Give me your tired, your poor
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore
-Emma Lazarus, 1883; from the base of the Statue of Liberty
Occupying one of the highest elevations in Brooklyn, the park that gives the neighborhood its name looks out over New York Harbor and the Statue of Liberty. And each summer since it was built in 1936, the pool and recreation center in Sunset Park has been a hub of activity for the ever-evolving diversity of the city’s working class. Now the Works Progress Administration facility is one of nearly two hundred sites that the City of New York is using to provide emergency housing to an influx of asylum seekers. Despite its location, its history, and its beauty, it is currently the site of an ugly struggle.
Most of these migrants having been shipped across the country, dehumanized pawns in a concerted reactionary anti-immigrant offensive led by southern governors. And they have arrived, unfortunately, to meet more of the same racism albeit from a different source.
Politicians from Brooklyn’s large and long-standing Chinese community are using the arrival of the asylum seekers to whip up a hysteria. Coming from both parties and aligned community groups—themselves often representing first- generation (Chinese) immigrants—the politicians have organized a series of anti-migrant protests. Standing under the banner of multiple U.S. flags and carrying signs—mirroring the crime hysteria fed by the mayor (Eric Adams), the New York Post, and the NYPD—a couple hundred came out last weekend to protest the migrants’ arrivals.
The broader response from the Sunset Park community reflects both significant support for the asylum seekers but also the real weaknesses of the immigrant rights movement and the Left. At present, the immediate response has been limited to community charity groups and mutual aid efforts. Untouched are the major questions, including the causes of unprecedented global migrancy, why this is understood as a “border” crisis, and how to respond to the 100 thousand refugees shipped to the City, which is now spending $4 billion a year to provide inadequate support. These are questions that, for now, are being evaded and erased by this depressing backlash.
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Aaron Amaral is a member of the Tempest Collective and serves on the editorial board of New Politics.