Dreamer Catalina Cruz Seeks NY Assembly Seat

Catalina Cruz (Photo via El Diario)

If anyone has inspired Catalina Cruz, 35, to run for State Assembly it is her mother, who she says is the “real dreamer.” When they left their native Medellín, Colombia, in 1992, Cruz was only 9 years old. Today she is a lawyer, (…) and the most vivid example of the children who were brought to the United States by their immigrant parents.

She went to school and built herself a career while undocumented, and now aspires to occupy the seat for Assembly District 39 in Queens, left vacant by Francisco Moya.

“I am a ‘Dreamer,’ and my dream is to be able to represent my community. It would have never occurred to me during the darkest moments – when my mother, Rosa Agudelo, was struggling to put food on the table – that I would be able to be a lawyer one day, that I would be working on projects for the governor and that I would end up running to be an Assembly member.”

Educated in the city’s public school system and later at John Jay College – CUNY, where she was president of the Latin American student association, and CUNY School of Law, Cruz encourages young people disappointed in the system to continue fighting, as “you never know where life will lead you.”

“My mother sought the American dream. Not the one people see on TV, but the one that she forged for herself as a single mom cleaning houses, handing out flyers in Jackson Heights and selling empanadas. Thanks to those efforts, we got our residency and, later, our citizenship.”

Cruz is an activist in favor of immigration reform and workers’ rights. Until last December, she worked as former Council member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland’s chief of staff, a key position from which she was able to help push for legislation protecting workers, women and the city’s small business owners.

She also worked as the director of the Exploited Workers Task Force launched by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, which made New York state a national example in the fight against labor exploitation.

Cruz was part of the City Council’s Committee on Immigration, where she coordinated the first hearing in the body’s history focused on domestic worker trafficking. She also supervised the implementation of the Unaccompanied Minors Initiative and the city’s municipal ID program (IDNYC).

Driver’s licenses for safety

Cruz­ ­ ­­­– who says that she has the support of a number of leaders of the Democratic Party in Queens and throughout the city – outlined the five points that will support her work platform if she is elected: public transportation, affordable housing, protecting the immigrant population, access to health programs and unrestricted driver’s licenses.

“There is great need within the community, and I am a person who believes that a good politician does two things: legislate, and capture the attention necessary to satisfy those needs. I may be unable to create a law at the Assembly to solve some of these issues, but I can raise the awareness that we need, form alliances with other elected officials and generate solutions.”

Improving the public transportation system is at the top of her priorities. Cruz said that something needs to be done about the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), which she described as a complete disaster at the moment.

“Workers in our communities continue to arrive late to their jobs. Those who are paid by the hour generally lose their employment or their hours are cut. [The MTA] keeps raising the fare, but they are not giving us the service we deserve. Consequently, we must analyze how to get out of this crisis, whether by reorganizing the MTA, creating smaller agencies, or evaluating how to solve its huge debt.”

Regarding the affordable housing deficit in her district – which spans the neighborhoods of Elmhurst, Corona and Jackson Heights – she spoke about her experience as an advocate for low-income tenants.

“Even though we are at a point in which housing is no longer rent-stabilized, this is not enough, as rentals continue to rise constantly. Right now, the law is about to expire in the next two years. It must be extended so that families are not forced to live in small apartments, and the truth is that, because they work very hard, they deserve to have their own home and not be crammed in that manner.”

Touting her “Dreamer” past, the candidate says that if she reaches the legislature, her goal is to get New York state to have more leadership in protecting immigrants.

“We suffer daily attacks from Washington, and they get worse every time. They started out by eliminating DACA, then TPS. What other civil rights will they take away from immigrants? As a state, we have the responsibility to protect our immigrant communities,” stressed Cruz.

“As a legislature, we must identify the needs of the immigrant community and approve measures that offer them access to all benefits. Whether it is by obtaining more funding for English as a second language programs or by promoting access to college or, more justly, by passing the State DREAM Act.”

In addition, Cruz considers that she could introduce a bill in the Assembly to give access to driver’s licenses regardless of immigration status. (…)

“From my perspective, the issue is linked to safety and has nothing to do with [immigration] status. Driving without a license is a real hazard for the population, and that is why I believe that everyone who drives must have access to a permit. Additionally, I would like to focus on getting better access to health programs in my community, particularly in the area of mental health.”

Hispanic women in the Assembly

Cruz is concerned about the reduced presence of Hispanic women in leadership positions in the city and state administrations. (…) “There are too few women in elected positions, and they are fewer every time. As a woman, I am a bit terrified to put my life out there, but if we don’t do this, no one else will.”

(…)

Cruz is also concerned about the low turnout of Hispanic voters in electoral processes. She explained that her district has a high percentage of Latino residents. According to her, many of them do not have the means to vote, or do, but fail to exercise their right because they are disillusioned about the system or because they come from countries where the reality is that their vote does not count.

“I want to represent everybody: those who can and those who cannot vote; because I was once one of those people who were unable to vote. (…)”

One Comment

  1. Pingback: – Cruz to Take on Espinal in April Election – a ‘Rarity’

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