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HV Congressman Holds Field Hearing On Immigration Reform

WAMC/Allison Dunne

New York Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney held a field hearing today on immigration reform. He was at a northern Westchester community center to listen to testimony from business, community, education, and business leaders.  

It was Democratic Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney’s first field hearing since taking office in January. He delivered the same message at a rally in November– a call to Republican House Speaker John Boehner to allow a vote on comprehensive immigration reform.

“I don’t understand how the speaker can justify keeping a bill off the floor that probably has the support of close to 300 members when there’s only 435 of us. And so it tells you something about the extreme nature and the irresponsible behavior of a small minority,” says Maloney. “It’s not all Republicans. My goodness, this is a bipartisan bill. The chamber of commerce supports this; the Catholic Church supports this; the evangelical churches support this; and The Wall Street Journal editorial page supports this. This is not a Democratic idea. This is a bipartisan idea that is a compromise.”

He also says, “I’ll take imperfect progress over perfect gridlock any day. And that’s what this immigration reform is all about.”

The Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill in June. The House version is similar and, as Maloney points out, focuses on securing the borders, verifying the workforce, and recognizing an earned path to citizenship. He and others who testified called immigration a moral and human rights issue.

“And on this week when we’re memorializing and celebrating the life of Nelson Mandela, we should all learn from that lesson that even in the face of great hatred and great injustice, the way forward is through love and cooperation and community, Maloney said. “And that is the lesson that is the moral force behind this issue.”

Here’s Pastor Paul Alcorn with the Bedford Presbyterian Church.

“We are not talking about aliens, and we are not talking about criminals. We are not talking about those who have come to this country to steal our jobs or to destroy or community or to undercut our schools,” said Pastor Alcorn. We are talking first and foremost about mothers and fathers, sisters and brother, sons and daughters.”

The hearing was held at Neighbors Link, a Mt. Kisco-based community center that focuses on integrating immigrants into the northern Westchester community. Though Mt. Kisco lies in Democratic Congresswoman Nita Lowey’s district, Maloney says he held his hearing at Neigbors Link because his district includes areas of northern Westchester that surround Mt. Kisco. A representative from Lowey’s office attended, and noted Lowey supports the House bill. The audience, made up of many people who live in and around Mt. Kisco and who use Neighbors Link services, was packed, spilling over into a back room. Neighbors Link offers education and employments opportunities for immigrant families.  Carola Bracco is executive director.

“But I think hopefully the most important takeaway was the benefit to the congressman, to be here and to hear people talk, tell their stories – the personal stories of immigration,” says Bracco. “But also hopefully he heard about the economic impact that immigration has in our country and the overall positive impact that immigration has. And hopefully he took away so much in order to help to pass immigration reform.”

Credit WAMC/Allison Dunne

She cites a statistic that undocumented workers in the U.S. contribute about $15 billion annually to Social Security, without any benefits in return. She notes the foreign-born population in Westchester County is 22 percent of the total population, and Latin America is the region of birth of 50 percent of those immigrants, more than 100,000.

Joel Seligman is the president and CEO of Northern Westchester Hospital in Mt. Kisco.

“So I would like to think that when we talk about a pathway to citizenship, we can also talk about a pathway to access to healthcare.”

A spokesman for Speaker Boehner at the end of November told The Washington Post the House speaker is sincere in wanting immigration reform. However, Boehner has not offered a timetable for when he might schedule a vote on immigration legislation.

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