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Gillibrand takes softer immigration stance in boro

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D−N.Y.) pushed the importance of sweeping immigration reform in Flushing Friday afternoon, continuing to distance herself from more conservative policy positions she held on the controversial topic as a congresswoman.

The newly minted senator was the keynote speaker at Flushing Library’s annual Asian⁄Pacific American Heritage Month celebration, which also included several performances from community groups and religious centers.

Gillibrand was greeted warmly by City Councilman John Liu (D−Flushing) at the event, which was also attended by Borough President Helen Marshall state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D−Whitestone) and state Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D−Flushing).

During the course of the speech, Gillibrand pointed to New York state’s Asian−American population’s poverty rate in New York as a primary reason that the federal government should take action on immigration issues sooner than later.

“It has the fastest growing poverty rate among immigrant groups in the state,” she said.

She said broad reforms are needed, such as giving illegal immigrants in the Unites States a path to citizenship. She pointed to the recently passed Dream act — which lifted tuition regulations and provides a path to citizenship for illegal immigrant teenagers hoping to go to college — as a sign that progress is being made on the topic.

“I really believe this is something that could happen this year,” she said.

Gillibrand also said she met with Liu and Meng to discuss what issues specifically face Asian Americans in Flushing.

“One thing that came out of that is we have a very long backlog on family reunification,” she said. “This country is founded on immigrants, so the fact that immigrants now often have to wait up to eight years to bring their families to this country has to change. I’d like to get that backlog down to about six months.”

The speech is one of several Gillibrand has given since being appointed by Gov. David Paterson to replace now−Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in February. As a congresswoman in upstate New York, Gillibrand took a hard line on immigration issues, blasting proposed measures to grant illegal immigrants amnesty and to give them the right to obtain driver’s licenses.

Gillibrand has said she understands she now represents a broader constituency as a senator and has traveled the state in recent months in an effort to broaden her knowledge on New Yorkers’ prevailing positions on key issues.

Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e−mail at sstirling@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 138.

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