“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door”
Dear Governor Cuomo:
In your speech at the WIADCA Labor Day breakfast on Eastern Parkway, you wryly observed that there were no pilgrims with the name of Cuomo on the Mayflower, or at Plymouth Rock. However, the Cuomo family was part of the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” who accepted the invitation of Emma Lazarus and entered the “golden door” at Ellis Island.
I was impressed by the fact that you chose not to identify with the nativist sentiment that is so popular among governors in the United States today, but that you chose to embrace your immigrant heritage. Your embrace of your immigrant heritage is part of a well settled Cuomo tradition of identification with the immigrant experience that was first established by your illustrious father Mario Cuomo.
In fact, whenever the Caribbean leaders met with Governor Mario Cuomo in the 1960’s, the elder Cuomo would always remind us that his grandfather was an Italian immigrant who landed at Ellis Island, in the 19th Century, and could not speak a word of English. Governor Mario Cuomo was committed to immigration reform. He not only “talked the talked” but he also “walked the walked.” He supported the Simpson-Mazzoli bill in 1986, which granted permanent legal status over two million undocumented immigrants. He also provided the Caribbean leadership with funding to establish a Caribbean Cultural Centre in Brooklyn.
In your brief tenure as governor, you have shown an inclination to continue the Cuomo tradition of immigration reform. In June, of this year, you announced a decision to rescind the New York State agreement to participate in the Secure Communities Immigration Enforcement Program. Under this program, immigrants arrested by the New York City or New York State police would have their fingerprints sent to the FBI, which would screen them for any fugitive warrants or criminal records. The FBI, in turn, would share the prints with the Department of Homeland Security, to scrutinize them for any immigration violations.
Under this program, thousands of immigrants who might have had immigration detainers, but no criminal records, were placed in removal proceeding and deported from the United States. Under pressure from Representatives Jose Serrano, Nydia Velazquez, and immigration advocacy groups, you took the unprecedented step of rescinding the memorandum of understanding with the DHS. New York became the second state in the nation to implement this initiative. Your initiative may also have persuaded other states such as a Massachusetts to do the same. It may also have persuaded President Obama to implement an executive order, suspending the deportation of non-criminal immigrants.
I would give you a grade of B+ for your initiative on immigration reform. Well done Governor Cuomo, so far, but there is much more to be done. I would like to see you implement Governor David Patterson’s policy of using the executive power in Albany, to grant full pardons to immigrants who face deportation proceedings, who have been convicted of non-violent criminal offences, but who have demonstrated significant evidence of rehabilitation. I would also like you to replicate the New Mexico model of granting motor vehicle licenses to undocumented immigrants. This would, not only provide undocumented immigrants with the ability to operate motor vehicles legally and, to obtain insurance coverage in the event of accidents, but it would also provide them with the necessary identification to open bank accounts, and to transact business.
I would also like you to support the concept of granting voting rights to legal permanent residents throughout New York State. Voting rights were traditionally granted to legal permanent residents during the 18th and 19th Century, and it was only curtailed when the complexion of the immigrants changed. I would also like to see you bring to fruition your father’s policy of providing funding to establish a Caribbean Cultural Centre in Brooklyn.
Finally, Governor Cuomo, I would like you to establish a State Commission on Immigrant Affairs in Albany to deal exclusively with the many problems facing the immigrant community in New York State. Comprehensive immigration reform has stalled in Washington, because of partisan bickering. You don’t have that problem in Albany. We can achieve significant immigration reform in the state of Emma Lazarus.
Colin A. Moore