Elected Officials Hold Immigration Town Hall

Source: Queens Gazette

By Richard Gentilviso

New York is a city of immigrants. More than 3 million foreign-born people live in the five boroughs. 1,120,061 of them are in Queens alone, according to the Weissman Center for International Business at Baruch College (2015).

“My parents came to this country from Greece, so the immigrant experience is very personal for me,” said state Senator Michael Gianaris. “We’ve been trying to figure out what we can do,” he said citing post-presidential election hostility to immigrants from targeted countries and immigrants in general.

“This community – Astoria – was built by immigrants,” said Assembly Member Aravella Simotas, whose family also emigrated from Greece when she was just an infant.

Senator Gianaris, Congress Member Carolyn Maloney, Assembly Member Simotas and Council Member Costa Constantinides, in partnership with the Civil Rights and Labor Bureaus from the Office of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sponsored an Immigration Town Hall to discuss issues affecting immigrant communities and the unique role of the state in protecting immigrant rights on April 18 at P.S. 234 in Astoria.

“(Immigration) is a part of our American values. We are really a strong community of immigrants (and) I am appalled at the rhetoric and actions coming out of Washington D.C.,” said Congress Member Maloney.

“My office has been flooded with calls from people who are afraid,” said Simotas.

“Unfortunately, there is a lot of fear and uncertainty created by the federal administration,” said Lourdes Rosado, Chief of the State Attorney General Civil Rights Bureau.

State and local governments, however, have the right “to stay removed from federal immigration policy,” said Rosado, noting the ongoing legal battle filed by six states against the federal government’s travel ban affecting individuals from six Muslim majority countries.

“Being here without documentation is not a crime, it is a civil violation,” said Rosado.

Gianaris said his office has also been flooded with immigration problems. He is most concerned about reports of people being detained when they show up for regular appointments at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) offices.

“It is happening, and it’s horrible,” said Rosado.

“I’m just concerned that the budget is being leveraged,” said a woman during the question period. In addition to toughening immigration law enforcement, the Trump administration is threatening to withhold funding from so-called sanctuary cities such as New York.

“Clearly, the state and the city are under no obligation to help the federal administration,” said Gianaris, noting the recent passage of a $160 billion New York State budget. “I don’t think you have to worry, at least not in New York.”

Regarding reductions to the state and city in the upcoming federal budget, Gianaris admitted, “We’re all afraid of that – it could be billions of dollars.”

“I would say this is the most hostile (federal) budget I have ever seen in my life,” said Maloney, a member of Congress since 1993. “I believe the budget will be radically changed but (the preliminary budget) is devastating,” she said. “There are a lot of things that seem to me upside down. All we can do is continue to work together.”