BY ARIEL HERNANDEZ
As fear of deportation remains strong among Queens immigrants, a group of Astoria’s elected officials held an immigration town hall on Tuesday night to address and alleviate some of the community’s concerns.
U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Astoria), state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) and Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria) discussed the most significant issues affecting the immigrant community in the borough and took questions from constituents regarding their most prevalent concerns.
Gianaris discussed a bill he has introduced regarding President Donald Trump’s currently halted travel ban for seven Muslim-majority nations. His bill would prevent Port Authority personnel from assisting in the deportation of any immigrant, regardless of citizenship.
Maloney—who is the original co-sponsor of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act—encouraged residents seeking help with immigration issues to reach out to her office.
Maloney said that with New York a sanctuary city, New Yorkers are safer when immigrants, regardless of their legal status, can participate in the community, put their trust in local authorities, report crimes to law enforcement, attend their children’s parent-teacher conferences and participate in expanding the economy. She said that immigrants should be able to exercise all of these options without fear of being deported.
Although the Department of Homeland Security has said that only immigrants with a criminal record are targeted for deportation, Maloney noted that this has not been the case.
“There’s a huge span of what action is triggered by a criminal record,” Maloney said. “Apparently, they are calling any arrest, whether it’s for drunken driving or driving without a license, as a federal crime and they are moving to deport a lot of people.”
Simotas discussed the Immigrant Crime Victims Protection Act, which protects immigrants who are victims of crime. The bill addresses everything from persons seeking legal protection from an abuser to those being manipulated by landlords.
“If you go to any state or city agency, they’re not going to ask you about your immigration status,” Simotas said. “Unfortunately, that doesn’t prevent criminals from using someone’s immigration status as an attempt to prevent them from reporting crimes.”
Lourdes Rosado, the state attorney general’s Civil Rights Bureau chief, and Mayur Saxena, the civil enforcement section chief of the Labor Bureau, discussed how their agencies assist Queens immigrants.
“Unfortunately, there is a lot of fear and uncertainty that has been created by the administration, particularly toward immigrants and people who know and love immigrants,” Rosado said.
Rosado said that the Civil Rights Bureau, which investigates and enforces all anti-discrimination laws on the federal and state level, has seen numerous examples of people taking advantage of immigrants, including immigration enforcement fraud or lawyer fraud.
Saxena said that two of the Labor Bureau’s primary responsibilities are preventing wage theft—for example, the nonpayment or underpayment of employees —and unlawful retaliation, such as employers withholding immigration documents and threatening to report workers to immigration enforcement.
“We want you to go back to your people and tell them to continue to come to the AG’s office,” Saxena said.
One Astoria resident said that some borough immigrants would not seek medical help due to the fear of deportation. However, according to the town-hall panel, when people, regardless of immigration status, visit any medical facility, they would not be asked for their status.
Rosado referenced a recent case in which a daycare that was operating on a federal grant was questioned regarding the status of immigrants at the facility in order for the daycare to receive funding. However, she said that she has not heard of any medical facilities in Queens with such guidelines.
Another constituent questioned how the city could suffer financially as a sanctuary jurisdiction.
“We’re all afraid [of losing federal funding],” Gianaris said. “We set a contingency on our state budget that says should cuts come from the federal government, we have to reopen our budget and revisit it—but it could be a multiple-billions-of-dollars problem that we have and we’re all very worried about it.”