Some residents of New York’s 14th congressional district say immigration and police brutality are more pressing concerns than climate change.
Representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, speaking at a town hall on April 20 in Queens, was confronted by several constituents who questioned her prioritizing climate change over other concerns among residents in the 14th congressional district.
“Why aren’t we talking about immigration reform anymore,” William Castillo, a Jackson Heights, Queens, resident asked during a question-and-answer period. “When this meeting is over, in the next several minutes, and everyone goes back to their respective houses, the undocumented will go back to their lives, except it is a life of fear and deportation.”
Terrel Sykes, a Bronx resident, said he understood that the effects of global warming disproportionately impact people of color but that addressing police brutality was a more urgent concern.
Speaking at the town hall at P.S. 070Q, Ocasio-Cortez provided updates on parts of the Green New Deal, a set of initiatives intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to combat climate change. She said global warming drives environmental injustice in cities such as the Bronx where the highest incidence of asthma in the U.S. has contributed to 43 deaths per million residents.
The initiatives Ocasio-Cortez reported on included:
- Securing funding for 300+ students at SUNY Maritime to train for union jobs in wind energy, which is the first Green New Deal workforce training program in the country
- Congress just passed millions of dollars in funding for other projects like at SUNY Maritime across the country through a process called community project funding
- 79 Green New deal projects to be started next year
- Secured $3 million to build a new obstetrics and gynecology unit at Elmhurst Hospital to help address the maternal mortality crisis
- Obtained $800,000 at Jacobi hospital for the Stand Up to Violence program that helps reduce gun violence in the community
Castillo, speaking during the Q&A session, said he has lived in New York for 28 years and that climate change isn’t the top concern among his friends, family and co-workers.
“I wonder if political capital is being spent on an agenda at the expense of more pressing issues,” he said. “One issue that should be addressed in this case is immigration reform.”
Responding to Castillo, Ocasio-Cortez said immigration remains high on her priority list and that it is the No. 1 source of the casework in her office as 49 percent of her constituents are immigrants. She said climate change and immigration are interconnected and that neither issue can be prioritized over the other.
“Droughts and the impact of the climate crisis is taking communities that have been settled in places for thousands of years, who have been self-sustaining, that can no longer grow their own food,” Ocasio-Cortez said.
Ocasio-Cortez mentioned that these environmental changes are stirring conflicts over resources, conflicts over water, and the lack of arable land due to the climate crisis, which is why politicians have to look at why people are moving, which goes along with immigration reform.
Sykes, a Bronx resident, said he understood that Ocasio-Cortez is a national political figure who is advocating on issues that affect more people than those who live in her district.
“The reality is, disproportionately, we are affected all around the country by the effects of global warming and lack of preparedness for it,” he said.
Ocasio-Cortez said the Green New Deal will receive its first congressional hearing on April 28.