Constituent policy

Ocasio-Cortez faces questions from voters about policy priorities at Queens Town Hall

Some residents of New York’s 14th congressional district say immigration and police brutality are more pressing concerns than climate change.

Representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, speaking at an April 20 town hall in Queens, faced several voters who questioned her prioritizing climate change over other concerns among residents of the 14th congressional district.

“Why aren’t we talking about immigration reform anymore,” Jackson Heights, Queens resident William Castillo asked during a question-and-answer period. “When this meeting is over, in the next few minutes, and everyone returns to their respective homes, the undocumented will resume their lives, except that it is a life of fear and expulsion.”

Residents of Queens listened to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speak about updates on the Green New Deal. Updates including 79 Green New Deal projects to be launched next year. Wednesday, April 20, 2022. (Photo credit: Kaye Paddyfote for NY City Lens)

Bronx resident Terrel Sykes said he understands the effects of global warming disproportionately affect people of color, but addressing police brutality is a more pressing concern.

Speaking at 070Q PS Town Hall, Ocasio-Cortez provided updates on parts of the Green New Deal, a set of initiatives aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions to combat the climate change. She said global warming is causing environmental injustice in cities such as the Bronx, where the highest incidence of asthma in the United States has contributed to 43 deaths per million population.

Initiatives reported by Ocasio-Cortez included:

  • Securing funding for more than 300 SUNY Maritime students to train for union jobs in wind energy, which is the first Green New Deal workforce training program in the country
  • Congress just passed millions of dollars in funding for other projects like at SUNY Maritime across the country through a process called Community Project Funding
  • 79 Green New Deal projects to start next year
  • Secured $3 million to build a new obstetrics and gynecology unit at Elmhurst Hospital to help tackle the maternal mortality crisis
  • Secured $800,000 to Jacobi Hospital for the Stand Up to Violence program which helps reduce gun violence in the community

Castillo, speaking during the Q&A session, said he had lived in New York for 28 years and climate change was not the main concern of his friends, family and colleagues.

“I wonder if political capital is not being spent on an agenda at the expense of more pressing issues,” he said. “One issue that should be addressed in this case is immigration reform.”

Responding to Castillo, Ocasio-Cortez said immigration remains at the top of his priority list and is the number one source of casework in his office, as 49% of his constituents are immigrants. She said climate change and immigration are interconnected and neither issue can take priority over the other.

“Droughts and the impact of the climate crisis are taking communities that have been in places for thousands of years, that are self-sufficient, that can no longer grow their own food,” Ocasio-Cortez said.

Ocasio-Cortez mentioned that these environmental changes are driving conflict over resources, conflict over water and lack of arable land due to the climate crisis, which is why politicians need to look at why people are moving, what which goes hand in hand with immigration reform.

Sykes, a Bronx resident, said he understands Ocasio-Cortez is a national political figure who advocates for issues that affect more people than those who live in his district.

“The reality is, disproportionately, we are being affected across the country by the effects of global warming and the lack of preparedness for it,” he said.

Local Queens resident, taking a photo with Rep. Ocasio-Cortez. Wednesday, April 20, 2022. (Photo credit: Kaye Paddyfote for NY City Lens)

Ocasio-Cortez said the Green New Deal would receive its first congressional hearing on April 28.