates around migrants coming to America?

[00:13:39] Daniel:  I mean, it appear– the dehistoricization and decontextualization of the actual contexts that drive people to migrate. People who would otherwise, typically, prefer to stay home. What that does is render this complex social phenomena ­­­–­ involving millions of real people embedded in these larger geopolitical and economic systems that we’re all ensnared within ­–what it renders that all into is a superficial spectacle. These nameless, faceless brown hordes pouring through the border. And this has been the case for many, many, many decades in the United States. This spectacularization of the immigration crisis, and particularly the border crisis. And thus this notion that the solution to this so called border and security is to somehow seamlessly seal the border to make it impermeable to unauthorized entry.

[00:14:33] And that’s a fantasy that has driven bipartisan mainstream anti-immigrant politics in this country. Bill Clinton, Obama, Hillary Clinton, George W. Bush. For decades, this quest through border militarization to achieve so called border security. But it’s a fantasy that is never achieved, despite how many, you know, going from a few thousand Border Patrol agents in the early 1990s to I think over 20,000 today. From zero miles of real border wall to hundreds and hundreds of miles first starting to get built after the Secure Fence Act was passed under George W. Bush, voted for by many Democrats. That fantasy remains unfulfilled and so radicalizes again and again and again until the demands become maximally radical with the election of Donald Trump. And that’s what the idea of a big beautiful wall that just hermetically seals the United States of America.

[00:15:29] That’s where that comes from is the exhaustion of any of these fantasies of total border security is just that they keep getting ratcheted up to. The most overwhelming maximalist proposition, which is Trump’s wall. Trump obviously failed to complete his big, beautiful wall.

[00:15:46] He also failed to reenact the Eisenhower era mass deportation operation slur. What’s frightening, and what I can’t really predict the future about right now, is that Trump and Stephen Miller are working on a comprehensive new Immigration enforcement program if Trump were to win election to the presidency again in 2024, that aims through administrative executive action alone to deport millions of people from the country.

[00:16:15] In a way that’s never been deemed feasible or realizable in the past, and I don’t know if he can do it, but the fact that a much more kind of coherent, seasoned, far right brain trust and kind of bureaucratic capacity has emerged around MAGA, and that at the top of their list is finally closing the gap between fantasy of mass immigrant expulsion and the reality, I think that’s incredibly scary.

[00:16:42] Yeah, absolutely. And, how do you see immigration politics playing out over the next year or so? Like, what do you think Biden will do over the next year, if anything, on this issue? How do you see it playing out in the GOP primary and the, and the general election? What’s your sort of sense of how both parties are kind of taking this on?

[00:17:05] Daniel: I’m not optimistic about how the Democrats or Biden are taking it on. Only recently, the Biden administration has sought to waive key environmental protection laws in order to continue Trump’s border wall. Given that Trump’s border wall was the symbolic core of his candidacy, the fact that Joe Biden’s administration is overturning environmental laws to complete that border wall because of political pressure, perceived at least to be coming from democratic strongholds like New York, that’s deeply disquieting and leads me to predict that it will be bad. I mean, the only the untested quality here is assuming Trump and Biden are the nominees.

[00:17:47] Simon: So, just with all of this as context, what do you think people should keep in mind when they’re reading the daily coverage about migrants coming to New York City? And I know you’re not in New York, but I will just say, like, it is nearly constant that, there’s some new element, some new piece of this story that comes out daily. So New Yorkers are hit with coverage on this quite regularly. And what are some elements of the story that are rarely, if ever, told?

[00:18:11] I know we, we’ve touched on the U.S. foreign policy angle of this question and, is there anything else that you think people should be thinking of when they’re reading this stuff?

[00:18:19] Daniel: I mean, I just think the basic thing to keep in mind is, though, why this is happening and thus what the solution to it happening is. If you understand why it’s happening, then the solution cannot be to just deny people entry at the border or to send them back once they’ve made it to New York. I think we basically face a choice between cross border solidarity and an investment in a global economy and a regional economy that’s equitable and just and welcomes migrants, because more migrants are going to come, especially as climate change intensifies and dislocates more people from places all over the region and the globe.

[00:18:58] We need to be, though, supportive of people coming who decide or need to come and do everything we can to make it possible for people to choose to stay, because many people would prefer to stay. And the only way to do that is an equitable economic order. It’s either that or various forms of essentially border fascism.

[00:19:16] Simon: Yeah. And for those of us who are against border fascism um, what can those of us do to change or reframe the debate around migrants coming to, to New York and other cities across the country?

[00:19:28] Daniel: I basically have the same answer to anyone who asks me what to do, what they can do about anything, which is that people should dedicate themselves to politics like a vocation, regardless of what their day job is, and spend a substantial number of hours every week building political power around issues of justice and freedom. There’s no other way.

[00:19:52] Simon: Even if it makes your life very, very busy.

Daniel: Yeah, it is a great way to meet people too. Politics is a great way to make friends. So there’s that.

[00:20:01] Simon: Excellent. Well Dan with that thank you so much for coming on Rights This Way.

[00:20:05] Daniel: Thank you very much for having me.

[00:20:06] Simon: And now I’m joined by NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. Donna, thank you so much for coming on Rights This Way.

[00:20:15] Donna: It’s good to be here. Thanks, Simon.

[00:20:18] Simon: Of course. so, okay, just to set things up for people, more than 130,000 migrants have come to New York City since April of last year. A large percentage of them have come from Venezuela, and the majority of them have come from Latin America. There’s also been thousands of them that have been bused here by Republican governors, particularly Governor Greg Abbott in Texas.

[00:20:41] So, I’m sure the people listening to this episode will have heard some about this issue and maybe a lot about it. But what I’m curious to hear from you, Donna, is what should people know about migrants arriving in New York City and elsewhere in our state that’s not getting enough attention?

[00:20:59] Donna: Yeah, so there’s so much that I wish people would know or maybe remember about what they know about the migrants who are coming here. And one is, you know, first of all, migrants who come here over a treacherous journey of weeks or months, you know, with their little kids and entire families in tow have been through so much.

[00:21:27] They are escaping such horrors. And they are coming here not to be freeloaders, not to be a burden, but they’re coming here to actually work, take care of their families. They are good people who are only trying to do what’s right for them and their families. And New York, of all places, has both the tenacity and the resources to welcome migrants, with the support that they need and that we have.

[00:22:00] What’s disheartening is that the mayor of the wealthiest city in the world is pleading poverty, and that our governor and the president have not done what they need to do in order to help migrants and to help New York City and New York State help migrants survive and thrive, which is where they come from to meet and to fill the American dream.

[00:22:31] Simon: And so, Donna, what has disappointed you most about how our elected leaders have responded to migrants coming to New York City?

[00:22:41] Donna: I think the greatest disappointment in the context of government response to the influx of migrants has been Mayor Adams and his rhetoric of marginalization and hate. Mayor Adams has proclaimed Migrants coming to New York City would destroy our city. He talks about them as a burden.

[00:23:09] And when I first heard the mayor describe migrants as people who would destroy New York, my heart sank. Because this was your literal example of the misguided and terribly harmful and inaccurate political rhetoric that may play well at the polls, but that does so much harm. You know, when our elected leaders talk about a group of people as nothing but a burden and a pain in the neck, they generate a public narrative, and public opinion that is hostile to them. So migrants arriving in New York City are not greeted with the warmth of, you know, the torch of liberty, give me your tired or poor, ‘what can we do to help you?’, but ‘get out of my backyard’ and, that’s part of a political calculus that just passes the buck, deflects responsibility and is all about fear mongering. You know, what we know about immigrants, generally, in how they function when they come into a new city or town is that they are strivers. They’re the folks who are prepared to work harder than hard can be. They’re the ones who are looking out for their kids while they’re doing their jobs, when they’re not doing their jobs, at school, wherever.

[00:24:40] They are productive members of our communities. There is no association – in fact, I think the crime rates associated with immigrants are minuscule, way below standard crime rates – but if you demonize people and you dehumanize people and you otherize them, well, it’s no wonder that public opinion is so hostile.

[00:25:04] So one of the jobs that I see for us at the New York Civil Liberties Union is to counter this fake, manufactured, politically motivated, hostile rhetoric with reality. Migrants are here to become New Yorkers and to become the best New Yorkers they can be and some of the best New Yorkers we could imagine.

[00:25:28] Simon: And to your point, Donna, about politicians creating sort of a feedback loop where they say very divisive, negative things about migrants. And then what you see, sure enough, is polls like the one that came out recently that show that a majority of New Yorkers agree with Mayor Adams that migrant arrivals will, quote unquote, “destroy” New York City.

[00:25:50] So how can we change this narrative? And how should New Yorkers be thinking about migrants coming to New York City and to our state?

[00:25:58] Donna: Yeah, so, you know, I’m still a believer in facts which is –

[00:26:04] Simon: That’s old fashioned of you.

[00:26:05] Donna: – not all that normal these days. But, you know, what the facts tell us is that when you create an infrastructure that allows people to do things like work, apply for permanent residency and a path to citizenship, like for the Dreamers, well, then they actually can succeed.

[00:26:33] And local economies. have actually been shown to be helped by an influx of immigrant workers. That’s a fact. They’re not a drain on the economy. You know, we wouldn’t have those fabulous, delicious honey crisp apples that we love so much, you know, if it were for migrants. We wouldn’t have nannies to take care of our kids.

[00:27:01] We wouldn’t have nearly as many healthcare workers and home health aides taking care of our most vulnerable, our elders, like me, without immigrants. Immigrants are prepared to and do take on some of the most undervalued and essential jobs in our economy, in our society.

[00:27:25] And we ignore their role and their value at our peril. So the fact that people need to understand is that immigrants contribute to our economic wellbeing and to our social wellbeing when we give them just half a chance. You know, one group that we have to talk about is the Dreamers.

[00:27:49] You know, there was a moment in time when I thought that passing legislation to make sure that all the Dreamers had a clear path to citizenship was a slam dunk. So easy. Kids who were brought here when they were two or three or four, you know, who’ve lived here all their lives. Who are, as they say, as American as apple pie, you know why should they not be able to go to college?

[00:28:18] Why should they not be able to get a job? Why should they not be able to participate in civil society? Of course they should. But when you marginalize people, it’s really hard, you know, and everybody should think about, well, if you couldn’t get like a regular job through regular channels, what would you do to support yourself?

[00:28:39] How would you do it? The good news is that many immigrants figure out ways to survive and thrive because they’re enterprising. Because they and their families are so invested and committed to working hard, but the bottom line is, this isn’t special treatment. This is removing special deterrence and obstacles.

[00:29:03] And we have an obligation to do that, you know, as people, but also out of self-interest.

[00:29:08] Simon: And so let’s talk about those obstacles and what our elected leaders need to do on this. What are some of the things that politicians can do to get out of the way of migrants and allow them to thrive?

[00:29:21] Donna: Yeah, well, for starters, they should resurrect the DREAM Act, you know let’s do that. Get it done. That should be a no brainer. I think that the president, the federal government can expedite work authorization for everybody who is seeking asylum. You know, it should be a slam dunk process, you know, and it shouldn’t take six months, which it does now.

[00:29:44] It should take 30 days and they should make sure that they expedite the process and that people can get the notifications that they need, the legal support they need and the hearings, wherever the migrants may be. So another thing that needs to be done is to end this response, whether it’s from upstate, or suburban communities, or community boards in New York City, that are resistant to housing migrants, in my neighborhood, in your neighborhood.

[00:30:15] You know, it would be nice if the mayor said, these guys are the safest people you could have around. You want them here. So I think that has to be done. And quite frankly, you know, New York has this “ULURP” process, for, you know, land use issues, and it’s a disaster. It’s an invitation for people to try to prevent any kind of uh, social programs. And another thing that we could do as New York City, is like our mayor to get off his kick of trying to do away with the right to shelter. He can’t use the influx a bunch of people who don’t have a place to live as a pretext to say, well, you shouldn’t have a right to have a place to live anyway.

[00:30:59] And this notion of him giving out, you know, pup tents to people as they arrive on the bus is the most ridiculous and inhumane thing I’ve ever heard of. Go live in the park, really, that is not New York. It’s not who we are as a city and New York as a city is a city of people who care, you know, and who want to be helpful.

[00:31:19] So come up with something that again is destined to work. You know, you figured it out during COVID, how to house people who didn’t have a place to live, in hotels, figure it out now. We have the resources. Just do it.

[00:31:33] Simon: And Donna, just to quickly give some background to our listeners on the right to shelter. That is a decades-long law that basically guarantees the right of people in New York City to a safe place to stay if they don’t have shelter. Is that right? And is, is that correct?

[00:31:49] Donna: Yes. The city has to provide shelter.

[00:31:52] Simon: And what are some of the obstacles to getting what you’ve just described done?

[00:31:56] What are we butting our heads up against?

[00:31:58] Donna: We’re running up against a mayor who has adopted the rhetoric of ‘these people are a burden,’ and has done next to nothing to build public support and empathy for the migrants who are coming here. So we need to ditch the rhetoric, which is an obstacle. I think that we need the political will to identify housing, both in New York City and out. But when the mayor, takes the position that we’re going to dump our problem on you, well, I guess it’s understandable that somebody would say, don’t dump your problem on us. And the scary thing about that is if a group of people who stand out because they don’t speak the language, because they’re thrown into a motel in a remote part of an upstate county that’s not close to public transportation, they’re seen as different, and by some people, they’re seen as a threat. And that makes them vulnerable – and anybody who looks or is seen as behaving like that – vulnerable to discrimination, vulnerable to hate crimes, and that’s not okay.

[00:33:08] I can’t believe I’m talking about New York City’s mayor doing this stuff. I mean, New York City,

[00:33:15] Simon: Yeah. And how do you see us overcoming those obstacles? How, how do we change the way that this is being talked about? People have to be calling for nationwide immigration reform for years, you know, they’ve been doing that for years, but there are things on the state and local level that you have mentioned, as well as the DREAM Act nationally that we could accomplish.

[00:33:35] But what do you think needs to happen to break that logjam?

[00:33:39] Donna: Well our mayor needs to come up with robust plan to deliver truly secure housing and supportive services to migrants, number one. And that includes making sure that children of school age not only have the right to, but the reality of, being able to enroll in school without a zillion obstacles.

[00:34:01] And by school, we mean school that has essential bilingual education, as needed. I think he should give up on his attack on the right to shelter law. More than ever, we need the right to shelter to be part of our law. We just have to make it a reality. The mayor needs to give up on this program of making people reapply or evicting them from shelters, you know, after 30 or 60 days. I think what they have to do is help people find permanent housing, help them get work authorizations, and to their credit, the city has in fact put into place a program to provide legal assistance, legal counseling, for people in submitting their asylum applications.

[00:34:49] But helping people to become self-sufficient is absolutely essential. And, you know, I think the Biden administration’s decision to grant temporary protected status to migrants from Venezuela is another good thing that has happened. It’s a start. It should be expanded, of course.

[00:35:08] But that should allow hundreds of thousands of people, certainly tens of thousands of people in New York to, within a matter of months, get work authorizations, and be able to get on their own two feet with housing and jobs. And another thing to New York’s credit is that years ago, New York made sure that immigrants could qualify for driver’s licenses so that people have access to transportation to get around.

[00:35:40] So another thing to the Governor is just sort of prohibit these County ordinances that, ban long term rentals to migrants. Those have to be abolished, repealed. And we’re often looks to ban things and prohibit things. Maybe there are some carrots in there, funding that would entice municipalities to open their gates, virtual or otherwise.

[00:36:08] Simon: And Donna, just as we wrap up, two questions. One, is there anything else you think people should know about this issue? And then two, what can people do if they’re hearing this and they want to help change the narrative and help get what you’ve just described that list of things that need to happen done? What can they do?

[00:36:29] Donna: Yeah. So, it’s really easy to call the governor or the mayor, even if you don’t know where to go and you just Google it and find out how to get through. And there’s information on the NYCLU website, but call them and let them know that you’re a New Yorker and you believe that immigrants should be welcomed here, and you want the mayor or the governor or your local representative to act that way, number one. You know, let’s make housing available. The other thing is, look, the 2024 elections may feel remote, they are not, and New York is a swing state now. We may not be likely to go red statewide, but our districts include a lot of districts that matter. And every New Yorker, anybody who’s listening to this podcast, has a responsibility to vote themselves, to engage with everybody they know of, of voting age, to make sure that they understand how important it is that they vote and that they vote their values.

[00:37:44] The values of equality, the values of humanity, the values of dignity, and take nothing for granted.

[00:37:54] Simon: And with that, Donna, thank you so much for being on Rights This Way.

[00:37:58] Donna: Okay, I’m so happy to be Right This Way. Thank you.

[00:38:02] Simon: Thank you for listening to the second season of Rights This Way. We will be back soon with another season, so please subscribe to Rights This Way and follow us at NYCLU on Instagram, X (formerly known as Twitter), and Facebook to see when the new episodes will drop. Until then, thank you again for fighting for a fair New York.