On Feb. 5, immigrant rights activists held a press conference and rally at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn. Organizers were there to protest the city and New York Police Department’s recent evictions of asylum seekers from the Watson Hotel in Manhattan and the conditions of the detention center where many were relocated.
News coverage of the evictions showed migrants sleeping on the street outside of the Watson Hotel during one of the coldest weeks of 2023 so far. Many sleeping on the street had initially left the hotel to relocate to the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, but returned after they got a glimpse of the despicable conditions there.
Cathy Rojas, an organizer with the Party for Socialism and Liberation and 2020 New York City Mayoral Candidate, reminded the attendees of the role that immigrant workers played throughout the pandemic: “We know that immigrants came here to work. And in New York City in 2020, when all of the tourists, all of the transplants, and all of the gentrifiers left New York City, because it was a hell hole to live in, who stayed here working? Who rebuilt this city? We did. Our communities did. Immigrants did.”
The New York Immigration Coalition, a nonprofit that advocates for immigration reform, estimates that “immigrants make up 54 percent of New York’s essential workforce.” Undocumented workers have long been the backbone of this country’s farming industry, which knowingly allows corporations to exploit their labor by paying them subpar and illegal wages, while the IRS collects almost $7 billion from them in taxes every year. The U.S. government is fully aware of the conditions that migrant farmworkers endure, yet does nothing to address their material needs despite years of nationwide organizing, demanding a pathway to citizenship for all documented and undocumented immigrants.
Tania Kappner, an organizer with By Any Means Necessary, referred to the shelter as a “detention center,” while describing how migrants are sleeping “head to head, toe to toe.” Kappner also noted how it is unsafe for people to sleep in such tight quarters during a pandemic: “Already someone was taken out, and the health authorities who came to take them out came in hazmat suits.”
Throughout the rally, organizers spoke of the inhumane conditions inside the terminal, where a thousand cots are closely positioned next to one another and only four bathrooms, located outside of the facility, are available for the migrants’ use.
“To get to a shower, you have to walk outside. The guys have been saying there are icicles in the shower stalls. It’s completely deplorable, unacceptable conditions and it needs to end,” said Kappner. “Immigrants want to find work, but how can they go to work with nowhere to leave their things or a place to shower to look decent for work?” asked Carlos, a high school senior and immigrant himself. “There are only four bathrooms for a thousand men! This is inhumane!”
The shelter is located in an isolated, industrial area of Red Hook that cannot be accessed via any of the subways — what organizers described as an intentional set up by the Eric Adams administration.
“We are not near the community, whereas in Manhattan, the hotels were surrounded by the community … if ICE were to come by, the community could step up and ensure that they take no one,” said Stephanie Gutierrez, a BAMN organizer. “Here, ICE is going around, patrolling, scaring people, making it clear that they have power here, that, at any given moment, they could call up people into meetings and all of a sudden start deporting people, and no one would be here to see it and to stop it.”
Bloated police budgets, no money for shelter
The NYPD was heavily present outside of the terminal where the rally was taking place, with their cars outnumbering the organizers who attended the rally.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams recently put forth a preliminary budget that cuts the funding of various critical agencies and departments, while preserving the already bloated NYPD budget. New Yorkers all over the city have noticed an increase in police patrolling their streets. The organizers of the rally insisted that the funding to provide safe shelter for refugees and asylum seekers exists, pointing to Governor Hochul’s decision to pledge a billion dollars for migrants in New York City.
“All of these immigrants can be moved from this hielera to the Holiday Inn, which has already received a contract to house asylum seekers and has more than 492 rooms empty that could be used today,” pointed out Carlos.
In the early days of the pandemic, the city came to the rescue of 60 empty Manhattan hotels by contracting them to house those who were living in dangerously overcrowded and underfunded shelters. This move demonstrated the government’s willingness to come up with creative solutions to address a long-standing homelessness crisis — so long as it benefited the rich.
It is clear that this option has always existed, whether it is using the hotels or the thousands of vacant units across the city to accommodate the needs of those experiencing housing instability, the solution has always been there.
U.S. imperialism produces migrants
Speakers noted that it is exploitation by U.S.-based corporations and the U.S. government which has caused the economic devastation triggering the migration crisis in the first place.
“How much food, how many resources, have the sanctions that the U.S. imposed on Venezuela taken away from the Venezuelan people, so much so that it leaves them no option but to leave?” asked Rojas, “How many resources has the Free Trade Agreement between Mexico and the United States taken away from the Mexican people, leaving them unable to increase their minimum wage, leaving them with an environmental disaster, with inhumane conditions of work, causing them no other option but to leave?”
While migrants arriving from Latin America are met with major instability and hostility from Democratic and Republican legislators alike, those arriving from Ukraine, where the United States is fighting a proxy war against Russia, seem to receive endless support from federal and local governing authorities. The Department of Homeland Security consistently exposes its own hypocrisy by easing immigration restrictions and processes and allocating funding to resettle refugees arriving from countries where the United States has vested geopolitical interests, such as Ukraine.
In 1966, following the Cuban Revolution, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Cuban Adjustment Act into law, which gave immigrants arriving from Cuba unprecedented privileges, allowing them to apply for permanent residence and eventually citizenship. Today, those arriving from Afghanistan and Yemen, do not qualify for those same privileges. Instead, they can apply for Temporary Protected Status and hope that DHS will permit them to file for TPS again in two years.
“U.S. imperialism has caused the conditions for immigrants to leave their country and find shelter here,” declared Rojas. “So they’re not asking for anything that is not owed to them. They are asking for humanity and dignity!”
Shut down the detention center!
Those who organized Sunday’s rally were clear in their demand: Shut down the detention center at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal!
“BAMN is building a movement, here in New York, but also across the country, to welcome immigrants, to fight for the rights of immigrants, to open the borders that never should have been set up,” said Yvette Felarca of BAMN. “And whether it’s Donald Trump, Joe Biden, or Kamala Harris or Mayor Adams, they do not speak for the people of this city or of this nation because immigrants are welcome here. We are going to keep fighting until this detention center is shut down.”
Protesters are holding another demonstration on Saturday, Feb 18 at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal. They are calling on every single person in New York City and across the country to join them in demanding an end to the atrocious conditions that migrants are forced to endure. They want to gather a crowd large enough so that the asylum seekers housed inside the terminal can hear their chants in solidarity.