By ARIEL HERNANDEZ
District 14 congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez kicked off her “listening tour” last week throughout the district to enable residents to voice their concerns and discuss such issues as healthcare, immigration and housing.
Although the tour was labeled a public event, Ocasio-Cortez banned all media from attending.
“Our community is 50 percent immigrant. Folks are victims of domestic violence, trafficking and have personal medical issues. This town hall was designed for residents to feel safe discussing sensitive issues in a threatening political time,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted.
Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign spokesman, Corbin Trent, told the Queens Tribune that since Corona has a high immigrant population, she wanted to protect individuals who shared their stories and concerns from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
However, Rachael Yong Yow, the public affairs officer for ICE New York, said that ICE does not rely on the media for information.
“ICE will not watch or read the news, see someone talking about their story and say, ‘Let’s run out and get this person,’” said Yong Yow.
She said that there would need to be a file on an immigrant within the agency for ICE to visit a community and take someone into custody.
Yong Yow also pointed out that since Ocasio-Cortez’s event was public, an ICE agent would have been able to attend. However, the agent wouldn’t have been there to seek out or arrest anyone for being an immigrant, she said.
“If ICE wanted to cast a net, they could go to Corona and take everyone out,” said Yong Yow.
She said that ICE targets individuals with criminal backgrounds, such as arrests, charges and convictions.
“Just because we know there’s a high immigrant population doesn’t mean we target them,” said Yong Yow. “Not all of them are illegal.”
Yong Yow said that ICE could arrest an illegal alien at a town hall or press conference if the person had already been under investigation.
“But it’s not like we just walk into a room and pick and choose and say, ‘I’m going to arrest you,’” said Yong Yow.
Yong Yow said that when leaders, such as Ocasio-Cortez, say they are protecting the community from ICE, this contributes to misinformation about the agency.
“I think that’s one of those things that cause this misinformation,” said Yong Yow. “To hear that the media isn’t allowed into town halls for this is ridiculous. It’s silly to think ICE would walk into an immigrant advocacy meeting and sweep in. There are meetings and protests about immigration all the time and we’ve never swooped in. This is pure misinformation and those who don’t know any better would believe it.”
Victor, 47, a Corona resident, said that he was unable to attend Ocasio-Cortez’s town hall, but that he frequently takes part in public meetings in the district.
“It’s a good way to meet your neighbors, hear their concerns and sometimes get answers,” said Victor.
Victor, a father of four and New York City construction worker, said that he gained his citizenship this year.
“ICE is scary and being deported when you’re a father to young children who don’t understand what it means to be deported because you’re an immigrant is harder,” said Victor. “The immigration town halls were always helpful because you get to hear about who is going through what and us as a community get to be there to help. I’ve helped a lot of my neighbors with the citizenship process after hearing their stories from public meetings.”
Reach Ariel Hernandez at (718) 357-7400 x 144, firstname.lastname@example.org or @reporter_ariel.