February 20, 2019
Congressman Adriano Espaillat delivered his annual State of the District Tuesday night in Harlem. Around two hundred constituents filled the auditorium of Our Children’s Foundation Inc on W125th St. near Old Broadway. They were joined by a swarm of local political luminaries that included a U.S. Senator (Chuck Schumer), a NY State Senator (Robert Jackson), two Boro Presidents (Gale Brewer, Ruben Diaz, Jr), two City Council Members (Helen Rosenthal, Mark Levine), three State Assembly Members (Robert Rodriguez, Carmen De La Rosa, Al Taylor), and an assortment of NY/BX clubhouse pols.
The evening kicked off with a prayer and a hearty rendition of the National Anthem before elected officials, one after another, heaped praise on their host. Schumer also took the opportunity to crow that “we won the fight and there will be no wall!” Bronx Boro President Diaz Jr. said he knew he was in Harlem but that “he [Espaillat] belongs to us too!” De La Rosa thanked Espaillat “for standing up against this fake emergency and for immigrants.” Jackson recounted a testy exchange with an R State Senator over the Dream Act recently in Albany that still had him steamed. Brewer spoke on zoning issues and Amazon. Levine declared, “we need somebody to stand up to that bully in the White House!” That got a cheer.
The headliner was the recently re-elected Representative for NY-13, Congressman Espaillat. He recalled his experience as a young immigrant boy in New York and segued into a riff on the purported crisis on the Mexican border. He’s traveled to the region and has arranged the reunification of family members separated by ICE. He described horrendous conditions at the NM facility where 7 year old Jakelin Caal died. His indignation was palpable.
He also spoke about trips to Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Funds have been appropriated but bureaucratic snafus have held them up. Not having a title document is typical so requiring one in order to get help is a problem. He introduced legislation that would permit the use of alternate documentation, such as a utility bill. Other initiatives include body cams for ICE and CBP and protection from ICE raids in traditionally sensitive locations such as churches, schools, and funeral homes (he said it’s happened).
In addition to his absolute opposition to the wall he pointed out there are issues concerning eminent domain, the environment, and the emergency declaration as a funding mechanism. “A wall of no size can stop a hungry Mom looking to feed her kids.” Eighty percent of those detained at a facility he observed were women with small children, sleeping on a hard, smelly floor. “This country is better than that!” (loud applause)
For the 800,000 DACAs who arrived here as little kids the USA “is the only country they’ve ever known. They’re doctors, teachers, and a lot of them are soldiers” in our Armed Forces. He went on to explain some other measures he’s introduced and listed outreach locations in the District. They handled more than 3,000 constituent service calls and contacts last year and replying promptly is his priority. He’s against the war in Yemen and opposes military intervention in Venezuela. He reminded the room that a White Nationalist group unfurled their banner last summer at the Cloisters. This was particularly offensive because this District has always been, and still is, home to immigrant Americans. There’s no room for racism or Xenophobia up here, he said.