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In 1989, New York City declared itself a sanctuary city — a place where undocumented immigrants seeking asylum are safe from immediate deportation and eligible to receive city services. But living up to that promise is tougher than just passing a law. This year, New York City has received over 100,000 asylum seekers so far, including 15,000 unaccompanied minors. Most are from Latin America, where they face extortion from gangs, robbery, rape and LGBTQ+ persecution. The journey to the U.S. is deadly, but so is life back home. They set out by bus, train, and on foot through forests and the Rio Grande, often with babies and toddlers, to come to the U.S. In this episode of The Laura Flanders Show, produced in collaboration with the School of Labor and Urban Studies at the City University of New York (CUNY), hear the harrowing journeys and hopes of refugees coming to New York City — and the issues they face soon after they arrive — including trouble finding work, shelter, foster care placement, and legal battles. New York City is conflicted about their arrival, politicians say there are too many migrants, and far-Right extremists create a hostile and oftentimes dangerous environment. Stepping in is a growing network of volunteers and nonprofits comprised of social workers and lawyers on the ground and in the courts, who are working to give asylum seekers a welcome, shelter, and legal protection. New York City as we know it would cease to exist without migrants. Here are their stories.
“A lot of the gay people in Guatemala or Central America, they get murdered. They either get killed or they hide their homosexuality by pretending to be someone else. If they do that, they don’t get hurt, but if they dress like women, or if they present in a feminine way, they get attacked.” – Eswin
“We work with young people who have been raped, who have been tortured, who have been kidnapped — many times on the way from their country to the United States — who’ve been abandoned, who’ve been starved. They are coming with the continued desire to thrive in this country despite the trauma that they’ve endured.” – Angela Fernández
“Unaccompanied minors and immigrant children who are working are particularly vulnerable . . . They don’t speak the language, they may not know their rights. They may not know what kinds of agencies to go to or where they can get help.” – Terri Gerstein
“The people that we’re getting are all working-class families. They’re decent people . . . We should welcome everybody. We need the help.” – Father James Kelly
“The first thing that ask is not water, food, it’s where can I find work. They don’t want handouts. They want to be able to provide for themselves.” – Power Malu
“. . . began extorting people . . . Where I used to live, they killed a 13-year-old boy and a couple. I left my town of Tulcán. From there to Colombia. And from Colombia, we went through the jungle.” – Lady Mansilla
“It’s the volunteers that are on the ground receiving people in a respectful and human-centered way, and then they’re coordinating access to services for them on a case-by-case basis.” – Jamie Powlovich
“Going to foster care is an option that’s deemed better for a child because they have the opportunity to live a life that’s almost normal because you can go to school, you can have friends, you can go out, which they cannot do in detention. There aren’t enough spots in foster care for immigrant children right now.” – Marie-Cassandre Wavre
- Eswin: Asylum Seeker, Guatemala
- Angela Fernández: Executive Director, Safe Passage Project
- Terri Gerstein: Harvard Center for Labor & A Just Economy
- Father James Kelly: Immigration Attorney, District 3 Immigration Services
- Power Malu: Founder, Artists Athletes Activists
- Lady Mansilla: Asylum Seeker, Ecuador
- Jamie Powlovich: Executive Director, Coalition for Homeless Youth
- Marie-Cassandre Wavre: Supervising Attorney, The Door
Related Episodes, Articles and More
Head to our Patreon for a list of related episodes and articles. And find more related episodes in our Immigration, Borders, & World playlist on Youtube.
Show Notes: Related Episodes, Articles and More
“Unforgetting: A Memoir of Family, Migration, Gangs, and Revolution in the Americas” by Roberto Lovato, Get the Book Here
(*Bookshop is an online bookstore with a mission to financially support local, independent bookstores. The LF Show is an affiliate of bookshop.org and will receive a small commission if you click through and make a purchase.)
Related Laura Flanders Show Episodes:
• Unforget, Dream, Build, Watch / Download Podcast
• Saket Soni: How Trafficked Workers Pulled Off “The Great Escape,” Watch / Download Podcast
• All Families Belong Together: Immigration and Incarceration, Watch
• Immigrants Dream of Sanctuary: Ravi Ragbir & Sara Gozalo, New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City, Watch Here
Related Articles and Resources:
• An explainer on New York City’s current migrant situation by Felipe De La Hoz, September 14, 2023, Epicenter-NYC, Read Here
• The U.S. Created This Mmigration Crisis. Here’s How to Fix It. by Kate Aronoff, May 15, 2023, New Republic, Read Here
• New tent cities could pop up in NYC as mayor removes homeless migrants from shelters, by Claire Thornton, November 6, 2023, USA Today Read Here
• Caught in feud between Texas and White House, migrants arrive in Washington, D.C. by Camilo Montoya-Galvez, Nicole Sganga, Cristina Corujo, April 13, 2022, CBS News Watch / Read Here
Featured ‘Music in the Middle’ of the Podcast:
“Borikén Keys” by Nickodemus featuring MC Baby Power is from the “Love for PR collection (a benefit compilation for Puerto Rico by Nickodemus and friends) released on Wonderwheel Recordings. MC Baby Power, aka Power Malu, is featured in today’s episode. He’s the Founder of the organization Artists Athletes Activists that have stepped in to greet new migrants and asylum seekers, and assist them in navigating the complex network of city services. Listen & Learn More Here
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