“The camera of history is rolling.”
That was the verdict of U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks, the 5th District’s Democratic congressman, at a wide-ranging town hall meeting in Franklin Square on Feb. 17. Speaking to a crowd of more than a hundred at Café L’Antilaise, Meeks answered questions on a host of topics, from his perception of the president (“He’s the No. 1 con man “) to Trump’s judicial nominees and immigration.
“It’s been a tough week,” Meeks began, referring to the shootings in Florida that left 17 dead and 14 hospitalized. “The Congress has done nothing” to help curb the violence. “As a nation, we are No. 1 in shootings and No. 1 in incarcerations,” he said. “Other countries must have the same kind of mental illnesses that we have. Why are we the only ones with these kinds of shootings?”
The congressman was strongly critical of Trump. “Another two years of this man unchecked would be disastrous for the country,” he said, urging attendees in the strongest terms to vote in the midterm elections in November. “We need to win 26 seats to regain the majority in the House” he said, “and we need to flip four or five seats in the Senate.” Republicans currently have a 56-vote majority in the House and an eight-vote advantage in the upper house.
Meeks drew a parallel between the current political climate and the Reconstruction era. “The same way Andrew Johnson rolled back Lincoln’s policies” designed to help create a more equitable society, he said, “Trump is rolling back everything our country achieved under Obama.”
He spoke of the cycles since 1980, of Republican presidents and increased deficits, followed by Democratic presidents and economic recovery. “Democrats are always accused of being ‘tax-and-spend,’” he said. “I don’t know why. Ronald Reagan became president [in 1981], and the deficit went from $20 billion to $200 billion. [Bill] Clinton spent eight years balancing the budget. Then George Bush came along, and we had the worst crash in history. Obama spent his eight years trying to fix that. Now Trump has undone everything we got under Obama.”
The congressman was scathing about Trump’s judicial nominees, and pointed out that they are often the longest-lasting legacy of many presidents. “They have a lifetime appointment,” he said. “The Christian right has decided to give Trump a mulligan on his moral issues, because they’re only interested in his judicial appointments. Some of his nominees have never tried a single case or even set foot in a courtroom,” Meeks said. “Some are still in their 30s.”
Take to the streets?
In the question-and-answer session after Meeks’s opening remarks, he was asked whether protests would be effective. “We are the people,” one audience member said. “Should we take to the streets and march?”
Meeks didn’t dismiss the effectiveness of such protests out of hand, but said that even many African-Americans voted for Trump in November 2016, as well as other groups that had a history of voting for more progressive candidates. “Fifty-three percent of white women voted for Trump,” he said. “They even voted for him in preference to a woman candidate. The best protest is to vote,” he said. “When black women vote, Democrats win.”
Local community activist Cheryl Lee, of the Parkhurst Civic Association, asked what help the congressman could give on such local issues as Belmont Park, where an 18,000-seat arena is to be built. “We need help,” Lee said. “We have people, but we need help with fliers and mailings, getting the word out. We need money, and we don’t have any.”
“[Gov. Andrew] Cuomo has promised 30 percent local, minority and handicapped jobs for his stadium,” Meeks replied. “Where are the resources?
How many other things have been
“You have to get the people fired up,” he continued. “People don’t get involved in the process. Trump won because we don’t believe in government, don’t believe in the system. We took things for granted. What have we really accomplished in the last 20 years? We didn’t just lose the White House. We lost governorships and mayoral races [in 2016]. Local elections count. Get involved at every level of your government.”
Meeks also urged his audience to become better informed. “With all the fake news, the tweets, you have to fact-check,” he said. “Trump … wants to
sow confusion. If you see something, check it.”
Immigration issues formed the basis for much of the remainder of the town hall discussion. Meeks’s congressional district, which comprises a large section of eastern Queens, as well as parts of Elmont, Franklin Square and Valley Stream, has a substantial Haitian community. That community could be decimated by some of Trump’s immigration policy changes, such as his executive order rescinding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and Temporary Sanctuary Program instituted by former President Obama in 2012.
Trump has said his administration would end the DACA program as early as March 5. But a ruling by Brooklyn federal court Judge Nicholas Garaufis of the Eastern District of New York, on Feb. 13, backed by a similar ruling by a federal court in the Northern District of California on Jan. 9, temporarily enjoined Trump’s order from being implemented in specific cases until the U.S. Supreme Court could hear arguments. The high court is expected
to indicate its intentions as early as
Africa versus Norway
Meeks cited several examples of the ways in which Trump’s decision was both confusing and discriminatory. For example, the president proposed ending so-called diversity visas. “This is the way most immigrants from African countries – the countries he calls s**tholes – enter the U.S. Something like 40 percent of African immigrants are doctors,” he said. “It used to be, immigrants came to this country to make new lives for themselves.” He said the same criteria didn’t apply to prospective immigrants from Norway, although he did not cite any figures for applicants from that country.
“The administration has told people they have until the end of June to transition back to their countries,” Meeks said. He said he had spoken to families that would be affected by the decisions. “It’s a tragedy,” he said. “Children born in this country are citizens, but their parents can be deported.” Of the so-called “dreamers” (those brought here as children), Meeks said, “If they’re sent back, they don’t speak the language; they don’t know the culture. They’ve lived most of their lives
here. They don’t know what will happen to them.”
Meeks pointed to one of the biggest flaws in the president’s anti-immigrant stance. “Employers depend on immigrants,” he said, noting that no matter the level at which they are employed, they do essential work.
“It’s impossible to see what employers will do without them,” the congressman said.