Jackson Heights lawmaker named leader of immigrant task force


The first DREAMer ever elected to the New York State Assembly has been appointed to a leadership position on immigrant affairs.

Speaker Carl Heastie chose Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz of Jackson Heights to lead the Task Force on New Americans based on her intimate knowledge of and profound experience with the struggle of the immigrant community.

The Task Force on New Americans plays a key role in advocating for policies and legislation that provide equity and advancement to all immigrants living in New York State. The task force also seeks to increase awareness on the positive economic and social impact immigrants have on the state.

“Our nation has seen a dramatic increase in anti-immigrant sentiment fueled by harmful public policies at the federal level. As we work to provide a more inclusive future for our immigrant neighbors, this task force promises to ensure that no onesies left behind,” Cruz said. “I want to thank Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie for entrusting me to lead such a critical initiative and for his commitment to fighting for the more than 4.2 million immigrants who call New York State their home. I look forward to working with my colleagues across the state to improve the lives of all New Yorkers, as we work to reverse the worst anti-immigrant eras in modern times.”

Born in Medellin, Colombia, Cruz came to the United States at the age of 9 and lived undocumented for more than a decade. After graduating CUNY Law School, she established the Anti-Human Trafficking initiative for the NYS Department of Labor, where she went on to develop protocols to endorse T & U Visas for victims of severe forms of crime and human trafficking.

Cruz then went on to serve as counsel to the City Council’s Committee on Immigration, where she drafted key city laws that now protect individuals against immigrant service fraud. Cruz also worked on the landmark “Detainer Law,” which protects the Constitutional Rights of immigrants in New York City.

“Immigrants are a vital thread in the social and economic fabric of New York,” Heastie said. “The Assembly Majority has never stopped fighting for the hardworking people that make up our diverse communities. As a formerDREAMer, Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz is uniquely qualified to lead the Task Force on New Americans to ensure that all New Yorkers have access to the resources that they need.”

Since taking office in 2019, Cruz has championed key legislation to improve the lives of immigrants including passage of Drivers Licenses for All, citing her own experience as a formerly undocumented immigrant who was unable to obtain a drivers license. Her advocacy was also pivotal for the passage of the Jose Peralta DREAM Act, which provides undocumented students access to New York State-administered grants and scholarships that support their higher education costs.

With more than 150 languages spoken and a thousand cultures and religions celebrated in Assembly District 39, which includes Corona, Jackson Heights and Elmhurst, Cruz represents neighborhoods where nearly 60 percent of the residents are foreign born and 40% have no permanent status.

“At a time when millions of immigrant New Yorkers are bearing the brunt of the pandemic and the economic recession, it is vital that our state leaders step up and deliver for our communities,” New York Immigration Coalition Interim Co-Executive Director Murad Awawdeh said. “Assemblywoman Cruz’s leadership of the Task Force on New Americans will ensure Albany can meet this moment. The New York Immigration Coalition congratulates Assemblywoman Cruz and we look forward to working with her to ensure no one is left behind as we rebuild our state.”

Cruz is currently the prime sponsor of several bills championing the rights of immigrant communities including the right to legal counsel in immigration court proceedings state-wide, permitting access to state public benefits regardless of immigrant status, and providing financial assistance to immigrant families burying their loved ones.