The New York Immigration Coalition, Advocates of Immigrant NYers
Even though New York is one of the most ethnically diverse states in the nation, many of its immigrants still lack access to education and health care, and are denied fundamental human rights. The New York Immigration Coalition, who have long advocated on behalf of immigrant New Yorkers, fight for access, representation and equity for immigrant families in New York City and across the state. Their response efforts help welcome families and serve the needs of asylum seekers and all immigrants in New York. As children of immigrants and refugees, WE ARE CHIMMI’s mission is grounded in celebrating immigrant communities from all walks of life. This quarter, we've made the NYIC our official cause partner to donate a portion of our profits from sales to. Read on to meet Murad Awawdeh of the NYIC as he walks through the organization’s work in one of the most culturally vibrant cities in the world.
What is your role within the NYIC and why did you choose to work with the organization?
My name is Murad Awawdeh. I'm the Executive Director of the New York Immigration Coalition. I've been with the organization for the past 10 years and in this role for almost three years now. I joined the NYIC [back] in the day to really help think through how do we civically engage our communities across the board for those who have become new Americans, but also everyone in between? For folks who don't have status to people who do have status, and then how do we get them along the lines to becoming voters so they can actually feel their power, and then go to the polls and really deliver their voice at the ballot box, because I felt like that wasn't happening at the time. Since then, I've grown within the organization. I'm the son of Palestinian immigrants. I come from a mixed status family, I have experienced how unjust and broken our immigration system is just even with my siblings. And I think that we have a long ways to go to actually come to a place where we have a fair, just and equitable immigration system that allows everyone regardless how of how their closeness to whiteness is, to have the opportunity to come into the United States and try to seek the American Dream that all of our families came here for.
Who founded the NYIC and what was it a response to?
The New York Immigration Coalition was founded over 36 years ago. And it came together because there was this opportunity from the New York Community Trust, who said, “Hey, this is happening.” And [what] was happening was the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which was amnesty that President Reagan at the time, believe it or not, passed, and then signed into law, where over 2.7 million people were able to get on a pathway to legalization. So that was the nexus of what actually created this organization. And we had the Catholic Church, as well as other faith based institutions who came together and said, “Let's do this together.” And then they did. And since then the NYIC moved from just a legal service coordinating body to an advocacy policy organization, and also the service coordination.
Why is it important for NYIC to support immigrant communities in New York?
Since 1987, our mission has expanded and continued to grow, to ensure that we were meeting the moment to deliver not just the services that people needed, but also to expand the rights that people need to actually not just survive here, but to thrive here. And since then, we've grown into a huge, a pretty large organization. We're the oldest and largest now with over 200 organizations that are immigrant and refugee led or serving across the state of New York. And I think that we have come together to collectively deliver for our communities, regardless if they're in Brooklyn, or Buffalo, or Babylon, New York, our communities are all facing different challenges, and we need to come together to fight for the solutions we know that are going to help the most people possible.
What has been the biggest challenge to the immigrant communities you've supported, especially in the last four years?
I think what over the past three years has been really difficult to navigate has actually been COVID. The COVID-19 pandemic really hit our communities hard. [In] New York, the epicenter of the pandemic was actually in Corona Queens where it's a predominantly super majority, immigrant community, and then it just continued to make its way across other communities. As we saw, the pandemic did not discriminate on who it targeted. But our communities actually didn't have access to health care. They didn't have access to health insurance. They didn't have access to doctors. And this was something that we had been fighting for from before, so that they had the opportunity to access health care. And regardless of your status, that shouldn't inhibit you from being able to have a healthy life.
So because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and how devastated it left our communities, we saw that there were a number of different issues that arose. Specifically, every stimulus package excluded undocumented immigrants. And we also saw at the same time as our community was being ravaged by the pandemic, we also saw our communities in this beautiful way, still being essential in every regard of all of our lives, right from the delivery baristas delivering our food to us and our homes, to the healthcare workers who were fighting for our lives in the hospitals, to our local businesses, our small businesses that were keeping our economies going. And I think that had our community not been here in New York, that the tone that we would be taking is completely different. Because New York wouldn't have made it through the pandemic, if it were not for immigrant New Yorkers stepping up and delivering for all New Yorkers and really coming out and ensuring that our communities were supported.
And even through the pandemic, we saw that there was a huge need for the Excluded Worker Fund, which was one of the largest investments made where several billion dollars was made to excluded workers who were not eligible for any of the stimulus packages. And that was important for us to win in the state of New York, because our communities were hurting really [badly] financially, and there was no support for them.
The New York Immigration Coalition raised its own money, and we raised quickly, a few million dollars that we gave out to immigrant families who were excluded. But we knew that the need was significantly greater. And that's why we fought for and were successful in winning the Excluded Worker Fund, so that our communities have the opportunity to get their financial footing back in order. New York has welcomed immigrants and refugees and asylum seekers for centuries initially from Europe, and then other parts of the world - Asia, Africa and Middle East. So this is not a new thing for us. Here in New York, I think that what is new is that some folks are in need of support, with shelter.
And that leads us to our other big issue that we have been dealing with for the past couple of years, even before asylum seekers came to New York. And in this last wave of increase is the affordability and housing crisis that we've been seeing not just happening here in New York City or New York State, but across the country. And housing continues to be where people are spending over 60, or 70, or 80% of their salaries to go towards, and they're incredibly burdened by rent.
So when we launched our new “Welcome to New York” campaign to respond to getting support for our most recent arrivals who were coming into New York last August, what we did was we made sure that we were talking about systemic change, not just patchwork that would only support immigrant communities. Because we knew that in the grander scheme of the ecosystem that we live in, the systems were not working.
We know that our shelter system has been broken. It's been broken for decades. And I think that people don't want to acknowledge that. And that's completely unfortunate. I don't know who would say that it's an operable system, or a successful system. When you have families, historically, unhoused families having to stay in the shelter system for years on end, without getting any support to get out. That's just a travesty. So we want to prioritize those families and those folks who have been stuck in that shelter system to get out of the shelter system and into permanent housing, with voucher support and other housing support. And the city is still pretty much backwards in their thinking of like, we're gonna double and triple down on this investment of this broken system, when we know it doesn't work.
Do you typically work with other organizations to address some of these problems and to better serve the immigrant communities?
Yeah, absolutely. We work with all of our membership. That's our base, so we work primarily with our membership, but we do work with partners and allies in this fight. And some of our members have been fighting for housing justice for a long time. And then we've been working in solidarity with our housing advocate, colleagues and other organizations on this. But I think that we took a much bigger role because there was also a sense of division that was being created by our elected leaders and saying, “Well, we're not going to support this community because we need to shelter this community.” And that's just a crock of you know, poop. Because the scarcity mentality is really deep here. New York City is the richest city in one of the richest countries in the world, there is no reason why we can't invest in what our number one asset is, which is our people. And when we do investments in our people, our rate of return is 1000 fold.
The NYIC has banded with the California Immigrant Policy Center (CIPC) to develop a blueprint outlining a vision with policy priorities for five issue areas in New York State and California that are critical to immigrant communities. Can you tell us more about why it was crucial to collaborate with the state of California on this and will this have an impact on other states across the country?
Yeah, we partner with the California Immigrant Policy Center because New York and California are kind of like the tentpole states. And then we are constantly in this weird competition of who's doing what as more creatively or innovatively because when it comes to immigration [and] immigrant rights in the US, those are the two states who are leading on it. We created the blueprint for the rest of the nation to follow actually. And we collectively won most of the priorities we set out to do in the blueprint, which was supposed to be multi-year. I think it was supposed to take us to 2030. But we were able to actually get most of it done in the past three or four years. So now we're working on actually coming up with our next blueprint for New York State, which is going to be forward looking from today on to what immigrant New Yorkers need to live with, not just dignity and respect. But to thrive here for the next 10 years.
Will that also be a collaboration with California or will it be more New York-centric?
I think California is eating our cake on how advanced that they've gotten. We did collectively achieve our goals in it but I think that we have to catch up now. So it's going to be New York-centric because I think with California [being] a little bit more advanced than us, we still have a ways to go and other states have a ways to go to catch up.
What are the best ways for people to support the types of immigrant communities the NYIC works with whether they are in New York or not?
There's a number of different ways that people can support. And I think that when I say this, people tend to be like, “Yeah, that's what you're supposed to say.” But it actually is impactful! Folks, regardless how much you can donate, go to our website, www.nyic.org. And make a contribution, become a recurring monthly Sustainer. Even if you do it for $1, that dollar is gonna go a very long way. But hopefully, you can do 5 or 10, or 25. And then on our website, you can also sign up to volunteer. There are New York state specific volunteer opportunities. But then there are other opportunities you can volunteer for from wherever you are.
And you can also follow us on social media; we're on everything. So you can follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Threads, TikTok, Bluesky - all the good things, we’re on it! Follow us there and help amplify our work. And that's also a good way to communicate with us to understand where things are moving in this moment. Then we have member organizations across the state who are working on all these really key issues that we're plugging into the work that we do. So your investment is actually an investment not just in the NYIC but in NYC and its membership across the entire state.
Image Credit: The New York Immigration Coalition