Staten Island Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis—one of two Republicans running for mayor—outlined her ideas for immigration policy, which would involve rallying New Yorkers to “put pressure” on Washington to reform the country’s “broken” immigration system.
In a televised town hall hosted by NY1’s Errol Louis and Rochelle Boone Wednesday night, Malliotakis joined several Democrats to discuss the city’s “sanctuary city” policy, President Donald Trump’s blocked executive orders barring entry to people from Muslim-majority countries and the possibility of creating a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States—500,000 of them in the five boroughs. The Republican contender defended the lawsuit she and fellow GOP Assemblyman Ronald Castorina filed against the city last year over plans to purge the files of the IDNYC municipal identification program, which are believed to contain the personal information of thousands of undocumented people.
She accused “the opposition” of talking up the immigration issue—and insisted she and Castorina were more worried about government transparency and the “public safety” ramifications of such a data dump.
“From day one, if you look at the court documents, we don’t mention about immigration,” she said. “It’s never been about immigration. It’s been about destroying city records.”
A judge recently sided with the city, and the pair of lawmakers have moved to appeal that decision.
The City Council inserted language in the legislation creating the cards that gave the city the power to wipe the records at the end of 2016, a precaution that lawmakers argued was necessary in case a deportation-happy regime came into power in Washington. Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito vowed to fight any attempt to overturn the decision.
Louis pointed out that part of the program’s intent was to provide undocumented immigrants—among a number groups—with a form of verified proof of identity, so they might open bank accounts and visit relatives in hospitals.
“If the city wants to do the program, there’s no issue with that,” she said. “We’re just saying that we shouldn’t be destroying the city records. Look, there’s other states that give out driver’s licenses to individuals who are undocumented and yet they don’t destroy the records. We just believe that it is something especially in the post-9/11 world that we shouldn’t be doing.”
Malliotakis in fact spoke out repeatedly against the creation of the program both before and after the filing of the lawsuit.
The assemblywoman—the daughter of Greek and Cuban immigrants—sidestepped a question about the popular reaction to Trump’s temporarily-blocked executive orders barring entry to people from Muslim-majority countries, which involved protests at John F. Kennedy International Airport and throughout the country. Instead, she argued it was incumbent upon D.C. to step up and fix the country’s broken immigration system.
“I think what the bottom line is is that Washington needs to do its job and actually fix the immigration problem,” she said. “Look, I’m the daughter of immigrants. I understand the aspirations of the American dream and I think that we need to continue that not only here in New York City but in our nation. We have a broken system right now and Washington, for the last 30 years, has been saying they’re going to fix it and streamline it.”
She argued that the solution is twofold: first, the country’s borders need to be secured, which she called “a real threat” and called for a streamlined process. Then, she said, those who come to the United States on a student visa and obtain a degree should be allowed to stay.
This strategy in many ways echoes Trump’s call for a “merit-based” immigration system.
“It doesn’t make sense that we have individuals who come here to get educated and then go home and create companies and jobs where they’re from,” she said. “So I think it’s a multifaceted issue. I think it’s one that needs to be addressed by Washington because what we’re seeing are laws that are being passed at state and local level like the municipal ID card, which I don’t think is the best response.”
She reiterated that the “best response” is for people to start pushing Washington to repair the system.
“I think what we need to do is put pressure on Washington to finally fix what is a broken system so people don’t have to spend thousands and thousands of dollars on immigration attorneys and wait decades to become legal citizens if they want to be a part of the American dream,” she continued.
Her mayoral opponent, real estate executive Paul Massey, previously told the Observer that the city should remain a “sanctuary city.” But he later defended the Malliotakis-Castorina lawsuit and insisted that he wants to work with Trump to come up with a mutually agreeable national immigration policy.
In an interview with the Observer, he also vouched support for the IDNYC program.
The mayor, for his part, has virtually run his entire re-election effort against the foil of the Republican president, insisting the city will sue to stop any effort to force local law enforcement to collaborate with federal immigration authorities.