Gillibrand backs immigration reform in boro visit

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The Emerald Isle Immigration Center in Woodside got a visit from a distinguished newcomer to the borough’s constituency Monday when U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) dropped by to tour the facility and talk with residents about immigration issues.

Since Gov. David Paterson appointed Gillibrand in January to fill the seat left vacant when Hillary Clinton became U.S. Secretary of State, Gillibrand has been working to appease pro-immigration groups skeptical of her record in the U.S. House of Representatives.

As a congresswoman, Gillibrand represented a conservative constituency near Albany and voted against amnesty for illegal immigrants and for making English the official language of the United States.

“I’m very confident that our president, Barack Obama, will put this on the agenda during his first term,” she said of comprehensive immigration reform.

Gillibrand said she supports family reunification and increasing the number of visas issued to allow immigrants to work legally in the United States.

“So many of our industries rely on immigrant workers,” she said.

Gillibrand also said she has asked Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano for a moratorium on immigration home raids until the reform passes.

“This policy is not an effective way to enforce immigration laws,” she said.

After meeting with several senior citizens at the center, Gillibrand said it was imperative that Congress pass a health care reform bill this year, indicating she favored making Medicare available to all citizens as a “public option” to compete with private insurers.

“I don’t think it will be one of the ideas in the final bill,” she said.

The senator was well-received by the immigration center, which offered her gifts like a history book and a blanket knitted by seniors from the center’s Bronx facility.

“I was taken by her candor and her hard work and her willingness to listen,” said Bryan O’Dwyer, chairman of the Emerald Isle Immigration Center. “She has given us real hope that we will have a real advocate, along with Sen. Schumer, for not just immigrants, but Irish immigrants.”

But some of the center’s beneficiaries were skeptical of the benefits of immigration reform.

“They have to go to the end of the line and line up and pay taxes like everyone else,” said Sunnyside resident Kathleen Darcy, an Irish immigrant who blamed the closings of St. John’s and Mary Immaculate hospitals on the borough’s large population of undocumented immigrants unable to pay for the medical care they received.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

Updated 7:08 pm, September 14, 2011
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