NYC Commissioner Manuel Castro, Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs: Thank you so much for coming together, New York City. We know how much there’s at stake in this fight for work permits, but let’s be clear, while Congress has a role to play in fixing our immigration system, we believe the federal government could be doing more. We want our federal administration to be the, yes we can administration, the Sí Se Puede administration, the yes we can expedite work permits for asylum seekers, the yes we can support our cities address this humanitarian crisis, and most of all, the yes we can support and defend the American dream. And that is why we are here today.
So give it up for everyone that’s out here today, from asylum seekers, from labor unions, our government officials, our allies.
Now, this is, like I said, an ongoing fight to preserve the dream, the opportunities that so many generations have had despite the attempts by some to keep our communities from it. This dream about making it possible for a child migrant like myself who grew up a dreamer to become a commissioner for the city of New York.
And I am so proud to serve under Mayor Eric Adams, who knows the importance of this dream. Where you can come from a family of working class New Yorkers and become the mayor of the greatest city in the world. And so, we know that this mayor has not waited on the sidelines. He’s led from the front. And this is exactly why we are here today.
See, the mayor did not hesitate one second to say, “We need to support asylum seekers and we need to address this situation head on.” The mayor did not wait until it was safe to say something or comment. In fact, he was there on the first week at Port Authority with me to greet asylum seekers. The mayor came to the border to see for himself what was happening and to call out Governor Abbott’s actions. And the mayor was the first to say, “We need work permits for asylum seekers.” So with that, please join me in welcoming the mayor of the greatest city in the world, Mayor Eric Adams.
Mayor Eric Adams: Thank you so much. Thank you, commissioner. And really want to thank our colleagues who are here, coming united, different views, political spectrum views, different ways of approaching things, but we are united on the same concept and belief that the precursor to sleep that allows us to experience the American dream is the right to work, the right to prevail, the right to provide for your family.
So, let’s just really give it up for Public Advocate Williams, Comptroller Brad Lander, and our councilmen and women: Shaun Abreu, Justin Brannan, Councilwoman Gale Brewer, Councilwoman Amanda Farías, Councilman Marte, Assembly Member Gibbs, Assembly Member Ardila, Assembly Member Mamdani, amazing Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar, Assemblywoman Tapia. Our good friends, Senator Jackson, [Senator] Sepúlveda, Senator Cleare, Senator Kavanagh, Senator Salazar, Senator Ramos, and Senator Myrie, all coming together, joining together, really unified. Give them a hand of the unification.
And imagine, just imagine where you would be right now as an individual, as a person that’s standing here. Imagine where you would be when your parents, when your loved one, or you came to this country and you were told that you could not pursue the American dream. Imagine if that right was stripped away from you. I don’t care if you were the early Irish, early Italians, or the early Jews, the early Japanese, the early, the early, the early. No matter who you are, who you came from, you came here to pursue the American dream. The only country on the globe, I say over and over again, where dream is attached to its name.
And the most important aspect of that dream is the right to self-determination. When I spent the night in the asylum, hurt that we created, and spoke with the asylum seekers, they were clear, “We don’t want your free food. We don’t want your free bedding. We don’t want your healthcare. We just want to work. We want to have the opportunity to do what everyone else had the opportunity to do.”
And we’re saying we must expedite work visas. It’s just common sense. Thousands of jobs are available to be filled, to provide the services we need in the city, this state, in this country. And to have a new wave of individuals coming here to participate in the American dream says it all. This is who we are as the country. And no one knows that better than our labor community. I cannot thank labor enough for stepping up and adding their voice to this call.
We are joined here today by the DC 37, HTC, RWDSU, RWDSU Local 338, CWA 1180, 1199 SEIU, all here coming together. But also business leaders. Business leaders have come together and said the same thing in a unified voice, “Let them work. Give them the opportunity to contribute to our society.” And so, we’re using Labor Day weekend, a weekend when we honor our labor workforce… And you know and I know I’m a union mayor, came up through the unions, got here because of the union, and now as the mayor I’m going to fight on behalf of unions. And those unions are saying, “Let’s allow them to work. Let’s give them the right to work.”
American labor not only built a movement, they built this city and they built this country, and we could continue to build the pipeline of workers in this country. The dream of working hard to build a better life for yourself and your family is rooted in the dream we call the American dream. No matter where you come from or how much you have in your pocket when you arrive, you want to participate in what we call the American dream.
And I think that the early fights we’ve had, many of us around the dreamers, carved out the pathway to have someone like Commissioner Castro come here with his mother to pursue that dream. He went from pursuing the dream as a dreamer to helping those live out their own dream as the commissioner of the largest immigrant affairs agency in the country, is being held by a dreamer. Someone who one day, one of the asylum seekers are going to adorn the stage and say, “Thank you, labor. Thank you, business leaders.” Thank you electors for giving them the opportunity to also participate in the American dream.
And all the naysayers, all the people who are pushing back, all the people who are fighting against this, go into your lineage. Go see when your parents or grandparents came here. Imagine people were saying to them, “There’s no place for you here.” That is wrong. And that is not who we are as a city and that’s not who we are as a country. And we won’t divide our city or country by the numerical number of people who want to rip us apart.
And we need the national government to stand up. This is not a New York City issue. This is a national issue, and it must be resolved for the national issue. So don’t critique what we’ve done. Don’t tell us how we could have done it better. Don’t sit in the bleaches and be a detach spectator on this full contact sport call asylum seekers. Get on the field and fight this battle with us. Don’t do it in the sterilized environment of your own places. We’ve been on the field fighting this fight because we believe it’s the right thing to do.
And I know what other cities have failed to do. I was on the border in El Paso. I saw what happened with people and children and families sleeping in airports, sleeping on the street. Not one family with children slept on any street in the city of New York because we’ve done it. Over 100,000 people have come to this city and we showed the humanitarian response.
Our hearts are big, but our resources are not endless. We are calling on our national leaders to not do this to New York. New York City deserves better. We are the economic engine of the state and of the country. The way goes New York goes America. And if we don’t get it right in New York City, we’re not going to get it right in America.
Let’s have a real decompression strategy at the border. Let’s give us the funding that we deserve. Let’s free up the federal sites. But the solution to this problem can’t be let’s bring it just to New York City and ignore the fact that it’s a national problem. This is what we’re saying to our national leaders. It is mandatory that this government on a national level respond to this fight.
We know the American dream works. We know the possibilities of it. We see it every day. We see people come here all the times just to contribute to our society. And we cannot create a black market. We cannot create an environment where women are being abused because they’re afraid to report sexual harassment, or have them become streetwalkers in our community. We cannot create environments when we fought for minimum wage and now those who are working can’t get the minimum wage in healthcare and the days off that they deserve. The union fought to get all of these workers protections. Those worker protections are eroded when people have to operate in the shadows of our work experience.
We fought too hard to go backward to sweatshops, long hours, lack of healthcare, lack of support, and lack of wages. Including our new arrivals have the right to be employed. And I hear it over and over again from our asylum seekers. They ask one question, “Can we work? Can we work? Can we provide for our family?” Something your parents had the right to do.
So we are asking all levels of government to participate. And I want to thank my state electors who are here. They fully understand that there’s only one state of New York. And so, all of us in the state should participate in this issue. New York City makes up 0.05 percent of the landmass, yet we have 99.5 percent of the asylum seekers here. The solution is not just New York City. The solution is New York State and the United States. That is what the solution lies on.
And so, we are sending a clear and loud message and joining the message of others. The Biden-Harris administration and Congress must come up with a real solution. The United States Department of Homeland Security must be part of that solution. We must ensure our newest Americans can work lawfully and build stable lives. We must grant expedite work authorization. We must make sure that we extend temporary protective status for Venezuelan, Nicaraguan, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemalans, Sudan, South Sudan, Cameroon, and other nations.
And to all of you, listen. Look at how big this Audience is. Don’t let one fool disrupt our focus. Stay focused, stay disciplined. Don’t allow the loudest to give you the impression that that is what we feel. One voice against the thousands of us that are fighting for what’s right. And all you have to do is do an analysis and ask him one question, “Where were you when your family wanted to come here and participate in American dream? How many people protesting against your family when you wanted to come here?” So stay focused, stay disciplined. Stay direct in our message. Let them work. Let them work.
Mayor Adams: So being anti-immigrant is not new. We’ve heard it before. We know what it feels like to be told, “You’re not welcome here.” We saw that when African-Americans tried to go into Little Rock High School, they said, “You’re not welcome here.” We saw that when the first arrival of Jews fleeing Nazi Germany were told to turn back, they weren’t welcome here. We saw it with early Chinese that built the transcontinental railroad system, but couldn’t ride on those trains. They said they were not welcome here.
We saw the women who were being attacked for wearing a hijab just because of their belief. They said, “You’re not welcome here.” We saw with the early Hispanic speakers, because they didn’t master the dialect of the language, but were willing to work hard. They said, “You’re not welcome here.” You show me the ethnic group and I’ll show you the people with their hateful spirit that said they’re not welcome here.
But when you combine all those groups together, we realize that we are here because they came here and they helped build this city. We know what it is to be told, “You are not welcome here.” Everyone is welcome here if they want to contribute to the society we have.
This is the American dream. This is what we stand for. This is what we fought for. This is what my young teenage uncle who died on the fields in Vietnam, he gave his life because he believed in what the country should stand for. I’m going to give my life to force the country to live up to what my Uncle Joe died for. That is why we’re here today. This is not political, this is personal, because too many people have given it all so we can stand up and be united as all. It is time to stop this madness and allow capable, able, willing, and ready people to work, to contribute to our society and have a place in the American Dream. Thank you. Let’s let them work. Let them work.
Commissioner Castro: Give it up for Mayor Adams.
Commissioner Castro: Muy bien. So in addition to the list of amazing elected officials that are here today that the mayor mentioned, I want to also acknowledge the presence of Senator Robert Jackson here with us today, presence of Assembly Member Steven Raga and Assembly Member Khaleel Andeson. I also, of course, want to ask for a big shout-out to Chief Advisor Ingrid Lewis-Martin, and all the members of our administration out here today.
To continue the program, I want to make sure that we center and highlight the brave asylum seekers who are here today to share their testimony. First of all, shout out to all the asylum seekers who are here today. Up next, I’d like to introduce a group of asylum seekers led by Electra Weston, founder of ICP, who is an incredible partner with my office in supporting asylum seekers, navigate their new home, New York City, and advocating for work permits and justice for our community. Electra, come up and introduce the brave asylum seekers who are here today to share their testimony.
Electra Weston, Founder, International Child Program: Thank you so much. It’s such a privilege to be here today and have the privilege to partner with the city. I want to take a moment if they go down to introduce the beautiful diversity of our community and their voices. We have [inaudible[. Their languages, which is making a voice, they want to say, “Please, please facilitate the shows, facilitate these things so that we can work. We need to work.” The languages are Wolof, Hassaniya, Pula, Soninke, Arabic, and of course we have so many beautiful other languages here as well. We want you to hear their voices. This is important to hear the voices of our migrants.
[Asylum seekers speak].
Electra Watson: So please, we want to facilitate the things for change, change, change, change, change, change, change, change, change, change, change, change, change. Thank you so much. Thank you.
Commissioner Castro: Give it up for ICP and the asylum seekers here today.
Electra Watson: Thank you so much.
Commissioner Castro: Up next, please welcome the comptroller for the City of New York, Brad Lander.
Comptroller Brad Lander: Good morning, buenos días, as-salamu alaykum. Let’s hear it one more time for Electra and that remarkable and courageous group of asylum seekers. Let’s make sure they know they’re welcome here. Join me in saying, “You are welcome here.”
Audience: You are welcome here.
Comptroller Lander: Immigrants are welcome here.
Audience: Immigrants are welcome here.
Comptroller Lander: For generations, immigrants have come to this city, and what a beautiful morning it is in this city to stand with asylum seekers and immigrant advocates and our labor partners and our elected officials, including the mayor and the public advocate and so many more. For generations, immigrants have come to this city fleeing war and violence and poverty, seeking safety and opportunity. Irish, and Italian, and Jewish families like mine and Rabbi Alex Rapaports, Dominicans, Chinese, Bangladeshis, so many more bringing their culture, coming here and working hard with creativity and hard work and ideas that not only support their families, but that genuinely remake and re energize and reinvigorate New York City.
Look, who would you want more as your neighbor or your coworker than somebody who loved their kids and believed in the future so much that they would walk through a jungle and across a continent with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. Those are the next New Yorkers, y’all. They have always been the next New Yorkers. Now, as the mayor said, in each generation, whoever they were, they faced hostility. Yet, they worked hard here. They settled here, they were creative here. They built the future of New York City in our workplaces, in our factories, in our stores, in our shops, in our schools, in our restaurants, in our neighborhoods.
That can happen again today with folks like Electra and the folks we just saw and so many more who are here. Look, it can only happen if they get the permission they need to get to work, to support their families, to get on their feet, and to begin thriving in New York City. Is that right?
Audience: That’s right.
Comptroller Lander: That’s why I’m proud to be out here this morning calling on the federal government to accelerate work authorization, to extend temporary protective status and to support refugee resettlement here in New York City, all across New York state and all across the United States of America. Look, this is something for all the sniping and naysaying that we can genuinely work together on, city, state, and federal government, labor partners, workplaces, employers, community organizations and communities.
We’re starting to see it actually. New York City, under Deputy Mayor Anne Williams-Isom, is doing some great work making sure that people can apply for asylum, which is the first step in the process of getting those work authorizations. As of this week, I think 3,000 people, New York City has helped?
Deputy Mayor Anne Williams-Isom, Health and Human Services: 3,001.
Comptroller Lander: 3,001, I’m corrected by the deputy mayor. Thank you. And we are going to make sure that that is thousands and thousands and thousands more because applying for asylum is that first step on the path to work authorization and landing on your feet. It’s good news that the state has started providing some dollars to help support the city in that work because we need to scale that work up so that it could get not just to 3,001, but to tens of thousands, to everyone who’s here who wants to apply for asylum so they can get the work authorization that they need.
Of course, what is essential in that is that the federal government step up, accelerate the path to work authorization, extend Temporary protective status, strengthen and support refugee resettlement, and provide New York City with the resources that we need to make sure the asylum seekers like the ones we just heard from, and tens of thousands of others can land on their feet in our city, in our state, around our country, and as for generations past, not only create beautiful futures for themselves, their kids and their families, but for the city of New York, for America, for all of our communities. Thank you very much. It’s wonderful to be out here with you all this morning. Sí se puede.
Commissioner Castro: Thank you so much, Comptroller Lander. Now, please welcome the public advocate for the City of New York, Jumaane Williams.
Public Advocate Jumaane Williams: No hate, no fear. Immigrants are welcome here. No hate, no fear. Immigrants are welcome here. No hate, no fear. Immigrants are welcome here. I see you bro. No hate, no fear. Immigrants are welcome here. No hate, no fear. Immigrants are welcome here. It’s really important to say that because for the past week or so I’ve heard and seen the children of the parents who heard the words, “Go home, you’re not welcome here.” Join with the children of the parents who said it to say it to someone else. We have to be careful because when it comes to scarcity politics, hatred and vitriol is intoxicating. You may not know that you’re drinking it while you’re doing it. I want to thank the mayor and the commissioner, everyone who’s here, and I want to take a moment particularly to thank you for highlighting the plight of black immigrants.
It’s important because it’s rarely done. Thank you for bringing up African black immigrants. I want to shout out the Haitian immigrants who are here and Caribbean immigrants because their story is too often left behind. For some of the naysayers who I know what they’re going to say, the work that we’re talking about is not taking jobs from long-term Americans. They are jobs that industries can not fill right now. Let’s be clear about that. Industries are telling us they need labor that long-time Americans are not filling. We have people who want to work and people who want to hire them. We have to make sure we don’t allow people who have little to fight people who have none.
It is really important that we say that to long-term New Yorkers who have been here fighting and trying to get things that you need, continue your anger aiming at the government, not at the asylum seekers because they’re not the reasons that you have not got the services that you wanted. It’s important and I urge no hate, no fear. Immigrants are welcome here. No hate, no fear. Immigrants are welcome here. No hate, no fear. Immigrants are welcome here. No hate, no fear. Immigrants are welcome here. No hate, no fear. Immigrants are welcome here. No hate, no fear. Immigrants are welcome here.
Audience: No hate, no fear. Immigrants are welcome here.
Public Advocate Williams: It’s important that we match vitriol with love. This button comes from the King Center. It says simply, “Be love.” Even when we’re responding, we got to respond with love. I always keep it funky, so I’m going to keep it a buck. I want to say that I’ve been clear that I think the city and the state could have done more. I want to say that. But for the White House who has done basically nothing to point out and criticize while they have done nothing is disingenuous at best. What’s the point of pointing out what people already know if you’re not willing to assist and help? I urge Washington to see the reality of the challenges people are facing seeking asylum and step up instead of looking away.
We continue to hear that people want to work, people simply want to work. But it seems in my opinion, that President Biden and the White House and the federal government have not wanted to work. The federal government hasn’t wanted to do the work of expediting authorization by reducing the waiting period. They haven’t wanted to do the work of increasing staff and immigration officers to officially resolve this crisis. They haven’t wanted to do the work to formulate a real decompression strategy so we don’t ask New York City to do the job of the entire nation.
The White House hasn’t wanted to see this issue. A humanitarian need to be national news with a national response. We need assistance. We need help. The people who came here seeking asylum want to work. Apparently the federal government doesn’t think so. But, they can and they must commit resources and enact policies that help our city and our country welcome migrants with dignity, support, and love. I am glad to hear that there was an agreement on some of the issues yesterday between the White House and the governor but we have to continue to push until these promises are fulfilled. Then, keep pushing for more because we’ve heard words before, but we need the action. We need to expand the structural support in New York City and throughout the country.
It’s not enough to send federal staff to New York City. We need to work to establish nationwide infrastructure, nationwide reform. That is what we need. And I am clear that Republican governors really started this mess, but it’s a Democratic White House that is making it worse, making it worse, making it worse. I’m going to say, this is just me. I believe there are political reasons why this is not happening. I think it is the wrong political calculus because while the White House might be okay in New York, you may end up losing congressional seats because of what you do. We will lose the House again. Not only is it the right thing to do for humanitarian crisis, it is a politically better thing to do as we’re going into elections. Please, as a son of immigrants, I know that immigrants are welcome here. Because it is true that we can not do this alone, we can’t. We simply can not. We need the federal government to step up.
But to my New Yorkers, how we respond is on us. We either respond to a difficult situation with vitriol and hate or we can be love. And it’s not lost to me, and I’m going to say this, depending on the melanin count of the immigrants that are coming, the vitriol gets worse and worse and worse. So, I just want to name that before I say, “Let them work. Provide us with a real strategy to address a national crisis.” Thank you so much. Peace and blessing, love and light to you all.
Commissioner Castro: Thank you, public advocate. And I just want to say thank you to all the allies out here because we understand that this anti-immigrant rhetoric and anti-immigrant actions, don’t forget, this was all started by Governor Abbott who took action against immigrants and used immigrants as political pawns. We know that this level of anti-immigrant action not only impacts our newest arrivals, our newest immigrants, but also our long-term immigrant community or immigrants like my parents and those 3 million immigrants that make New York City their home. So, thank you to all our allies here. Shout out to everyone standing up for immigrant communities.
And one of the most incredible partners in this fight has been Labor. Is Labor in the house? We are here in large part because of our partnership with Labor in mobilizing this action. So, I want to shout out all our labor partners here today. And I want to introduce our next speaker, Teesha Foreman of CWA Local 1180.
Thank you so much.
Teesha Foreman, Second Vice President, CWA Local 1180: Good morning, everyone. My name is Teesha Foreman and I am the second vice president of Communications Workers of America, CWA Local 1180. That’s right. We represent approximately 9,000 public sector workers in New York City and private sector workers across the country. We are a progressive union that works for the benefit of all New Yorkers, whether they are natives, transplants, or new immigrants.
Since 1981, the homeless population of New York City and New York State has been legally guaranteed access to shelter. While this mandate has endured for four decades, the city is struggling to contain a crisis of homelessness with hundreds of refugees, languages on sidewalks and camping out on cardboard boxes. It is not the preferred situation for the city, and it’s definitely not for the refugees themselves. However, the influx of roughly 100,000 migrants since last spring has become an enormous drain on the already stressed city coffers. We are facing a humanitarian crisis beyond the scope of what anyone could imagine.
Migrants want to work, but cannot. They want to become self-sufficient, but they cannot. They want to make a better life for themselves, but they cannot. Why? Because city officials have asked for expedited work authorizations from the federal government, but they have not received a reply. New Yorkers need answers and results, and we need them now.
Lady Liberty’s words are the heart of our great city, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning for breath free.” Those words, however, do not say that one city and one city alone should bear the burden of 100,000 new immigrants in one year.
Local 1180 stands here today in solidarity with the city officials and we call on the federal government to take a swift action in expediting the work authorizations for our new immigrants. We are stronger together and, when we fight, we win.
Commissioner Castro: Thank you so much. Let’s hear it for labor. So, as you know, I have spent a lot of time greeting asylum seekers as they get off the bus. And often, after getting off the bus, the first question I hear is, “How do I find work? How do I get to work? Because that’s what I want to do to make sure that I can provide for myself and my family back home.” Because it’s important to know people want to send money back home to prevent family members from having to take that life-risking journey to get here.
But I’ve also heard, from the beginning, from our business owners, they’ve reached out to my office and they reach out to me all the time asking, “How do we hire asylum seekers?” And I have to tell them, “You know, it’s really hard to get work permits,” just as I tell asylum seekers, “It’s going to take some time.”
And so, one of the first industries that reached out and met with me is the restaurant industry. So, I’d like to welcome up Andrew Rigie to speak about the role and advocacy of our business leaders in making sure that immigrants have access to work.
Andrew Rigie, Executive Director, New York City Hospitality Alliance: Thank you, commissioner. So, my organization represents restaurants, bars, and nightclubs across the five boroughs. And on the way here, I texted my colleague and I asked a question. And her answer was, “More than 10,000.” More than 10,000. That is more than 10,000 jobs in New York City restaurants that are posted online right now. That does not include the signs in the fronts of restaurants, it does not include some of the small business owners that have just kind of given up. You’ve seen it. Your favorite restaurant, maybe it’s opening a little bit later, closing a little bit earlier, the menu has fewer items. A lot of that is being dictated because they don’t have enough people to work.
As was said multiple times before, no one is taking jobs from Americans. These are jobs that fuel our small businesses, that create tax revenue to fund all of our essential services. Look at our city’s restaurant industry, right? It represents the melting pot of diversity from people around the world. Every type of cuisine, every type of person, tradition is reflected in those walls of that restaurants. They want to work. Restaurants want to hire folks, provide opportunity. We need the Biden administration, the federal government to take action now.
One last thing. And so many people, probably everyone can relate with their own unique story. My great-grandfather escaped persecution, landed in Brooklyn, ended up opening bakeries, created a family, my family, our life, contributing to society. Now I’m here with all these leaders, the mayor of New York City. This is what immigrants, the sons, the daughters, all the children of immigrants do for our city. So, for the federal government, the Biden administration, you have economics on your side. We talk about supporting small business. Let’s not talk about it, let’s be about it. You have the morality on your side. You have all the reasons to expedite temporary work authorization for folks so they can have better life for themselves, their families, support our small businesses, support our city. Please let them work now.
And thank you to everyone up here.
Commissioner Castro: Okay, so before we continue, this is really important, before we continue with our program, I want to ask for a great round of applause for someone who is very special to us, someone who has been at the front lines in response to this humanitarian crisis, someone who has led the multiple teams working in response to this situation with amazing fortitude but, most importantly, with great love for the City of New York and for everyone that cares, for all of us, give it up for our amazing deputy mayor for Health and Human Services, Anne Williams-Isom.
Now, we’d like to hear from our local elected officials who, too, have played a big role in response to this humanitarian crisis. Many of them house HERRCs and shelters throughout the city, and they have seen firsthand the impact this is having in New York and of our community. So, up next, please welcome Council Member Shaun Abreu.
City Council Member Shaun Abreu: Thank you, Mr. Mayor, and thank you, commissioner. As the son of Dominican immigrants, I could tell you that, when my family came to this country, all they wanted was a job. There’s nothing more American than wanting a decent good paying job to provide for your family and for yourself. And that’s what these folks want. So, in these days, today, we want work permits. What do we want?
Council Member Abreu: Let me finish with this. There are jobs to be filled, there are aspirations to be filled, and then there’s the American Dream to be filled. We can’t get that done without work permits. Thank you to the administration for all of your hard work. Thank you.
Commissioner Castro: Thank you, council member. And one of the most amazing stories that has, I think, been under reported is how much the immigrant community themselves is doing to support our newest arrived immigrants. And so, up next, I’d like to introduce Leonardo Uzcategui from FundaVeNYC, a group of asylum seekers who came many years ago and are now organizing to support the newly arrived asylum seekers in our city. So, Leo. Thank you so much.
Leonardo Uzcategui, FundaVeNYC: Thank you so much, commissioner. Thank you so much, mayor. Okay, so my name is Leonardo Uzcategui and I am an asylum seeker from Venezuela. And we need to accelerate… Thank you. We need to accelerate asylum seekers and migrants’ transition into thriving citizens of New York City. We only can do this if we keep providing the humanitarian response, if we work in a workforce development, affordable housing, and integrate this new community to all New York City boroughs. We ask the federal government to accelerate the work authorization, to help them to get economically independent.
We are working together. We, FundaVeNYC, AIDS for Life, Aid For AIDS, and Una Carta Salva Una Vida, have joined together as a coalition. We need to help asylum seekers, and we are sure that they want to become self-sufficient and not only survive, but to thrive. Thank you so much for giving us this space. And well, thank you so much, mayor. Thank you so much.
Commissioner Castro: Thank you so much, Leo. And now, we will continue hearing from asylum seekers. Asylum seekers who are not just sitting in the shelters and not just waiting around. They’re enrolled in workforce development and ESL classes provided by our city to continue to support asylum seekers. So, with that, welcome Deimer Bonilla, member of La Colmena and asylum seeker leader in the community. Deimer? Where is Deimer?
Deimer Bonilla Asprilla, La Colmena: [Speaks in Spanish.]
Translator: Hello, my name is Abigail and I’ll be translating for Deimer. My name is Deimer. I am a member of La Colmena, and I’m here proudly representing Colombia and all those immigrants who crossed the border. I am here to work to be able to support my family and to be able to contribute to the economy. It is important that we are heard in Washington. That support is needed to obtain our permit. But more than anything, that it is time US immigration law changed for the actuality to be a pathway to citizenship for not only us, but for all those immigrants who have been here for 20 or 10 years. We are with them and with all those immigrants who come here for the American dream, it is not easy to come through the Darién jungle risking our life. It is hard to walk kilometer after kilometer and endure hunger. Today we are here to obtain our work permit and to be able to contribute to our family. Thank you.
Commissioner Castro: Thank you, Deimer. And thank you to La Colmena and all our grassroots organizations.
Commissioner Castro: And now I’d like to introduce someone who’s been an amazing ally of us in the fight to make sure that our state government does what’s right and support our city through this humanitarian crisis. Please give it up for Assembly Member Jenifer Rajkumar.
State Assembly Member Jenifer Rajkumar: Good morning, New York City. The City of Dreams. I am New York State Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar, and I stand before you as the embodiment of an immigrant family’s American dream.
My mom was born in a mud hut in India. My parents came to this country with a little, but they were given a chance to work, to build and to rise. And I am here as proof that the American Dream works. It is because of my immigrant family’s American Dream and work ethic that I’m standing here in Foley Square, in the greatest city in the world, next to the greatest mayor in the world, as the first Indian-American woman elected to a New York State office because one immigrant family had a shot at the American Dream.
This city was built by hands from all across the globe, just like the hands of my family, by the millions that came through Ellis Island, by the waves of immigrants from Asia, Africa, and Latin America, over the generations. This is a nation built on the American Dream.
And this nation itself was founded by dreamers seeking refuge and the chance to start anew. Every single Founding Father of our country, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton came here looking to start anew. And later, every single Perez, Rodriguez, Santiago, every single Chatterjee, Patel and Singh arrived throughout the decades asking for that same shot at the American Dream. Every single one of these new arrivals was a person carrying with them a dream and a desire to start anew. And collectively, they built our nation. And my brothers and sisters in labor are here today and they know something about building things. Are the union members here today?
Today, every asylum seeker who has been seeking shelter on our shores has come with a tail of hope. They are carrying more than just a few belongings on their person. They are carrying tales of perseverance, of nights where they dreamed of being safe, of their homes that they lost. Some of them made a dangerous journey to get here, and they triumphed against incredible odds to get to New York City.
And most importantly, these asylum seekers have arrived with hands eager to work. But how can we expect them to fulfill the American Dream if we tie those very hands that want to work? How can we say we believe in freedom if we don’t free their potential? These new arrivals are more than just asylum seekers. They are dreamers, builders and innovators. These new arrivals are more than just numbers. They are engineers, teachers, artists, cooks, and entrepreneurs.
They are ready to contribute. They are ready to make the American dream work for them and for all of us because when they rise, we all rise. Just look at the numbers. I would like to share some numbers. A resettled refugee adds an average of $31,000 to the US economy each year. Just a 10 percent increase in resettled asylum seekers adds more than $8.9 billion to our national economy. It contributes to our tax revenue. When they can work, they become a part of the tax base and they power our country’s economic engine.
And the employers are here today that we just heard from. They are ready to hire the asylum seekers. In the farm fields of upstate New York they want workers, in bakeries in Schenectady they want workers, in New York City restaurants, they want workers. So it is time to let them work. Let them work, let them work, let them work, let them work, let them work.
It is time to grant work authorization to asylum seekers to unleash their potential and to give them a shot at the American Dream. The American Dream works. It works. It’s why I am here. The American Dream works. It powers our economy and we can trust the American Dream. And when new arrivals come and they want to contribute, we should be saying, “Welcome to the city where dreams come alive.”
Work authorization for asylum seekers isn’t just a policy, it’s a proclamation. It says that in this city, the heartbeat of the world, we value potential. We value the American Dream and we value hard work.
Finally, last month I led a coalition of 54 lawmakers from all across the city, and some are here today, my amazing colleagues in state government from all five boroughs, and we all called for expedited work authorization. For months, I’ve been standing with our Mayor Eric Adams, the first leader and the strongest voice to call for work authorization.
Today, our entire city stands together and speaks with one voice to say that we need action from President Biden, without delay to expedite work authorization. So let’s make our voices echo through every borough, every neighborhood, and all the way to the White House. We will let the world know that in New York City, we don’t stifle dreams. In New York City we build bridges to opportunity. So let’s ensure that every new arrival with a dream gets their chance to say, “New York City, I found my future just like my family did.” Thank you.
Commissioner Castro: Thank you so much, assembly member. Now our Latino community, our Latino leaders are watching this situation closely, not just here in New York City, but around the country. And so in the coming years, when the time comes, our Latino community is going to ask, “What have you done for our newest Latino immigrants? What have you done?” They’ll know what New York City has done, that we have led the way. Which is why I’m proud to welcome up our next speaker, a Latino leader and someone who’s been at the forefront in advocating for work permits, Jeff Garcia, of the New York State Latino Restaurant Association. Jeff.
Jeffrey Garcia, President, New York State Latino Restaurant, Bar, and Lounge Association: [Speaks in Spanish.]
Commissioner Castro: Thank you so much. And now give it up for Vishally Persaud of 1199 SEIU Home Care Workers who are here in support of asylum seekers in our immigrant communities.
Vishally Persaud, Delegate, 1199 SEIU: Good afternoon everybody. My name is Vishally. I’ve come all the way from Staten Island, New York. I’m a home care worker, also a delegate. I also work at two jobs. I have two jobs. I’m a single mom of two, 21 year old and a 19-year-old. I came here when I was 10 years old with my mom and dad. We had nothing in America. I’m from South America, British Guyana. We traveled so many miles. We left everything behind, our family, our loved ones.
I said to my mom, “Where are we going?” She said, “You are going to go for a better place and get better education.” She raised four of us by herself. We had nothing to eat on the table when we first came to America. We lived from basement to rooms until my dad said one day he got up and he said, “I will go and get a job.” My dad just had a green card, just temporary. We didn’t know. We were so worried what was going to happen to our father because our father went out there and he said, “Don’t worry, I will sacrifice myself for you four kids.” I said, “Dad, I’m only 10 years old. How much more do we have? We have no money. We have nowhere to live. We have no help.”
I want to say to everybody, it’s not easy coming to America, it was not easy for us. My mom is four years gone now in heaven. God bless. We’re still fighting for our family members. We have a few family members who are still fighting for their life here, still fighting to get job, still fighting to get houses and apartments. I myself will also keep looking for an apartments and everything is so expensive in New York. But I will continue fighting here because you know why? I’m proud to be a US citizen of this country.
It gives me all the rights as a single mom. My son is in college for his bachelor and my daughter is getting ready to go to college. I say, “Kids, we will not give up. We will be here to help everybody.” And as a home care worker, I work 16 hours a day and I’m going to continue working my shift. I’m a nursing assistant at night. I came from an eight-hour shift all the way here and I’m proud to be here. Mr. Mayor, I want to say thank you very much for having me here and we will continue fighting as a union worker and a union. Everybody, thank you for being here. God bless.
Commissioner Castro: Thank you so much. Give it up for labor. Now, as we’ve heard too often and for too long, the issues and concerns, the challenges of our Black immigrant community has been sidelined, has been ignored, but that it will not, and is not the case in our administration, which is why we’re working with groups like Hope, we’re working with groups like Life of Hope and groups like ACT, shout out to Perez, groups like ACT. And so with that, please welcome Robert Agyemang from African Communities Together.
Robert Agyemang, New York Director, African Communities Together: Thank you, commissioner. I’m going to be very brief on behalf of African communities together and all the other community-based organizations who have been at the forefront of this emergency from the day the first bus came. We have been creative in the way that we’ve been trying to meet the needs of all the incoming family members. I call them family members, to help them and support them while they’re here. We need the federal government to meet that same creative energy with their own creative energy and resources so that we can be able to make sure our people are prominent in their pursuit of freedom.
You call them asylum seekers. I call them freedom seekers. They’ve come from terrible tragedies, difficult situations to get to and go through different kinds of situations which are unspeakable. Some of them can’t even mention what they’ve gone through just to get here. They’re courageous, they’re freedom seekers, and we need to give them all the support we can. The government needs to give them all the support that they can. And so I’m going to ask us to do another chant. It’s called Authorized now. Authorized now. Authorized now. Authorized now. Authorize now. Authorize now. Authorize now. Authorize now. Authorize now. Medaase. That is in Twi. Thank you.
Commissioner Castro: Give it up for ACT and our Black immigrant community. Let’s hear it. Now, I’d like to welcome up James Rolla VNS Health to share a few works.
James Rolla, VNS Health: Thank you commissioner and thank you everybody. It is quite an honor to be here today. My name is Jim Rolla and I am the leader of VNS Health Personal Care Agency. We employ over 6,000 amazing home care workers, like the one you just heard from before just a few minutes ago. And we are here in solidarity with our amazing labor partner, 1199 SEIU.
Of our 6,000 home care workers, amazing, essential workers, 200 are working with temporary work status. 70 are asylum applicants or have TPS status. These are caring, capable and incredibly hardworking new Americans who are making a better life for their families by providing a better quality of life to our families. But there is a growing caregiver crisis that is threatening the ability of frail, elderly and disabled New Yorkers to remain safely in their homes and communities.
So it’s time to turn that crisis into an opportunity. We desperately need home care workers and asylum seekers desperately want work. We join you, Mayor Adams and other elected leaders and city officials in urging the Biden administration to expand TPS and expedite work authorizations for asylum seekers. Now. Thank you.
Commissioner Castro: Thank you so much. And before we conclude our program, you should know that just across the street at the federal building, there’s a line of asylum seekers waiting to go in and see an Immigration Judge. That happens every single day. So I want to make sure that the federal government and the asylum seekers waiting there hear us when we say, What do we want?
Commissioner Castro: Thank you everyone.
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