Queens councilman centers his first borough president policy announcement on diversity

Max Parrott/QNS

For Councilman Costa Constantinides’ first press conference since declaring his candidacy for borough president, he chose to lay out his vision of how to use the office to engage immigrant communities from around the borough.

Kabab King loomed over the councilman in Jackson Heights’ Diversity Plaza on Friday morning as he gathered alongside Bangladeshi, Nepali and Peruvian community leaders to outline his plan.

Constantinides’ proposal includes a five-point plan that would expand foreign language access, creates satellite offices, fund community organizations, focus on environmental justice and prioritize census outreach to ensure every resident is counted. 

“We have a federal government that seeks to attack out immigrant community that seeks to divide us, that seeks to ban our Muslim brothers and sisters from our nation, that seeks to attack our Latino community on a local basis,” said Constantinides. “We here in Queens say no. We will not allow our federal government to divide us.”

His plan imagined how to use city resources to resist the policies of President Donald Trump that could have the effect of disenfranchising immigrant communities.

Among Queens’ 2.4 million residents, more than 190 languages are spoken. It also has the highest number of non-English speakers in the five boroughs, with 26 percent of its residents deemed by the census to have limited English proficiency. Queens is also home to 180,000 undocumented residents according to the mayor’s office.

Constantinides said that addressing barriers in language is necessary as a means of both increasing census participation and protecting undocumented immigrants from ICE raids.

With a roughly $5 million operating budget, the he believes the borough president’s office can expand both printed and digital materials in foreign languages to better inform communities of their rights as immigrants, policy changes and the public services available to them.

Another idea was to create satellite locations for the borough president’s office outside Borough Hall in Kew Gardens that would make it easier for them to meet with representatives of the office. Asked where these spaces would be located, Constantinides said he wants to place brick and mortar offices in western Queens in Jackson Heights or Astoria; southeast Queens in Jamaica or the Rockaways; and northeast Queens in Bayside. 

He added that he would create a position called a director of diversity outreach to oversee these offices, and went on to say that these auxiliary offices could also be in libraries or in local elected officials offices.

In addition, he said that the Queens borough president could do more to educate community-based organization leaders to get funding from the city’s budget process.

“There’s so much funding available. Whether it’s through the City Council, the borough president, the mayor, we should be doing better outreach to make sure that it’s not always the same organizations applying and getting funding,” Constantinides said. 

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