Tough Road for Pro-Immigrant Projects in Albany

Jose Peralta (Image courtesy of the web site of New York State Senator Jose Peralta)

Jose Peralta (Image courtesy of the web site of New York State Senator Jose Peralta)

On Tuesday, New Yorkers went out to vote not just for the new president of the United States but also for the Assembly and Senate members who will integrate the State Legislature, which has 213 members. The lower chamber kept the Democratic majority with 104 seats out of 150, including Dominican Carmen de la Rosa, while the Senate remained under Republican control, with 32 seats out of 63.

Many Hispanic voters expected Democrats to win more seats in Albany, allowing for the advancement of priority initiatives for Latinos and undocumented people – initiatives that had been left pending this year, largely by Republicans. However, the outlook with the new Legislature remains unfavorable.

It is not apparent that initiatives, such as driver’s licenses for undocumented people, the financial aid DREAM Act for undocumented students or even budget assignment improvements for certain schools throughout the state with a large minority presence, will find a clear path.

State Senator Rubén Díaz said pointed out that, after the election, the Senate will not only continue to belong to the GOP majority in 2017 but also that President-Elect Donald Trump’s fellow party members will be stronger.

“We must be realistic: They used to have 31 seats and now they won one more, and with Simcha Felder, a Democrat who always votes Republican, that leaves them with 33. [Republicans] emerged more powerful than before, and Democrats fared badly,” said the politician of Puerto Rican descent, who warned that pro-immigrant initiatives will not see the light.

“Those projects are a no-go. That is no longer going to happen. They aren’t up for it, forget about it. If last year, when they were weaker, they were able to block the approval of several projects and we couldn’t even pass the DREAM Act, we are much less likely to be able to do it now,” said Díaz. “The situation is not getting harder for us but much harder. Still, we have no other choice but to continue fighting, making an effort and compromising with them, giving something to get something.”

(…) State Senator José Peralta pointed out that they will not give up, especially in the attempt to get financial aid for college for all students, since figures reveal that, out of the 4,500 undocumented people graduating high school every year, only between 5 and 10 percent have access to higher education.

“Undoubtedly, I will continue to fight for my DREAM Act bill to come true at the new legislative session beginning in January. It will be a very hard battle to win because the results of the election at a national level harm undocumented immigrants,” said Peralta, while he added that they are awaiting the final count for the races of Republican senators Marcelino and Venditto, who may be saying goodbye to Albany to make way for two Democrats.

“We will continue battling for access to affordable housing, a better education for our children and, as Hillary Clinton said and President Obama repeated: ‘Fighting for what is right is always worth it.’”

In-coming State Senator Marisol Alcántara, who will be the only Hispanic woman in the upper chamber in Albany, appeared to be more optimistic. She said that she will fight any necessary battles to push forward bills that have been stalled even if she belongs to the Independent Democratic Conference, a group of five legislators – six after the election – who frequently make agreements with Republicans.

“As a senator, I am committed to working with both sides as a member of the Independent Democratic Conference to do what is best for my constituents,” said the Dominican politician, who will especially promote measures in favor of affordable housing and quality education in schools. “I will work to ensure that the DREAM Act passes successfully.”

Carlos Vargas, associate researcher at the Center for Puerto Rican Studies, mentioned that the national election will have strong repercussions on pending state laws and other bills to come.

“Bills and measures that have a clearly liberal or progressive angle may not go forward, as Republicans have seen themselves strengthened. And if the licenses have not been approved so far, it will be nearly impossible now,” he said. “The DREAM Act could have a chance because it has to do with teens and a large part of the electorate does not want to take it out on young people, but it will also be an uphill battle if public resources are used to subsidize them.”

“Definitely, even if New York is a state where the most progressive bases of the Democratic Party rule, it is not exempt from the influence of what happens in the nation. For this reason, many of the measures that have protected immigrants until now may weaken,” concluded the analyst.

The “Somos el Futuro” conference

In the midst of electoral results, which are quite adverse to the Democratic Party, the 2016 SOMOS Conference will be held in Puerto Rico from November 9 to 13, aiming to evaluate the needs of the Hispanic community in the state of New York. Leaders, activists and politicians will participate, and measures seeking to deal with the state’s circumstances regarding health, education, criminal justice and workers’ rights, among others, are expected to be addressed in a series of discussions. “Good ideas, agreements and arrangements to work together definitely emerge,” said Senator Rubén Díaz.

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