In a recent town hall meeting in Corona, NYC Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez set out to forge new rhetoric around immigration. She distinctly stated that it was in order to truly convince swing states and less progressive states to embrace the topic of immigration and migration without fear.
This approach is intent on redefining the immigration conversation and inviting middle Americans to reconsider their ‘out of sight out of mind’ mentality.
The town hall began at about 2 pm, with about 200 guests in attendance despite the heatwave and record high temperatures in NYC that day. The agenda included the introduction of a set of seven translators for various languages including several for Spanish, American Sign Language, Bengali, and Tibetan.
The multicultural theme of inclusion set the tone for the afternoon.
Immigration has always been a complex issue
The representative of New York’s 14th district shared that immigration is not a political binary:
“Immigration seems like a very polarizing political issue. It has always been very complicated, but it has never been this very simple issue of Democrats are pro-immigration and Republicans are anti-immigration. It has not always been that way. In fact, immigration has a very complex history.”
“Ronald Reagan passed the Immigration Amnesty Program, we ourselves have had complicated immigration policies even under our previous president. This is not an easy simple clear-cut black and white issue.”
Ocasio-Cortez shared that 50 percent of all the casework that is submitted to her offices is on immigration. Cortez later, in response to a question from one of her constituents, said that there has been no response to her office’s requests to the administration to share documents on the separated families at the border.
She explained that they have no knowledge that such documentation was registered or gathered at the time of separation, and that in order to reunite children with their parents and guardians that such a feat would be extraordinarily difficult.
She did, however, share a plan for executing it as well as preventing such a thing from happening again.
Rep. Ocasio-Cortez proposed a special commission to deal with the abhorrent separation of families, kids in cages and overall illegal and immoral ICE raids. Such a commission would also support her call to place the U.S. government responsible for the mental health services that those affected would need access to for the rest of their lives.
The congresswoman has co-sponsored 18 pieces of legislation to deal with the humanitarian crisis at the border.
ICYMI: “Even if you separate a kid from their parent for 2 days, you’ve already created lifelong, lasting trauma.”@AOC explains the effects of ICE’s family separation policies at an immigration town hall pic.twitter.com/9DKqbaakeu
— Bloomberg TicToc (@tictoc) July 21, 2019
The hypocrisy of ‘do it the right way’ rhetoric
The BX-native expressed the hypocrisy of those in the political realm (and beyond) that subscribe to the idea that immigration is not bad as long as immigrants go about it “the right way.”
Ocasio-Cortez rejected this seemingly surface-level reasonable stance, siting the continuous war against legal immigration routes, and the removal of paths to citizenship.
One of the blocks on legal immigration includes unreasonable obstacles like postponing the swearing-in ceremony for over a year for individuals who have otherwise completed all of the paperwork and vetting for citizenship.
Another is the closing of TPS, or Temporary Protected Status for several countries that have an ongoing armed conflict (such as civil war), an environmental disaster or epidemic and other extraordinary and temporary conditions.
“They are ending it [TPS] prematurely. They are leaving people that have been here documented in this country for decades. And they are forcing people to become undocumented.”
This administration is ending DACA as well as inconsistently sending ICE raids that instill never-ending fear in the communities that are targeted. Ocasio-Cortez also addressed her vote against “Humanitarian Aid for Border Children.”
The congresswoman explained that a grossly unsupervised and horrific organization already responsible for the mistreatment and death of children should not be awarded more funds.
The congresswoman asked what specific plans and strategies that are indeed humanitarian will be instated and that such plans were not available. This lead to her vote of ‘no’ for the not really ‘Humanitarian Aid for Border Children’ Act.
“CBP does not employ doctors. They do not employ psychologists. They do not employ caseworkers. They do not employ people who will process visas.”
It’s not immigration, it is racism
“Men like him have been telling women like me to go back to my own country for a long time.”
AOC also pointed out that this is not really a question of immigration status but rather a racial issue. With Trump telling four American citizens to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came,” it’s important to state that all four congresswomen at whom the comment was directed, are women of color.
….and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run. Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 14, 2019
“This president’s policies are not about immigration. It’s about ethnicity and racism.”
On a more positive note, the congresswoman pointed to Jackson Heights as the community model for accepting immigration as an asset instead of an issue. Jackson Heights is the most diverse community in the world. There are over 200 languages spoken in the area and AOC refers to this as an “elite global asset.”
“The America that we’re fighting for is in Jackson Heights. The America that we’re fighting for is in the Bronx. The America that we’re fighting for is in New York City.”
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez described the future of America as one that does not see immigrants as deficits but as assets and opportunities.
“This administration is choosing to apprehend people and they do not have to. You do not have to put a kid in a cage.”
The grassroots operation
Without putting NYC on too much of a pedestal of utopian immigration integration, the congresswoman passed the mic to the grassroots organizations that make immigration rhetoric and political reform possible.
The groups were adamant about protecting the community and using the resources available to empower the people.
Amaha Kassa, ED of African Communities Together talked about the number of refugees admitted to the U.S. potentially dropping from 100,000 to 0. This number is a direct assault on refugees who seek asylum “the right way” but are rejected and therefore forced into finding safety and opportunity for life in other ways.
For those of you who were interested in having our "If ICE knocks…" stickers in digital form.
We have an English and French version available!
— African Communities Together (@AfricansUS) July 19, 2019
Jennifer Sun, the co-executive director of Asian-Americans for Equality, relayed important issues of tenant discrimination based on immigration status as well as the fear of renewing social programs like food stamps.
But the fight goes on! After the hearing, we met with our multiethnic coalition and vowed to step up our battle for affordable housing and tenant rights! #TenantPower #StrongerTogether @rentjustice @golesnyc @casabronx @caaav @StabilizingNYC @CooperSq @northwestbronx pic.twitter.com/7cc1GVxZCI
— AAFE (@AAFE1974) June 26, 2019
The tenant discrimination issue is one where tenants are forced to put down larger deposits as well as higher rent when their landlords learn that they are not citizens.
Such a practice is illegal under the current tenant and landlord laws, but out of fear, immigrant tenants are afraid to challenge their landlords who often threaten to report them to ICE.
As for social programs like food stamps, immigrants who previously qualified and still qualify for the services, are reluctant and even refusing to renew their access due to the rising calls to bar immigrants from social services.
Sun reassured the attendees of the town hall that such a law is not currently in effect and that if those in need previously qualified for such services they should renew them as soon as possible.
Roksana Mun, DRUM’s Director of Strategy and Training spoke about the importance of organizing. Often immigrant communities, especially those that have only recently started immigrating to the U.S. in large numbers, are afraid of getting involved in politics.
They often isolate themselves and according to Mun, this is gravely hindering their potential for creating lasting change.
“People on the frontlines don’t have the luxury of time. We have the urgency, and necessity, of now.” – Roksana Mun #MassFreedom
— William Ketchum III (@WEKetchum) October 21, 2017
Media Specialist for Make the Road New York, Yatziri Tovar also explicitly called for organizing as well as reinstating rhetoric of positivity for immigrants. Immigrants pay taxes, contribute to our economy and culture, and seek a better life.
Their humanity, however, is the sole reason why we should view them in a default positive light rather than negative and criminal.
Real people, real stories
Lupita Romero spoke during the town hall with a story that is too common but not faced head-on enough. She and her little brother came to the U.S. in 2009. Romero emotionally pointed out the harsh reality that if she and her brother had come just 10 years later they would be in cages.
She shared the story of her brother being wrongfully arrested five times in one summer because of the illegal law “stop and frisk.” A summer that would define his future as an immigrant deemed “bad” and deported shortly after because he no longer qualified for legal status.
She, on the other hand, was deemed a “good immigrant” because she was too scared to lash out against a society that continues to show that it does not want her there.
New York Councilwoman Catalina Cruz also shared her story as the first DREAMer elected to NY assembly. After witnessing a murder in front of her house, nine-year-old Catalina Cruz left Colombia at the height of the drug war.
TY @AOC 4 inviting me 2 ur Immigration Town Hall 2 share my story as the 1st #DREAMer elected in NYS & 2 ask our community 2 stand w/us as we fight 2 protect immigrants. Use ur privilege 2 fight along side us 4 those who are 2 afraid 2 fight back! #HermanasEnLaLucha #D39Strong pic.twitter.com/3PllrOcvor
— Catalina Cruz, Esq. (@CatalinaCruzNY) July 21, 2019
Her speech also included the White Supremacists that were protesting outside the town hall, across the street from the school. They were passing out papers one of which they gave to a child.
The paper read, “You do not belong here.” A heartbreaking incident of racism and hate that reminds us that New York City, despite having such a large immigrant population and progressive political sphere, still has a white supremacy problem.
A problem surely emboldened by Trump’s rhetoric. The rhetoric that puts that child and every child in danger.
“I spent 13 years of my life an undocumented immigrant living in Queens. Those experiences brought me to the idea that those who go through the pain are closest to the answer.” said Cruz.
What to look out for in the 2020 Census
AOC also discussed the Supreme Court decision to reject the citizenship question on the 2020 U.S. census. The decision was a win, considering the citizenship question would intimidate immigrants regardless of legal status in participating in the census.
The census is important because it counts EVERYONE in order to better allocate resources as well as accurately represent communities with the right number of representatives in government.
“We need everybody counted.”
The congresswoman also expressed that this win is not the end for the census issue. The census must be justly and equally executed in order to truly benefit the people.
A future for the people
Before the conclusion of the town hall meeting, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made sure to reiterate to the presence of caseworkers and people from her office should assist in any questions or help regarding federal services, immigration, social security, Medicare, military academy nominations, veterans’ affairs, and more.
Overall, the town hall provided a space to discuss the current status of immigration in our nation, what actions are being taken in order to further the cause as well as what those attending can do to push for change.
The gathering was essential to drum up support, energy, and a fighting heart amongst the community, as well as offer resources and help for those in need.
AOC is slowly changing the rhetoric of immigration starting in her home state, with the backing of grassroots organizations and the love of the people.