By Kathianne Boniello
U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) pledged Saturday to find federal funding to help Queens deal with the impact of immigration on schools, housing and other services in the nation’s most ethnically diverse county.
“Queens doesn’t have any control over federal immigration policy, but Queens has to bear the costs,” said Clinton, who said the results of the borough’s booming immigrant population could be seen in the strained services of hospitals, classrooms, and housing.
Former Borough President Claire Shulman, who left office in December, has long said it was the federal government’s responsibility to provide funding to support the borough and help serve its immigrant community, a major part of Queens 2.2 million population.
“I agreed with Claire completely,” said Clinton, who made her comments Saturday during a round table meeting with Queens’ community newspapers. “I have been working to develop some impact aid that would give a place like Queens compensation.”
The former first lady also said she was planning to bring the new commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, James Ziglar, to the city.
“I would like to show the INS commissioner how complex our situation is,” she said.
Clinton discussed a wide range of topics during the two-hour meeting at Antun’s in Queens Village, everything from how the city has bounced back after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to the Bush administration’s treatment of North Korea and Romania’s entry into the United Nations.
On the subject of immigration impact aid, Clinton said there were some other places in the country in a similar situation, namely the nation’s southern border.
“But Queens is the epicenter,” the state’s junior senator said. “There isn’t another place that has the same immigrant density. I think the federal government should give some help.”
Though Clinton made a point of emphasizing her commitment to obtaining federal funding to help rebuild Lower Manhattan and bring back jobs in parts of the city like Queens, she pointed to the climate prior to the attack on the World Trade Center.
“We can’t forget about all the problems we had before Sept. 11,” she said.
Clinton also supported the borough’s efforts to alter flight patterns from Queens’ two airports away from populated areas, a cause that gained momentum after the November crash of American Airlines Flight 587 into Belle Harbor.
“The flight paths should be changed,” said Clinton, citing U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner’s (D-Forest Hills) work on the issue. “We are united in that.”
In response to a series of questions, Clinton shared her thoughts on a variety of subjects, including:
•North Korea: “It can’t feed its people but it can produce missiles.”
•Palestinian Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat: “He was not willing to be the leader to say ‘this is what I’ll do for peace.’”
•Education: “I think that the Queens schools are the most overcrowded in the nation. I don’t think the city schools get their fair share from the state government.”
• Federal funding for the city after Sept. 11: “We’re going to get another $9 or $10 billion. We will get more money — I just want to make sure we get as much as we need.”
Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.