BY JOE MARVILLI
The Latin American community is one of the fastest-growing populations in the City. With expansion comes a stronger voice asking for resolutions to the many challenges they face. While that particular group is shouting the loudest for answers to several different issues, those problems concern all five boroughs, and not just one community.
The many issues that Queens Latinos face are shared by their fellow residents of the Borough. Problems like workers’ rights and immigration are widespread, but they affect the Latino community particularly hard. With advancements in organization, representation and population though, Latinos are pushing back to make sure that New York City and State provides a better life for all of them.
No matter what background a person comes from, he or she wants economic security and stability. After the recession of 2008, Queens has slowly recovered its job market. However, many workers, particularly immigrants, have held rallies and protests in response to what they see as unfair labor practices.
Hundreds of airport passenger service workers from John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia Airports came together on April 4 to protest for better pay and work benefits, marching from JFK and LaGuardia over the course of the day. They made the 10-mile march while holding signs that read, “I am a man” and “I am a woman” in English and in Spanish. Organized by advocacy group 32BJ SEIU, the rally was held weeks after a civil disobedience mass-arrest of protestors on the 94th Street Bridge in East Elmhurst.
About a month after the rally, on May 29, hundreds of workers marched into the headquarters of Aviation Safeguard, a contractor who hires airline workers, to demand better pay.
“A right is not something someone should give to us, a right is something that nobody can take away,” Juan Chapman, a LaGuardia security guard, said in Spanish. “There is no employer that has the right to condemn our families to a life of poverty.”
Although many of the protestors were Latino, they were joined by workers from all backgrounds in their fight for a better standard of living.
While many workers are fighting for their rights and for improved wages, many immigrants are still struggling to find work at all. Fraudulent employment agencies in Queens try to take advantage of those who are in desperate need of a job, ripping them off by charging them for poor or non-existent services.
According to a report by New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE) and the Urban Justice Center’s Community Development Project, these companies are rampant in western Queens and on Roosevelt Avenue, and are designed to trick Latin Americans looking for work.
Legislation was introduced last session in the Assembly to combat these fake job agencies, in an effort to protect immigrants from scams.
One of the hot-button issues of the last few years has been immigration reform, both at the State and Federal levels.
In the State Legislature, the DREAM Act has come up repeatedly, with several Queens elected officials vying for its passage. While the bill did pass in the State Assembly this year, it failed in the State Senate by a vote of 30 in favor and 29 opposed. It would need 32 votes to pass.
If it became law, the bill would allow undocumented students who meet in-state tuition requirements to access state financial aid and scholarships for college. The DREAM Act would also make undocumented immigrants eligible for the Tuition Assistance Program grant, a financial boost for students of SUNY, CUNY and not-for-profit independent degree-granting colleges.
During an event at Queens College celebrating TAP’s increase, several elected officials and students called for the DREAM Act to pass, to allow undocumented immigrants the same opportunities as their fellow classmates. One QC student, Eduardo Delgadillo, told a personal story of how the lack of TAP coverage for undocumented students affected his family. His sister was in the honors program at Hillcrest High School and wanted to go to college. Since she was not eligible for TAP though, her mother had to pay the whole tuition, something she could not afford to do after one year. Delgadillo’s sister had to drop out.
“It’s very unfortunate that someone so talented does not have the opportunity to come and get an education,” he said.
Immigration is not limited to just the Latino community though. A month before the TAP press conference, a group of Asian civic leaders and Flushing representatives came together to call for the passage of H.R. 15, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act, in the House of Representatives. The bill would reduce the mass deportations throughout the country that has separated families.
A Growing Community
While the challenges may be daunting, the Latino population has continued to grow, both numerically and in terms of influence, in the Borough.
Between the 2000 census and the 2010 census, the Latino population has increased by more than 57,000. It jumped from 25 percent to 27.5 percent of the Borough’s population in that 10 year-period, with a total population listed as 613,750 individuals in the last census. However, those numbers do not include undocumented immigrants who did not take part in the census, meaning the number of Latino residents in Queens could be even higher.
When broken up into community board districts, the Latino population holds the highest percentage in four areas. In Community Board 3, made up of Jackson Heights, North Corona and East Elmhurst, 64.2 percent of the residents identify as Latino or Hispanic. In Community Board 4, which is Elmhurst and Corona, the percentage is 52.3 percent. The Latino population also makes up 40.9 percent of Community Board 9, which covers Richmond Hill, Woodhaven, Kew Gardens and Ozone Park. In Community Board 2, AKA Maspeth, Sunnyside, Woodside and Long Island City, Latinos are 34.6 percent of the population.
The Queens Latino community’s increasing influence is also reflected in its elected officials, with Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst), Assemblyman Francisco Moya (D-Jackson Heights), State Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) and U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-Brooklyn) representing them in government.
Reach Joe Marvilli at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 125, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @JoeMarvilli.