l to r: Mark Levine, Ydanis Rodriguez, Jimmy Van Bramer, Jumaane Williams

The New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC) and the New York State Immigration Action Fund (NYSIAF) hosted a forum on Tuesday, November 21 for ethnic media only to address a variety of issues, with a focus on immigration. All candidates for council speaker were invited:  Jumaane Williams, Jimmy Van Bramer, Ydanis Rodriguez, Mark Levine, Corey Johnson, Donovan Richards, Robert Cornegy and Richie Torres.  Four of the eight invitee candidates actually attended the forum:  Williams, Van Bramer, Rodriguez and Levine.

The forum was moderated by City Council and City Hall reporter Gloria Pazmino. New York Immigration Coalition’s director, Murad Awawdeh, said the immigrant community is underserved and is even more threatened with Donald Trump at the helm.  He said, “We have come to rely on local community, local government to really fight for our communities and we can’t do it without having a strong New York City Council, a strong mayor, a partner within the Council who leads the Council who is the speaker.”

With that being said, the candidates were then asked to make 2 minute opening remarks.

Jumaane Williams, representing the 45th District in Brooklyn, said he is “battle tested and collaborative.”  He said that, “I recently passed a legislative package that protects New Yorkers’ privacy when they give their information to city agencies.”

Jimmy Van Bramer is from Sunnyside.  Van Bramer said he has worked hard to succeed, and is a gay man.  He will represent his diverse immigrant community.

Upper Manhattan Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez represents the 10th council.  He came to New York at 18.  Ydanis attended City College and while an undergrad, worked as a dish washer.  He taught public school.  He said he’s passed 50 bills and wants other immigrants to have the same opportunities as he has had.  He mentioned understanding the importance of all Black and Latino communities being represented.

Mark D. Levine, New York Council member represents the 7th district in northern Manhattan.  He said he believes in the power of local government and emphasized using power to protect  sanctuary cities. Levine mentioned the $5.2 million Cultural Immigrant Initiative funding dedicated to organizations that serve immigrants.  He wants non-citizen voting rights and driver’s licenses for all immigrants. Levine mentioned being on the scene of the recent fire at 141st Street heavily populated with immigrants.

Moderator Gloria Pazmino asked the four candidates to discuss issues the immigrant community are facing, and how they will be addressed.

Jumaane Williams said that he has passed more bills than anyone in the City Council and can think of all ways to protect the immigrant population  He said that the Council should be able to past its own budget which includes funding immigration legal services, particularly for children and families seeking asylum.  Williams noted that the broken windows policy can lead to deportation when people are arrested for low-level offenses.

“We don’t start chopping away at things that we know are going to protect and keep a sanctuary city,” he said.  Williams said he sponsored construction site bills and went to Haiti in 2010 to oversee the earthquake relief efforts. He wants more translation services at the City’s Board of Elections, he added.

Jimmy Van Bramer said he will protect the documented and undocumented immigrants.  Van Bramer said he wants gender and race audits of city governments to make sure there is diversity within the LGBTQ immigrant communities.  He fought hard for libraries to be open six days a week, and will continue to work to have libraries open seven days a week.  Van Bramer said he would sponsor bills for adult literacy programs, non-citizen voting rights, driver’s license for all, and policies to make New York a fortress city, not just a sanctuary city. Van Bramer said he fought for dedicated funds in immigrant communities.

Van Bramer wants to have gender and race audits to see if the City is hiring, promoting and paying the LGBTQ and immigrant community.  He also wants strong enforcement of existing language access laws.

Ydanis Rodriquez said he passed 50 bills this year.  He would restrict ICE from coming to New York to get immigrant prisoners and fight Trump on the high number needed to provide waivers to non-profits for local services to immigrants.  He said that we must identify areas of quality and service and that he has the energy to provide a fair share of resources, and fight for the children in the underserved community.  Rodriquez said he has a bill that requires language translation services in any setting where the City conducts business.

Mark Levine said access to legal services for low-income immigrants facing eviction and/or deportation is now provided by the city, even those with criminal convictions. He said we must be realistic about the financial problems to cut social programs.  He added, “We must stand up as a body to fight.  Levine also noted that more work needs to be done on access to language.  The city added Arabia, French, Urdu and Polish to its language access law.

All the candidates vehemently opposed Trump’s decision to end Temporary Protected Status for Haitian immigrants.

Questions from the day laborers from New Immigrant Community Empowerment on how they would be protected followed:

Williams proposed funding for a day labor center, and jail time for wage stealing abusers.  Anyone stealing wages would not be allowed to work for the City.

Like Williams, Bramer proposes that lack of payment for day laborers should be punishable by a jail sentence.   He also wants a center to shelter documented and undocumented day laborers.

Ydanis Rodriguez said that he had been organizing since the 90s to make sure all construction workers are safe and is pushing a bill for immigrant voting.

The role the City Council speaker plays is extremely important to the immigrant and non-immigrant community, especially in light of the anti-immigrant posture emanating from the White House.  The primary responsibility of the speaker is to obtain consensus on major issues.  The speaker sets the agenda.  There are 51 members from 51 council districts throughout the five boroughs.  We must look to our local elected representatives to protect the interest of communities such as New York with a large and extremely diverse melting pot!

The NYC Council will elect the speaker in January 2018.


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