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Congressman

Congressman supports end of ‘dreamer’ policy, preaches sensible border security fix

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin. File photo by Kevin Redding

By Alex Petroski

The heated debate over immigration is nothing new in the United States, or in Suffolk County for that matter, but the discussion has been enflamed and accelerated by a decision President Donald Trump (R) floated, walked back and ultimately left in limbo regarding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program this week. Zeldin addressed challenges with improving immigration policy during an exclusive interview with TBR News Media at the end of August, and also weighed in on the possible phaseout of DACA this week.

The DACA program was enacted in 2012 during former President Barack Obama’s Democratic administration as a temporary solution to the dilemma about how to handle the immigration status of individuals who were brought to the U.S. illegally at a young age, rendering their decision to cross the border as out of their hands. The policy granted “dreamer” status to roughly 800,000 individuals, retroactively. This week, Trump announced via Twitter his intentions to phase out the program within six months, though few details were offered, and since then the president has backtracked, signaling to Congress he would like for them to come up with a solution.

“Many of these children involuntarily came to our country very young, have been here for a long time, go through our education system, love our country and are looking to stay here and greatly contribute to our economy and nation’s future,” Zeldin said in a statement. “What I struggle with the most is how you can possibly allow someone illegally in our country to be given preference over someone who is not in our country solely because that individual abroad is following the rules and respecting our laws, and as a result, they are not yet here.”

“If you want to come to America and pursue the American Dream, follow the rules.”

— Lee Zeldin

The decision by Trump has drawn criticism from both sides of the aisle for both the seeming lack of compassion for the group of mostly young people who have made a life in the U.S. and know the country as their home, and for the flippant nature of making the announcement on social media. Zeldin said it is a challenging issue because dreamers have established a life in America and were brought here involuntarily, though he said allowing them special treatment creates an unfair dynamic for those attempting to come to the U.S. legally.

“I support legal immigration,” he said. “I oppose illegal immigration. If you want to com se to America and pursue the American Dream, follow the rules. If you commit a crime and are deported, don’t come back. Every nation’s backbone is its rule of law. It is great to pursue the American Dream and to consider yourself a dreamer and everyone in the United States legally should consider themselves dreamers.”

Zeldin said in his statement and in August he would be open to discussion for ways to repair what he said he views as a flawed immigration system.

Referring to Trump’s campaign rhetoric and statements he has made since taking office, Zeldin said he wished the conversation on immigration and border security could get past “build a wall” versus “don’t build a wall.” He criticized Trump for a lack of publicly stated details regarding a border wall, citing natural barriers like rivers and mountains, which already secure large portions of the U.S.-Mexican border.

“If we sat down with [Trump] and had a conversation and he says, ‘We should put a 30-foot wall in the middle of the Rio Grande,’ that would be different,” Zeldin said. The 1st CD representative said he would be in favor of strengthening existing fencing in areas, building a new barrier in vulnerable areas and even utilizing some electric fencing to secure the border.

When asked if he thought Trump had the ability to advance immigration reform in a bipartisan fashion, Zeldin said he wasn’t sure because he hadn’t spoken directly with Trump on the issue, and his public statements lack specifics.

Lee Zeldin meets with constituents in East Patchogue. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding and Alex Petroski

Hundreds of concerned constituents on both sides of the aisle gathered inside the Hagerman Fire Department in East Patchogue March 3, set up at scattered round tables, waiting to hear their names called to meet with U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley).

In another room, the congressman was holding mobile office hours and meeting with five to six people at a time, grouped according to the topics they wanted to discuss, to hear the issues of the people he represents, which ranged from health care and what’s to come of the Affordable Care Act, abortion and the congressman’s stance to defund Planned Parenthood, immigration, the environment, and tax reform.

Constituent questions are sorted for Lee Zeldin’s mobile office hours. Photo by Kevin Redding

Despite demands from various local groups to host an in-person town hall in recent weeks, Zeldin has committed to these individualized and small-group meetings to avoid what he’s called the “liberal obstruction” of town halls that have taken place around the United States.

Tehmina Tirmizi, a student at Stony Brook University, said she hoped to talk to Zeldin about the rhetoric of President Donald Trump (R) and his administration, which, she feels, supports bigotry and fear of minorities.

“[They] incite hatred, anger, stress, depression and a lot of people have been hurt and are hurting inside and they should be keeping the peace,” she said. “They can’t just say something, have people react to it and then go and hide somewhere. I’d love to see Zeldin make a statement and come out against [the rhetoric] and he has yet to do that.”

Wading River resident Jim Lupis was there on behalf of a pro-life group to encourage Zeldin to defund Planned Parenthood.

“Taxpayer’s money shouldn’t be used to perform abortions, and murdering innocent children should be totally illegal,” Lupis said. “Zeldin has a strong voting record against Planned Parenthood and I want to speak to him about staying the course and defunding such an evil thing.”

Eastport resident Penny Mintz said, on top of being concerned about Citizens United and “the takeover of the wholesale purchase of government by big corporations,” she wanted to talk about the elimination of consumer protections, environment and healthcare.

“I have no hope of actually speaking to him … I’m only here so that he knows there are all these people who care enough and are watching him, and he can’t abandon us for corporate interests.”

—Penny Mintz

“I have no hope of actually speaking to him … I’m only here so that he knows there are all these people who care enough and are watching him, and he can’t abandon us for corporate interests,” Mintz said. “I wish he would back down from Trump and the policies the president is imposing.”

Just a few tables away, Hampton Bays resident Mark Raschke said he wanted to meet Zeldin, give him support, tell him he voted for him, and let him know he liked the way he supported Trump. Port Jefferson Station resident and military veteran Ed Bednarek wants to know where his congressman feels the country is going to go under the Trump administration, and when “the liberals are going to stop fighting and start getting on board and work with us as a team,” also calling for veterans to take priority over immigrants.

Ira Silverberg, of Bellport, said he wanted to challenge the congressman on a voting record that is “not protecting the environment of Long Island as well as he says it is.”

When asked how he felt about the mobile office hours in comparison to an in-person town hall meeting, Silverberg said “this format has disenfranchised 85 percent of the people who have shown up and is too controlling and inadequate to deal with the needs of the diverse, concerned community.”

For Cindy Morris, from Stony Brook, who wished to speak with Zeldin about the civil liberties she felt had been under attack as of late, she said the mobile office hours format “does not work.”

“We are all just talking amongst ourselves … [Zeldin’s] staff isn’t even circulating and coming out to talk to us,” Morris said. “I look at this room and I see diversity, so this is an opportunity for him to really meet with his constituency and not just meet with the people who pay for him to win elections. We aren’t protesters, we’re passionate citizens.”

Anna Hayward, a Stony Brook University professor, echoed Morris’s feelings.

“In a town hall format, he could hear our issues but we can also hear other people’s issues…we’re a very respectful, educated, and well-mannered community and I don’t think he needs to worry about people screaming at him and attacking him,” she said.

Zeldin supporters line the street waiting for a chance to speak to the congressman. Photo by Kevin Redding

Conversely, Nancy Beltran of Holtsville stands by Zeldin’s decision to not hold such a public forum.

“There’s no risk of chanting and screaming and bullying in a group setting so it avoids all of that, he’s doing the right thing by trying to hear the people without all that noise,” Beltran said.

Outside the fire department, dozens of people — supporters of Zeldin on one side holding up signs that read “Thank You Lee Zeldin for doing what we elected you to do” and opponents of Zeldin on the other with signs that read “Lee Let’s Talk” — stood to voice their concerns.

“I’m very passionate about supporting Lee Zeldin…he’s a stand up guy, he listens to people, educates himself and is not just a go-with-the-political-winds [leader],” Patchogue resident Heather Martwello said.

Mary Casey, who stood in opposition of Zeldin, questioned his moral courage in not wanting to hold a town hall meeting.

“His reported reason is that it just descends into screaming and yelling and it’s useless but I think it’s because he wants to maintain that aura of being right and if you have people screaming at you, you can’t be in control,” she said.

Zeldin’s aversion to holding a traditional in-person town hall has left many in his district angered, despite mobile office hours and an hour-long telephone town hall in February.

A group called Project Free Knowledge hosted an event called The People’s Town Hall March 4 in at the Performing Arts Studio in Port Jefferson, which featured a Zeldin impersonator, repeated potshots at the congressman and a foil called The People’s Candidate. The show was meant to serve as political satire, though one of the organizers behind the production said the group intended to deliver a serious message through the performance.

“… [Lee Zeldin] needs to prescreen people’s questions, he’s incredibly controlling about the conditions in which it happens, and it’s clear he doesn’t want a general town hall with community moderators because he’s not actually prepared to stand accountable for the things that he’s doing.”

—Anna Sitzmann

Anna Sitzmann, a member of the Project Free Knowledge team and a participant in the performance, said the group’s mission was to be both informative to those in attendance while also being critical of Zeldin.

Sitzmann said this was the first time the group has branched out into “political theater,” a phrase she said she’s often heard Zeldin use to describe activist demonstrations. She added the group met with Zeldin about three weeks ago and asked him to host a community-moderated, live town hall, which he declined. Sitzmann said that’s when the group decided to put on their own town hall.

“Zeldin has certainly met with constituents personally, but as we made reference to, he won’t do it for more than half an hour, he needs to prescreen people’s questions, he’s incredibly controlling about the conditions in which it happens, and it’s clear he doesn’t want a general town hall with community moderators because he’s not actually prepared to stand accountable for the things that he’s doing,” Sitzmann said in an interview after the performance. She added Zeldin was invited to attend the event but she received an “unbelievably disrespectful response.”

A spokeswoman for the congressman, Jennifer DiSiena, responded to Sitzmann’s claim in an email, saying she’s not sure what Sitzmann was referring to and called the performance “unbelievably disrespectful.” DiSiena took issue with much of the content of the show.

“Congressman Zeldin will meet with any constituent interested in a productive, substantive exchange of ideas,” she said. “He has even met with the protesters involved in setting up that Mock Town Hall. He is not interested in the type of political theater that this group of liberal obstructionists is interested in promoting. The country faces real challenges and Zeldin will remain focused on working across the aisle to constructively find solutions. Requesting a town hall for the purpose of disrupting the town hall without any sense of decorum or decency is wrong and will not be taken seriously.”

Sitzmann said she’s not concerned about the possibility of the performance adding to an already heated political discourse, which seems to be swallowing whole the district and country alike.

“If I’m stoking the flames of Zeldin’s fire, fine,” she said. “I admit that a lot of people that voted for Lee Zeldin or voted for Donald Trump were upset about things that they ought to have been upset about, but I think the Republican party and especially President Trump have harnessed that anger and misdirected it towards things that don’t deserve the blame, such as minorities and global cooperation, while as a way of hiding the real cause of the problem, which is the kind of economic advantage seeking that both of them partake in.”

Congressman Lee Zeldin. File photo by Victoria Espinoza

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) will host his next mobile office hours in Mount Sinai.

Constituents can sit down with the Congressman or a staff member for a one-on-one to discuss the issues or concerns important to them at the Rose Caracappa Senior Center on Aug. 12 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

All members of the public are invited to attend, and walk-ins are welcome, as no appointment is necessary, but all attendees who arrive by noon will be guaranteed a meeting with  Zeldin or a staff member.

The Rose Caracappa Senior Center is located at 739 NY-25A.

Suffolk County Legislator Steve Stern. File photo by Rohma Abbas

U.S. Rep. Steve Israel’s announcement that would he would not see another term in the 3rd District, which spans from the North Shore of Queens through parts of Smithtown, has sparked discussion across the region about who will succeed him. Suffolk County Legislator Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) is the latest to throw his hat into the race for the seat.

Israel (D-Huntington) made the decision two weeks ago that he would not be seeking re-election in November, and legislators and lawmakers from across Long Island have been declaring their intention to fight for his seat. This week, Stern said he believes his record sets him apart from the rest as a candidate who listens to his neighbors.

“My record tells a story, it highlights issues that are important to me,” Stern said in a phone interview. “When my neighbors see what’s happening in Washington, they think their voices are not being heard. I know I will be the congressman that hears them.”

He said his record has consistently supported the local issues that are important to the residents of the 3rd District and many pieces of legislation he has drafted have become state and national models.

Stern said that with his family in mind, he created the Safe and Sustainable Procurement Act, which bans baby products made with BPA, a chemical found in plastics that can seep into the food or beverages inside the plastic containers and have harmful health effects.

“It was the first legislative initiative banning these type of products throughout the entire country,” he said. “I was proud that this local bill was used a model for other jurisdictions.”

This act was eventually adopted by the New York State Senate, the European Union and the Food and Drug Administration.

The Protect Our Fallen Heroes Act is another piece of legislation Stern created that expanded to the national level. The purpose of this act, he said, was to protect the sanctity of funerals, specifically military funerals, from protesters.

Stern said this is now the adopted policy of all national cemeteries. The federal version of the bill, Respect for America’s Fallen Heroes Act, was first enacted by Congress in 2012, two years after Stern’s original bill was drafted.

Recently, Stern worked with Israel to adopt Stern’s Housing Our Homeless Heroes Act into a federal bill to provide housing for homeless veterans.

Stern also said many of his initiatives were accomplished with bipartisan support on the county level.

“I have a proven leadership, working with colleagues from both parties,” he said. “The way that I have been able to do my job, it clearly shows I am a representative that is sorely needed in D.C.”

Israel has served in Congress for the last 15 years, and said that after this year he feels it is his time to step down and make room for a new perspective.

“While I will miss this place and the people I have had the privilege to serve, I am looking forward to spending more time home,” he said in a statement. “Simply put, it’s time to pass on the torch.”

Stern said Israel would be missed, but also said he is eager to continue his legacy, which includes continued support for veterans.

“I have had the great privilege of working with Congressman Steve Israel for the past 10 years,” Stern said in an email. “He has been an outstanding advocate for our community and especially for our men and women currently serving our great nation.”

Stern gave Israel kudos for his collaboration on the legislator’s Housing Our Homeless Heroes Act and said it was an honor to work alongside him.

Aside from Stern, Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport), Huntington Town Councilwoman Susan Berland (D) and state Assemblyman Chad Lupinacci (R-Huntington Station) are among the North Shore politicians who intend to campaign for the seat. From Nassau County, North Hempstead Town Board member Anna Kaplan threw her hat into the ring.

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