STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Councilman Vincent Gentile, the Democratic candidate for Congress, and Green Party candidate James Lane participated in a dialogue about immigration reform Monday night along with Staten Island immigrants and immigration leaders.
District Attorney Daniel Donovan, the Republican candidate for the seat, was invited but a scheduling conflict prevented him from attending, a spokesperson said.
Sponsored by the Staten Island Immigrants Council and hosted at the Turkish Cultural Center of Staten Island in Dongan Hills, the event brought together people from Italy, Albania, Russia, Syria, Pakistan, India, Turkey, Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone and more to discuss issues that immigrants face and immigration reform they feel is needed.
Staten Island Immigrants Council co-leader Naflan Doole noted statistics that show the largest groups of immigrants on Staten Island come from China, Italy, Mexico, Russia and the Ukraine.
During the two-hour dialogue, people discussed how Hurricane Sandy has impacted immigrant families and what happens when immigrants pay into Social Security and then return to their home country, leaving their investment behind.
They also discussed the fear of deportation, low wages and job insecurity for undocumented Staten Island immigrants, as well as the need for Congress to pass immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship.
“Our community’s focus is national immigration reform — the system is broken and needs to be fixed,” said Oretha Bestman-Yates, president of the Staten Island Liberian Association.
Gentile and Lane listened as Marlent Ramon, a 17-year-old senior at New Dorp High School, spoke about the struggles her family faces due to being undocumented immigrants.
Although her older sister is serving in the U.S. Army in Korea, her mother, an undocumented immigrant, can’t visit her overseas and fears visiting her at an Army base at home.
Monica Velazquez’s father, Delfino, was killed last November while working on construction at Dana Ford Lincoln showroom in Travis.
Velazquez, a native of Mexico, was killed when the building’s mezzanine collapsed during an unpermitted demolition, suffocating the 43-year-old under heavy debris.
Ms. Velazquez paid tribute to her father, an undocumented immigrant who crossed the border with his 8-year-old special needs son in tow.
“My father came to find better treatment for his son, Jesus, in America,” she said. “He worked for his family here and died working for his family here. It would be so good if we could all come in from the shadows.”
Gentile said in a statement, “I always enjoy discussing the issues that matter to the hardworking people in Staten Island and I appreciated Project Hospitality and the Turkish Community Center for affording me that opportunity; however, I think it’s a shame that my opponent Dan Donovan didn’t care enough to show up.”
Donovan spokesperson Jessica Proud said, “Unfortunately, we had three existing events on the schedule already and were unable to make it at that time. Since Mr. Gentile is so inclined to discuss issues, he should explain to people why he voted to raise taxes on the middle class while giving himself a pay raise.”
Lane said,”At last night’s forum, we repeatedly heard frustration at how the two corporate parties’ vilification of ‘immigrants’ as a faceless group denies their humanity and dignity as people. Vincent Gentile’s fellow Democrat, President Obama, has presided over more deportations than any previous White House occupant. Dan Donovan’s fellow Republicans have ceaselessly clamored for further criminalization of the undocumented and more militarization of our borders.”