House Speaker Nancy Pelosi came to Elmhurst on Monday morning with Congresswoman Grace Meng to talk about immigration after the Trump administration delayed a nationwide effort to deport undocumented immigrants scheduled for over the weekend.
Pelosi arrived in Queens to raise awareness around H.R. 6, a bill passed in the house several weeks ago called the Dream and Promise Act that would establish a pathway to citizenship for DREAMers, as well as Temporary Protected Status recipients.
In addition to the recent legislation, the conversation centered around what New York’s response would be to the Supreme Court decision on whether the Trump administration will be able to require a citizenship question on the 2020 census.
Pelosi and Meng were joined by immigration activists from across Queens and New York City, who filtered their discussion on these two national immigration issues through their experiences advocating for local immigration issues in New York.
The forum took place close to Jackson Heights, which is considered the heart of the Queens’ Nepali community, a nationality whose TPS status was expected to run out on June 24, until a class action lawsuit recently pushed the deadline back until next March.
“We wanted to be here primarily to celebrate but also to make sure that we are hearing directly from our leadership what we can do and what the best strategy is to push [the Dream and Promise Act] forward to pass it in the Senate,” said Meng.
The bill is expected to be a tough sell in the Republican-controlled Senate even though, as Pelosi pointed out, a number of Republicans support the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Pelosi revealed that her strategy for the Senate involved working with evangelical communities who make up part of the Republican base in order to put pressure on Senate Republicans to pass the bill.
One of the panelists Steven Choi, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, said that he was dismayed with amendments that would block some DREAMers from getting legal status if they have gang ties that were added to the House version of the bill.
“Here in New York, we’ve seen how destructive those kinds of allegations can be where essentially everyone is going to get labeled a MS-13 member,” said Choi.
Choi argued that advocates for the legislation need to make an economic and moral case, both to Democrats and Republicans as well if they want to rectify some of the amendments he found disappointing in the House bill.
On the impending Supreme Court decision on the 2020 Census, Pelosi said that she was not optimistic that the court would strike the question on citizenship.
“We have to be prepared for the worst,” Pelosi said.
She added that she found the situation particularly concerning for New York House Democrats because data indicates that the state could lose two congressional seats based on population shifts. As one possible solution, the House Speaker suggested that needed to put more funding into the census to ensure its accuracy.
She commended Meng’s role on the appropriations committee, suggesting that she has positioned herself to make an impact on this issue.
To this Pabitra Khati Benjamin, the executive director of Woodside-based Nepali organization Adhikaar, responded that not only does there need to be more funding but it needs to come soon in order to include grassroots organizations who can help immigrant groups like the Nepali community, who are undercounted on the census.
“Money usually goes to larger organizations, not necessarily to the grassroots organizations who have the competency and the community,” Khati Benjamin said. “If budget allocation come to late in the game, it doesn’t give us the effort and needs to get people counted.”