State Senator Adriano Espaillat criticized President Obama’s aggressive deportation of undocumented immigrants at a morning campaign event–triggering a harsh backlash from longtime Congressman Charlie Rangel, who Mr. Espaillat is challenging in this year’s Democratic primary.
Accepting an endorsement from the El Barrio Mexican Chamber of Commerce in East Harlem, Mr. Espaillat criticized the huge increase in deportations during the Obama administration–nearly two million people since 2008, the most under any President in American history–and said that the president had a responsibility to end the policy.
“The executive could issue an executive order calling to end deportations. We are seeing more deportations. They are ripping families apart. For a small infraction, people can be stopped and be on the road to deportation,” Mr. Espaillat told the audience in the cramped Agua Fresca restaurant on E. 117th Street, shortly before a three-piece mariachi band launched into the song “Jefe de Jefes”–“Boss of Bosses.”
Mr. Espaillat, who represents Washington Heights, also recalled how he and his family overstayed their visas when they first arrived in the country from the Dominican Republic.
“I can tell you firsthand what it is to be a child and not have your papers. To further aggravate that by taking away a parent is not good for America,” Mr. Espaillat said.
Mr. Rangel–who has held his upper Manhattan seat since 1971–jumped on Mr. Espaillat’s comments, calling them part of a pattern of attacking top Democrats.
“First State Senator Espaillat attacked President Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton as ‘not on the side of change,’ then he said the Obama Administration was an ‘absentee landlord’ that ‘has abandoned our neighborhoods,’ and now he’s attacking President Obama again?” a Rangel spokesman said.
“Unlike Senator Espaillat whose Republican allies have killed the Dream Act in
Albany, we need leaders like Congressman Rangel who will work with the
President to pass comprehensive immigration reform, not attack him
over and over again,” he added.
The Observer reported that Rangel ally Congressman Gregory Meeks attacked Mr. Espaillat last month after the state senator criticized the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Mr. Espaillat also expressed disappointment in Bill and Hillary Clinton for endorsing Mr. Rangel in April.
Both Mr. Espaillat and Mr. Rangel have vowed to pass comprehensive immigration reform. Mr. Rangel’s recent casting himself as an ally of the president contrasts with the history of tension between the two of them, which some say dates back to Mr. Obama’s years in the Senate.
Also running the race are Pastor Mike Walrond and Bronx activist Yolanda Garcia.
Updated with additional comment from the Rangel campaign.