For years Albany ignored immigrants and working-class New Yorkers. But, last year we finally had a breakthrough. During the last legislative session we passed the New York Dream Act, allowing all students, regardless of immigration status, access to state financial aid, a Green Light NY law that restored access to driver’s license for all, and the historic expansion of protections for rent-stabilized tenants.
But while these victories, and many others, are already bringing tangible benefits to New Yorkers’ lives, there is still much more that Albany leaders can and should do to protect and defend all New Yorkers.
That’s why, on Tuesday morning, along with hundreds of members of Make the Road New York, I’m headed to the State Capitol in Albany to call on the state legislature and Governor Cuomo to prioritize critical policies to ensure respect and dignity for all New Yorkers, including fully removing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from our courthouses, requiring good cause for evictions, ending discriminatory school discipline practices, and more.
The federal attacks on immigrant communities and people of color are ongoing and in New York, they undermine access to the criminal legal system. Over the last two years, we have witnessed an increase in federal immigration agents ICE at our courthouses. The presence of ICE at our courts hinders New Yorkers’ access to due process and puts them at risk of being torn apart from their families.
In addition, it is time Albany stands with young people of color and end racially discriminatory school discipline policies. Currently, Black and Brown students are suspended at much higher rates than their white peers. As an expecting mother, when it is time to send my daughter to school, I want to be able to send her there knowing that the color of her skin will not be a factor if she ever has a problem at school. It is long overdue for Albany to deliver for our youth and pass the Solutions Not Suspensions bill, which would limit the use of out-of-school suspensions, reduce lost instructional time, advance restorative justice approaches, and aim to create a fair, safe and supportive schools for all students.
Last year, after decades of organizing, New York’s rent-stabilized tenants celebrated an enormous victory as the rent laws were strengthened and made permanent. But more than five million tenants across the state do not benefit from rent stabilization. During this session, legislators can take the next urgent step by expanding those protections to five million additional tenants who are not protected by the rent laws and who are thus at risk of displacement. The Good Cause Eviction would do just that, by protecting tenants from being evicted without cause and limit rent increases.
Undoubtedly, immigrants and working-class people of color made great strides over the last legislative session. This year, we can build on it. We must prioritize these policies, in addition to ending the “Walking While Trans” ban that puts trans women of color at risk, restoring worker protections by passing the EmPIRE Act, and taxing the rich to fund vital educational, health, and housing services throughout the state.
We will organize and return to Albany until the session ends in June to remind legislators and Governor Cuomo that the work for policies to ensure respect and dignity for all New Yorkers is not done.
Yaritza Mendez, Associate Director of Organizing of Make the Road New York, the largest grassroots community organization in New York offering services and organizing the immigrant community. On Twitter: @MaketheRoadNY