NICE To See You:
Queens Group Steps Forward
In Fight For Voting Rights
Bryan Pu-Folkes (2nd from r.), the founder of NICE, talks with Sunnyside residents after Sikhs were attacked following Sept. 11.
By Michael Rehak
What began in 1999 as a subway poster campaign to present the public with facts about the important role immigrants have in the workforce, has evolved into a group that lobbies elected officials and offers services that keep immigrants informed and influential in public affairs.
New Immigrant Community Empowerment was started by Bryan Pu-Folkes, whose parents were born in Burma and Jamaica, This former 25th District Council candidate based his New York Times-endorsed campaign on a number of issues, but one that was heavily favored was legislation that would allow non citizens the right to vote in citywide elections.
According to the NICE Web site, one in five New York residents cannot participate in local elections due to the fact that they are not citizens. At the same time, immigrants were forced to pay $18.2 billion in state income taxes, an amount that makes up 16 percent of the state’s total income.
Calling the circumstances “undemocratic,” Pu-Folkes and his group have been advocating for non-citizen voting rights in elections that determine such offices as the Mayor, Public Advocate, Borough President, Comptroller and the City Council. In Pu-Folkes’ Jackson Heights district, he is the voice of more than one-third of its residents who cannot vote.
In addition, NICE has been busy with the City Council hearings on non-citizen voting rights. Dubbed the “Voting Rights Restoration Act,” it would allow City residents, who have lived here for six months or longer the right to vote in local elections. On Nov. 14, the Government Operations Committee listened to the testimony of more than a dozen individuals who are affected by the clause that only allows legal Americans the right to vote.
NICE is also a strong supporter of the DREAM Act, which would allow 65,000 undocumented students in the U.S. to gain legal status. This applies to high school or GED equivalent immigrants who have lived in this country for at least five years and entered the country before they were 16. If the student completes two years of college or military service in the next six years, he or she would become eligible for permanent status. According to NICE, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-New York) has endorsed the act, while Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York) has yet to sign on to the bill.
Also, NICE is firmly opposed to the REAL ID Act in New York State, which was lobbied by President George W. Bush as a bill that would bar millions of immigrants across the U.S. from obtaining driver’s licenses.
In addition, according to NICE, it would suspend licenses for non-citizens under deportation access to courts. Also, it would impose more restrictive asylum requirements and empower the Department of Homeland Security to forego federal and international laws to militarize the U.S. border.
As a former New York City Human Rights Commissioner, Pu-Folkes and the group he founded have been involved in a number of immigrant advocacy campaigns throughout the years. One involved a 2004 bias attack, where several Sikh men in Sunnyside were assaulted by three white men, which spurred a town hall meeting led by Pu-Folkes that addressed post Sept. 11 hate crimes.
In addition, NICE led a 2005 rally, after 110th Precinct police officers were accused of targeting Hispanic day laborers for fines and tickets while they waited on street corners for work.
To learn more about NICE, go to their Web site at www.nynice.org .