BY JAMES FARRELL
U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing) held a town hall on immigration on March 12, assembling a panel of activists and experts to educate constituents on immigrants’ rights and answer questions.
The panel, which was held at the Elmhurst Public Library, consisted of founder and president of the Black Institute Bertha Lewis, the New York Immigration Coalition’s Ivy Lei and immigration unit paralegal for Make The Road NY Deisy Flores. Steve Sacco and Antonia Codling, of the Legal Aid Society, were also on hand, and they gave presentations on immigration law and dealings with law enforcement.
Meng’s town hall attracted a large crowd of constituents, some of whom said they’ve been politically active following President Donald Trump’s election and were troubled by his victory. Following the Legal Aid Society’s presentation, Meng and the panelists fielded constituent questions, focused mostly on immigration and laced with concern over Trump’s policies.
Meng said that her office had been getting a large number of calls from concerned immigrants, even legal immigrants, who were unsure if their capacity for travel or status might be affected under the Trump administration.
“People have real questions and we want them to be able to get it from credible and real legal sources,” she said. “Regardless of how you feel about the president, regardless of what party you are affiliated with, these are our neighbors and our constituents who have concerns.”
The Legal Aid presentation gave an overview of immigration law in the United States and dispelled a number of myths about pathways to documentation. Sacco raised awareness regarding one element of Trump’s recent immigration initiatives that orders enforcement of a new law ruling that if undocumented immigrants cannot prove to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer that they have been in the United States for more than two years, they can be put on an expedited list for deportation without seeing a judge.
“I think that the media has not adequately grasped or expressed how incredibly dangerous that is and how much of an insult that is to due process,” he said.
Sacco also cautioned against “notarios,” or people who claim to be licensed attorneys but are not, adding that immigrants should rely on licensed attorneys and that incorrect paperwork from a notario could lead to deportation. He dispelled a myth that undocumented immigrants could get documented status after living in the United States for 10 years.
“In many ways, the government doesn’t care how long you’ve been here,” he said.
During the Q&A, many—even those who are not immigrants—voiced concerns. Some told the Queens Tribune that they had been motivated by Trump’s election to attend the town hall.
“Ever since the election, I’m just very concerned about the direction our country is headed in,” said Flushing resident Fred Hetzel. “I just really feel like I want to do more than make phone calls.”
Hetzel said that he was not politically active before the election. He asked Meng about the probability of the passage of the Mobilizing Against Sanctuary Cities Act, which would hold back federal funding from so-called sanctuary cities that do not enforce immigration policies.
“The sad truth is the Democrats don’t have the numbers, so it is easier obviously for Republicans to pass their legislation,” Meng responded, adding she had put forward her own legislation that would protect New York’s federal funding, although that would be tougher to pass. “We will do whatever we can to protect our community and people here in New York and throughout the country.”
One attendee argued that the media often overlook the diversity of the immigration debate—that more than a million undocumented immigrants are Asian Americans, for instance. Others called for more community initiatives like the town hall to spread awareness and education and organize opposition efforts against immigration policies.
Attendee Lisa Flanzraich gave an impassioned plea in support of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act (ACA), asking Meng what was being done to stop the Republicans’ recently announced healthcare bill to replace it.
“The Republican Party, they’re opposing each other right now,” Meng said, adding that some factions were calling to repeal the ACA without a replacement. “If that makes them vote against the bill this time around, I’m more than happy to work with them on this bill.”
Reach James Farrell at (718) 357-7400 x 127, firstname.lastname@example.org or @farrellj329.