By Gina Martinez
U.S. Sen. Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY) U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing) hosted a town hall in Flushing Monday afternoon where the two lawmakers covered a wide range of topics, including election hacking, immigrant rights and health care.
Borough President Melinda Katz and CEO of Queens Library Dennis Walcott introduced the senator and congresswoman before they began to take questions from the audience at the packed town hall event, hosted by the Flushing Library
Gillibrand began by telling attendees that town hall events were personally important to her because they give her an opportunity to hear directly from constituents about the issues they are concerned about and the things they would like to be taken care of. She said the public were able to defeat the “horrible” health care bill that would have denied 15 million people health care coverage because they made their voices heard.
“The reason we were able to prevail this week was because of all of you,” she said. “The grassroots is changing the face of democracy because people are willing to show up at town halls, willing to show up at congressional offices, willing to make phone calls, send letters, use social media to speak out and say why these health care bills are so bad for their families. It’s making the difference, it’s making members of Congress and Senate think twice before they support it and that’s when our democracy works best. I just want to thank you for all of the activism and outreach you’ve done over the last few months and please don’t stop. The the battle is not over.”
A town hall attendee asked the senator what was being done to secure votes from foreign influences in the upcoming 2018 elections. Gillibrand said she was currently working on a piece of legislation with Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) for a 9/11 style commission to do a deep dive on how the country was penetrated through cyberattacks. She said the commission would hopefully have an answer.
“What actually happened to our defenses?” she said. “Where were we vulnerable and what were they able to do? A clear understanding of that can then determine what our options are today —10 things we can do to protect our vulnerabilities by the 2018 election.”
Gillibrand said she was hoping the bill could be introduced and passed within the next few months
“We not only need to get the top cyber experts to be on that commission, but to do the work and have our stage ready for 2018,” she said. “It’s vital to work very hard to make sure we know where we’re vulnerable and how to protect against it.”
Another attendee asked the senator about recent ICE activity in schools and criminal courts and what the Senate and Congress are doing to stop it. Gillibrand said immigration reform was a huge challenge, but that she supported comprehensive immigration reform.
“We need to have a pathway to citizenship for the millions of folks in this country,” she said. “What President Trump is doing now in terms of sending ICE to schools, criminal courts is very unsettling because it’s tearing apart families.”
Gillibrand said she understands Trump wants to deport people who committed crimes, but there are reports that some of the people being deported have committed no crimes other than coming to this country seeking a better life for their families.
“New York City is a sanctuary city,” she said. “So we spend money to protect people who are here and, in fact, the case Melinda (Katz) told me about — a child being interviewed by ICE — the school said no you cannot come in and the Police Department came and said no you cannot come in, so we just have to be louder about the vision we have for this county and to have comprehensive immigration reform. Queens is the most diverse place in our country. Diversity is our strength.”
Reach Gina Martinez by e-mail at gmart