While City Councilmember Carlos Menchaca and Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, both Latinos, continue to be the big names in the upcoming 38th City Council District primary covering Sunset Park and Red Hook, Chinese-American attorney Chris Miao offers a well thought out vision on the district’s number one issue – the plight of immigrants.
Since 1990, the Sunset Park area population has increased by one-third to more than 150,000 residents, according to a report by the New York State Comptroller in 2016. It has grown twice as quickly as New York City overall. Almost all of that growth can be attributed to new immigrants, which account for 49 percent of the area residents, and is split about evenly between Latinos and Chinese.
Miao argues that any city council member representing the district needs to balance two important objectives to serve the immigrant community.
“One is protect the community, legal or illegal immigrants who are just trying to make a living in the district, from deportation and from harassment,” said Miao. “The other is to help immigrant families to improve their daily lives and improve their way of life.”
The 32-year-old Chinese-born attorney said while Menchaca has been a vocal advocate, particularly for undocumented immigrants, he has fallen short of protecting immigrant constituents and improving their day-to-day lives.
Miao argued that one way to improve the daily lives of immigrant constituents in the district would be to implement new afterschool programs to give children a place to go while their parents work.
“I know that growing up, if I got out at school at 2:30, I had nothing to do,” said Miao, who came to New York at five with his parents. “And what would happen was either my mother or my father would have to leave their jobs early, give up that pay, and watch after me.”
Miao said that in addition to alleviating day-to-day stress, local government must address the “inherent fear” present in immigrant communities when it comes to policing and deportation. He emphasizes that leadership must protect immigrants from deportation, while making sure that they trust their local police officers as well.
“What I want to do is foster relationships between the immigrant community and the police officers that serve the community,” said Miao. “So that the population has no reservations in terms of reaching out to the police if they need help.”
Miao says he is committed to protecting undocumented immigrants in the community from deportation, even cautioning against programs like the IDNYC program. The program seeks to provide all New York City residents with a city ID. Currently, there are about 800,000 cardholders including residents who may have a hard time acquiring a government-issued ID card, such as the formerly incarcerated or undocumented immigrants.
Many argue that the card is a safe way for undocumented immigrants to access benefits and undocumented immigrants are at no risk of deportation. But Miao said that the potential risks of registering undocumented immigrants for an ID card outweigh the benefits.
“The problem with that is when you have undocumented immigrants register for an ID card, they’re going to be in a system,” said Miao. He said that while in principle, he liked the idea, “as much good as it does, I don’t know what the future ramifications might be, depending on the shift in policy either on the state or most likely on the federal level.”
This position diverges sharply from those of both City Council Member Carlos Menchaca and challenger State Assembly Member Felix Ortiz.
Miao says that above all else, his legal expertise sets him apart from his fellow candidates, giving him the ability to “potential pitfalls in any proposal or program.”
“I can advise the residents of District 38. I can give them pros and cons; I can give them the worst-case scenario,” said Miao. “Let the residents make an informed decision, whether or not they want to participate in a program.”