Melissa Harris-Perry: Hey, everybody. I'm Melissa Harris-Perry and this is The Takeaway.
[sirens, drum snares]
On Thursday, activists and advocates protested in front of the White House, demanding that the congressional reconciliation package include a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Getting loud about immigration reform is crucial because of all the public fights we've seen in D.C. this fall on government spending, infrastructure, housing, support, and other social safety net concerns worth getting noisy about.
Admit it all, immigration issues have been pretty quiet, and in D.C. you have to be heard in order to get action. New York State Assemblymember, Jessica González-Rojas traveled to D.C. this week and was arrested while participating in a peaceful protest. Assemblymember González-Rojas, thank you for coming on the show.
Assemblymember González-Rojas: Thank you, Melissa, for having me.
Melissa: What was the message that you wanted to send by protesting in front of the White House this week?
Assemblymember González-Rojas: We wanted to send the message that immigrants are here to stay. We are the backbones of our families and our communities and this is the closest we ever got in decades to seeing some real reform happen. Right now, a parliamentarian in the Senate, an unelected official is blocking the process and we know that only the presiding officer, which is the vice president, Kamala Harris can make that determination. We are asking our senators to push forward, to hold the line and ensure that we can get as many immigrants into society and legalize them, and offer a path to citizenship in the United States.
Melissa: It is rather stunning. Here you are, an Assemblymember, you're an elected member, certainly of the state, you have a constituency and you are there having to push from the outside over and against someone, the parliamentarian, who doesn't have a constituency, who isn't elected.
Assemblymember González-Rojas: Exactly, I am elected in a community that is so diverse. I literally represent a community in Western Queens that speaks nearly 200 languages, that is 60% Latinx, 30% Asian, and the diversity of Asian communities, everything from Bangladesh to Nepal, to India, to Pakistan, to Thailand. It's one of the most diverse communities in the United States.
I'm elected by my community to represent my community. I was there standing alongside advocates across the country but so many that came in from New York, Senator Schumer's home state, to demand action on immigration. Action by those that they elected or that family members or other community members elected to represent them, not an unelected parliamentarian.
Melissa: You did have an opportunity to meet with Senate majority leader, Schumer while you were in D.C. I'm wondering if you were able to get commitments from him, language, any of those things?
Assemblymember González-Rojas: I do know Senator Schumer is working really hard. This is something that is really important, obviously representing a state like New York, the immigrant community really is the fabric of our community. They've really been the essential workers that have pushed our city and state through this pandemic, continue to work in difficult positions and they deserve a real opportunity and a real pathway to citizenship.
While we didn't get firm commitments, the majority leader did say he's continuing to push and look at all the different avenues to get this forward bypass the parliamentarians. What I would say, a recommendation as opposed to some decision because only the presiding officer, which is the vice president, can really make that determination.
Melissa: I'm also really interested in this idea of a state party elected official heading on down in this case to Washington D.C. Talk to me about how you are seeing the Democratic Party at this moment in terms of national leadership versus for example, someone like you who's representing a district that's got folks speaking 200 languages. Is the big D, Democratic Party up there really in touch with what's happening on the ground for Democratic voters?
Assemblymember González-Rojas: It's so interesting because as a state representative in a state like New York, you do see the wide range of political views that make up the Democratic Party. While we are a majority here in New York, you have everyone representing a rural upstate district to urban dense diverse district. There's diversity within the party and within the constituencies that they represent.
I'm also the district that elected Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez. We elected bold, progressive leaders who are going to stand up and be a strong voice. I'm part of that wave of really progressive leaders who come from activism, who come from advocacy, who work alongside the grassroots to elevate the voices of those who are most impacted by the policies that we're going to advance.
At the national level, I see that as the same thing. You have Democrats that really reflect the diversity of the country, but it is really important to center the people who are most impacted by the policies and getting down to D.C., fighting outside the White House alongside so many undocumented populations. We had people from Korea, from Thailand, from Columbia, from Peru. It was just incredible to see the diversity of folks who came out across the country. People were there from North Carolina and from Florida and again from New York.
This is what America is, this is who is building back America. These are the people who are raising their families in our communities. These are my father, these are us. At the front lines, there's elected officials who were formally undocumented and are immigrants themselves. Again, it is critical that we get our voices heard and ensure that we have an opportunity to make sure those who have been left behind in this immigration system have opportunity to live, work and thrive in our country.
Melissa: Now, what is it you need Vice President Harris to do here?
Assemblymember González-Rojas: Vice President Harris is really the only one that can make a determination as to whether an item is able to be included in the Reconciliation Act, whether it has budgetary eligible for the Reconciliation Act. That is what she can do, she can take the advice of the parliamentarian or not. She's really the only person that can make that determination. We are asking her to make that determination because we know that there are billions of dollars that are at stake in terms of getting our immigrant communities on a path to citizenship. They are taxpayers, they can contribute to our communities and our economies and it will be a boost to our economy especially as we come out of this pandemic.
Melissa: Of course the vice president herself has an immigrant story, has a story of family that has made their way in this country in precisely that way.
Assemblymember González-Rojas: Exactly, if anything who should understand the immigrant experience the most is Kamala Harris. She is of South Asian descent as well as being Black and it's really exciting to have someone that comes from those roots, have that background, and understands the immigrant experience. We are asking her to look inward, this is so critical. This is as close as we have ever come in decades to something real and tangible for our community. We really need her leadership to step up and say that this is eligible for inclusion in the reconciliation package. It will be a boost to our economy, it'll be a boost to our country and this is what our communities need and deserves.
Melissa: Assemblymember, Jessica González-Rojas represents New York's 34th assembly district. Assemblymember, thank you for making the noise that we need.
Assemblymember González-Rojas: Thank you, Melissa. I appreciate you having me. Let's get this done.
New York Public Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline, often by contractors. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of New York Public Radio’s programming is the audio record.