U.S. VP Kamala Harris Visits The Bronx as Immigrant New Yorkers Rally for Visa Amnesty

By SÍLE MOLONEY & DAVID GREENE 

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Xavier Becerra, visited the Bronx on Friday, Oct. 22, at the invitation of Congressman Jamaal Bowman (NY-14). The event took place at the recently opened, state-of-the-art Edenwald YMCA center in the Northeast Bronx, which falls within Bowman’s district.

The purpose of the visit was to promote the Biden administration’s “Build Back Better” agenda, and while the mood among those in attendance, inside the venue, appeared unified and inspiring, outside, about 50 protestors gathered to call on the vice president to push through a bill which would grant visa amnesty to 8 million undocumented immigrants across the country, including an estimated half a million in New York City.

During his prepared remarks, Bowman said, “It’s an absolute honor to welcome our vice president, Kamala Harris, to the Bronx, a community of incredible resilience, culture, and diversity that for far too long has been overlooked.”

Bowman said he was proud to show Harris and Becerra what Bronxites were all about, and to join them in the fight to uplift working families and bring about the change that he said people deserved, adding that it was the job of elected officials at every level of government to ensure communities like Edenwald were given targeted and reparative investments. “That starts with the Biden administration’s Build Back Better agenda,” he said. “With bold, public investments in care for people, communities, and the environment, we can anchor the rebirth of our country and secure our future.”

For his part, Becerra joked about the warm welcome he, a Dodgers fan, received in the Bronx. Thanking Gov. Kathy Hochul, who he described as “a doer,” and Bowman for facilitating the visit, he described the YMCA facility as “a beautiful structure, a symbol of hope, a statement of resilience, and a sign of opportunity.” He said it was exactly what the Build Back Better agenda was all about. “You fought to get it [YMCA] here, and so congratulations to all of you who believe the Bronx should have just as good a facility as any other place in America to provide for its kids,” he said.

Also referring to the new YMCA center, Harris, who had just celebrated her 57th birthday two days prior to her visit, said she grew up attending her local community center. “I was a member of the Y,” she said. “I swam at the Y!” She said it was great to be back in New York and, with a wide smile, added, “And it’s good to be in The Bronx! It really is!”

Amid applause, she acknowledged the various invited guests and elected officials, who numbered about 120 and included New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and the governor, saying the elected leaders of New York were also national leaders, and added that the passage of the American Rescue Plan was in no small part due to the efforts of New York’s congressional delegation.

“Looking out at this crowd, I see America,” Harris said. “I see, particularly with our young leaders, the children of America. I see the families of America, and I see the people who have continued to hold it all together through the rollercoaster of this pandemic. It has been a lot, and people are tired.”

Harris said both she and President Joe Biden knew working families that had the least were harmed the most amid the pandemic and that many had been barely holding it together, which is what she said prompted them to act. She said the relief contained in the American Rescue Plan put the country on a path to a better future, in terms of addressing housing assistance, childcare assistance, and a larger child tax credit, and added that the Build Back Better agenda was an extension of that initial policy.

“Today, we have, within our grasp, an opportunity to finish what we started with the American Rescue Plan,” she said. “This, right now, is a moment that will not last. It is a particular moment of incredible opportunity and a moment to transform our nation,” she said. “Let’s recognize this moment for what it is. Let’s recognize that the pandemic hurt so many people but, by the way, things weren’t so great before the pandemic,” she said, adding that it had highlighted a lot of what was wrong for all to see. “A greater number of people had an opportunity, born out of the crisis, to see that there is work to be done, and this, then, is the moment to do it,” she said.

Describing the current climate as a moment of transformation, where schools and small businesses were opening back up, jobs were being created and the economy was growing, the vice president said it was an opportunity to build an economy that worked for working families. “So, let’s make it work for working families,” she said. “President Biden and I are working to that end to pass our Build Back Better agenda.” She said some had asked what that meant. “It’s about being better on climate, better health, better jobs and, intentionally, it is about our families,” she said.

At that point, Harris was interrupted by a male protestor, seated in the audience. It was difficult to hear him but he appears to have asked Harris, “Why are we not working with the Chinese on the Belt and Road initiative (BRI)?” The BRI is a network of enhanced overland and maritime trade routes that aim to better link China with Asia, Europe, and Africa. According to the Center for Global Development, if the initiative follows Chinese practices to date for infrastructure financing, which often entail lending to sovereign borrowers, then BRI raises the risk of debt distress in some borrower countries.

“You are right, brother,” Harris said. “I know you are. You know what? How about if you and I talk after I give my comments?” Saying, in a democracy, everyone should be heard, her handling of the situation was greeted with applause, as the protestor was ushered out of the room.

Harris continued, “The Build Back Better agenda includes our agenda to cut taxes ’cause for too long, the burden has been misplaced in a way that it is working families, middle class families, low-income families…. while the rich are not paying their fair share.” She said as part of the Build Back Better agenda, the Biden administration was fighting to cut health care costs, energy costs to combat climate change, the establishment of universal pre-k and lowering the cost of childcare so that parents could afford to care for their children and participate in the workforce.

Harris said the pandemic had also placed a disproportionate burden on the women in the workforce, resulting in 2 million women leaving employment, and that the “sandwich generation” i.e. those who were parenting and home-schooling their children while also taking care of their elderly parents, were also severely impacted. “Let’s be clear about the burden that they carry, out of love and a sense of duty and responsibility, without any help from anyone,” she said.

“Let us ask, are we really creating and reinforcing a society that is about allowing people to reach their potential? Do we have a society that rewards ambition, the ambition that a parent has for their children?” she asked. “This [Build Back Better agenda]…. is what we believe makes for a stronger and a more productive, and a better community and country, and a better quality of life for all the people of our nation.”

The vice president went on to say that the administration was also fighting to give seniors and people with disabilities more options so that they don’t have to move out of their homes to get the care they need. “We are fighting to expand paid leave, so that our nation no longer comes in last among wealthy nations, in providing these essential benefits,” she said.

She then talked about when she meets leaders from other countries and discusses policy with them. “They look at us and they are asking, ‘Is America really fulfilling her potential and her promise?’ They are asking, ‘Can Democracies work? Can you care about building a strong economy co-existent with caring about human rights, civil rights, and a perspective that is born out of a sense of humanity, and what it requires in terms of holding people up, and treating them with dignity.’ All of these things are at stake right now,” she said.

Harris said the extension of the child’s tax credit last March, the largest ever single tax cut for families with children (up to $300 per child) had a huge impact on working families, and said that move was not only about the country’s most important asset and resource, its children, but also about the strength of the nation and its standing in the world. She added that for the first time, the child tax credit is now also being distributed monthly to coincide with monthly rental and bill payments.

“Parents and grandparents who are often the primary caregiver for their children have used the child tax credit to manage the costs of raising children while continuing to work,” she said. “Nearly all who received the credit are working and for others, the credit is helping them to cover the cost of childcare so that they can get back to work.”

She warned, however, that unless Congress acted, those checks would stop after December and one in three children would no longer be covered by the credit. “It is of particular note and something that we all care deeply about that it [the tax credit program] includes half of Black and Hispanic children in America,” Harris said.

Describing the negotiation of the finer points of the Build Back Better agenda, the vice president said one thing was certain. “We will not allow anyone that makes less than $400,000 a year have their taxes go up,” she said, amid applause. “That is non-negotiable. In fact, this plan cuts taxes for working families. This plan also makes corporations pay their fair share. It’s just simply not right that a nurse or a teacher or a firefighter pays more in taxes than a hedge fund manager.”

Describing her own experience as a child growing up, and her community’s understanding of the dignity of work, she added, “This is about what we value as a nation, about who we value, and I want you to know that the president and I value working families, the president and I both come from working families.”

Harris said there were families across America who would do anything and everything to give their children the opportunities they rightly deserved, who see the capacity of their children, who see their dreams, who look in their eyes and see the twinkle and who nurture their ambitions. “Let’s support those families. Let’s have a system and a society that rewards the hard work that that takes,” she said.

“Let’s value that, in every way we know we have the capacity to do,” she added. “That’s what this is about. We have a moment,  right now, to actually get this done. The members of Congress, right now, in their hands, within reach, have an opportunity to lift up our families and our children, to see and acknowledge with humility what has not been working, and with excitement, to do something about it.”

The vice president urged Congress to seize the moment and to step up. “We can do this. It is the right thing to do,” she said. “And to the young people, and I see you, don’t ever let anybody tell you something cannot be done.” Saying she had a motto of “I eat and drink ‘no’ for breakfast, don’t hear it,” she added, ‘If most of us in this room heard ‘no,’ we would not be in this room right now.”

Concluding, Harris said, “We know what can be done. New York, change is possible if we make it happen, and so let’s make this happen. Let’s get to work. Let’s pass our Build Back Better agenda. Let us build an economy that works for working families. May God Bless You and May God Bless America.”

As previously reported, Norwood News spoke on the day of the event to both Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14), who was also in attendance, as well as to Bowman about the main obstacles to passing the Build Back Better agenda. In the meantime, as also reported, the package of bills has been separated into different votes, and the $550 billion infrastructure bill passed Congress on Friday, Nov. 5, while the other part of the agenda, covering issues like social security and climate change, is still being negotiated.

The vice president did not reference immigration during her address in the Bronx. Outside the venue, a group of about 50 immigrant protesters and allies, some of whom were French-speaking and Spanish-speaking, held various banners up with the words, “Madam Harris, use your power. Protect immigrants, now,” and “VP Harris, the time is now. Immigrants r essential.”  Some chanted, “Immigrant New Yorkers, under attack. What do we do? Stand up! Fight Back!”

Amaha Kassa, executive director of African Communities Together told us, “We need VP Harris to be on the side of the immigrant communities that have been fighting for green cards, citizenship, and a chance to stay, and work and live here in the U.S., and not on the side of the unelected Senate parliamentarian, who has said that green cards are not something that the Senate can do.” Kassa said the group wanted to see a bill, currently under discussion in Congress, passed that would grant amnesty to 8 out of the estimated, 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country.

“VP Harris and the members of the senate have the power, and we would say the duty, to disregard what the parliamentarian has said,” he continued. “The parliamentarian works for them, and they’re supposed to work for us, the people, and the way that they can do that is by delivering permanent status, green cards, citizenship to millions of Dreamers, millions of people with temporary protected status, millions of essential workers and farmworkers, and that’s what we’re asking VP Harris to deliver.”

As reported, the Office of the Parliamentarian provides Congress with nonpartisan guidance on parliamentary rules and procedures. As reported, Bowman previously told the Norwood News, “Right now, some of the legislation we’re working on like immigration reform, we might have to not accept the ruling of the parliamentarian in order to finally pass comprehensive immigration reform, which I support 100 percent.”

Kassa added, “Vice President Harris, President Biden, the Senate said, you know, ‘Elect us and you get three branches of government, three houses of government and we will deliver change.’ That’s what we are calling on them to do.” He added, “Nobody voted for the parliamentarian. We didn’t elected the parliamentarian. We elected the president and the vice president and the Senate and the representatives to represent us, and that’s what we need them to do.”

For her part, Harris stuck to her message inside the center, telling those present that she saw the determination and resolve of the American people. “I see you,” she said. “President Biden and I both see you, and we stand with you, and we are fighting with the leaders here for you each and every day.”

 

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