By Bill Parry
The de Blasio administration deployed a half dozen city agencies to Diversity Plaza in Jackson Heights Wednesday to calm an outraged immigrant community after undocumented residents of a Corona building were threatened with eviction and intimidated by their landlord.
City officials held a rally at the plaza before they fanned out to subway stations in Corona and Jackson Heights, distributing fliers on housing rights and answering questions on tenant harassment.
“The NYC Human Rights Law makes it illegal to discriminate or harass anyone in New York City based on immigration status and national origin,” said Hollis V. Phitsch, deputy commissioner of the Law Enforcement Bureau at the NYC Commission on Human Rights. “Protecting our city’s most vulnerable, especially immigrant communities affected by xenophobic rhetoric at the national level, is a priority of the commission. We encourage anyone in New York City who believes they are the victim of discrimination to contact the commission and report landlords who violate the law. We take all claims of discrimination very seriously, which can be lodged anonymously and are using every resource at our disposal to protect vulnerable New Yorkers from discrimination and harassment.”
The so-called “Day of Action” was the city’s response after receiving a tip from advocacy group Woodside on the Move last week that Jaideep Reddy, the landlord of a 23-unit building at 95-36 42nd Ave. in Corona, delivered letters to residents demanding proof of immigration status.
“If you fail to comply, your lease will not be renewed, we may have to terminate your lease and may have to evict you from the apartment,” the letter said ominously.
A resident brought the letter to the office of state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst), who filed a complaint with the office of state Attorney General Eric Schneidermnan Monday.
Open season vs. immigrants
“This is unreal, and sadly, it seems that it’s open season against immigrants since the election of Donald Trump,” Peralta said. “My district is the United Nations of all senatorial districts, and I am not going to tolerate this, or any other form of discrimination. This is a sanctuary city and no one should be asking for legal proof of residency, and much less threatening people if they don’t comply. This is unthinkable in 2017 New York City. This is unthinkable in 2017 Queens, the most diverse borough in the City.”
Schneiderman’s office acted quickly, ordering Reddy to cease and desist, and the landlord apologized. Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered a comprehensive statewide investigation of landlord policies and practices that may discriminate against individuals based on their immigration status, national origin, ethnicity or race.
“These allegations of fear and intimidation are unacceptable, illegal, and run counter to everything New York represents,” Cuomo said. “We stand by the promise inscribed on the Statue of Liberty to protect the rights of all those seeking a better life as New Yorkers and will not stand idly by as people are threatened and harassed in their own homes.”
City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) spoke during the Day of Action rally at Diversity Plaza.
“Unscrupulous landlords, beware!” he said. “We will not allow you to bully our immigrant neighbors out of their apartments. Tenants in New York City know that they have rights. It is sad, but not surprising, that President Trump’s views on immigration have been used by some as an excuse to harass tenants.”
State Assemblyman Francisco Moya (D-Jackson Heights) urged the passing of the New York State Liberty Act so that a person’s immigration status can never be asked for or used against them.
“If tenant discrimination can happen in the heart of my district of Corona, it can happen anywhere in New York,” Moya said. “I applaud the city for taking to the streets and reassuring immigrants that they have just as much right to a home as anyone else.”
The immigrant community borough-wide was outraged further when agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested three people outside the Queens Criminal Courthouse last Friday during a “targeted enforcement action.” The ICE agents were seeking a young woman in the Human Trafficking Intervention Courtroom, according to New York State’s Chief Judge Janet DiFiore.
“Trafficked sex workers are exploited victims, not criminals,” Borough President Melinda Katz said. “The double victimization of these women is extremely troubling and unacceptable. The presence of ICE agents at the courts severely disrupts and obstructs justice. Courthouses should be treated as sensitive locations, similar to schools, hospitals and places of worship.”
Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) is urging ICE and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to reverse course on the deportation of Carlos Humberto Cardona, a Jackson Heights resident who was one of nearly 41,300 people who were taken into custody by ICE agents during the first 100 days of the Trump administration. Cardona fled violence in Colombia nearly three decades ago and is seeking a state clemency bid against his deportation because of ongoing serious medical issues he has in relation to the cleanup work he did at Ground Zero following the Sept. 11 attacks at the World Trade Center.
“The immigration and deportation policies that the Department of Homeland Security has undertaken since the beginning of the year have struck fear and dismay in the hearts of my constituents, and this is just the latest in a long line of troubling actions,” Crowley wrote to DHS Secretary John Kelly Tuesday. “Deporting Mr. Cardona would send a chilling message not just to the immigrants who call our country home, but to all who would help when their country calls on them. This is not what the United States represents.”
Crowley is drafting legislation to ensure that each and every 9/11 clean-up worker is able to continue living and receiving medical treatment in the United States free from the threat of deportation.
Last Saturday, Crowley stopped by an immigration and wellness fair at PS 69 in Jackson Heights as part of the National Citizenship Day of Action.
“It’s important for our leaders to stand against anti-immigrant policies and continue America’s proud tradition of welcoming individuals, regardless of their ethnicity, background or race,” Crowley said. “Across the country, we have seen an increased demand for citizenship applications. It was a pleasure to speak with those in my district who are working to fulfill their goals and the legal advocates who help them. I was also happy to discuss with attendees my strong support for comprehensive immigration reform — an issue I’ve been fighting for in Congress for years.”
Crowley does not see the atmosphere favoring immigration reform, especially while the Democrats are in the minority in both houses of Congress.
“The first five-plus months of the presidency have been stressful in Washington and certainly here in my district where the stress is palpable,” Crowley said.
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr