“There will be more income inequality. Bet on it. There will be more entrenched poverty. Bet on it. There will be more segregation. Bet on it!”
In the wake of last week’s jarring presidential election, State Sen. Jesse Hamilton on Wednesday convened a town hall-style panel discussion of policy experts and elected officials at the St. Francis DeSales School for the Deaf in Crown Heights to address constituents’ concerns over what a Donald Trump presidency would bode for them.
Since the polling results were announced last Tuesday, Hamilton said his office has been “inundated” with phone calls from constituents of the 20th Senate district – some panicked, others livid, but all of whom expressed anxiety about their future. Many demanded to know what would happen to their most basic civil rights at the behest of a president-elect who has publicly denounced gay marriage, has vowed to deport of 11 million illegal immigrants, and has proposed a national identification system for American Muslims.
Most pressing among the immigrant population were Trump’s threats while on the campaign trail to repeal Obama’s immigration reform, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which affords certain legal rights – including a work permit, driver’s license and social security card – to undocumented immigrants who arrived in the US before age 16. Repealing DACA would affect more than 740,000 recipients.
Charlie Uruchima, an activist at social services organization New Immigrant Community Empowerment, urged those who had never applied for DACA to refrain from doing so until Trump’s stance becomes clearer once he takes office.
“In addition, for people who have not renewed, we are urging them not to renew because we don’t want them to potentially waste their money,” Uruchima said, before reiterating his support for New York’s 37 percent immigrant population. “We are not turning on New Yorkers, we are not turning on immigrants, and we are going to continue being an exemplary city.”
Bertha Lewis, founder and president of public policy think tank The Black Institute, told the audience, “Here’s what going to happen:
“There will be more income inequality. Bet on it. There will be more entrenched poverty. Bet on it. There will be more segregation. Bet on it.” Gentrification, she insisted, was just another word for segregation.
“Let’s stop renaming stuff. That’s the first thing we should do,” she told a hushed audience.
The panel proceeded to address other areas of concern, such as the prospect of families being torn apart if Trump’s proposal to deport undocumented immigrants with criminal records gains traction in Congress.
“In order to protect the unity of families in New York we must focus on significantly reducing the number of arrests,” said Victoria Starrett, an attorney for the Brooklyn Defender Services, “especially for low-level, poverty and mental health-related offenses like turnstile jumping, which is the number one charge the NYPD arrests for.”
The LGBTQ community, too, faces uncertainty with the prospect of a president who openly opposes marriage equality in favor of domestic partnership rights for gay couples.
Although Trump will likely appoint a conservative nominee to fill the vacant seat of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Allegra Fishel, executive director of the Gender Equality Law Center, assured everyone that it would not change the initial balance of the Supreme Court:
“We’re going to get all those other justices to take a lot of vitamins,” she joked, alluding to the court’s two senior liberal members, one of whom is 83 years old, the other 78.
“In the long run I think that women – particularly women of color, Muslim women, immigrant women, members of the LGBTQ communities – are going to be vulnerable,” she warned. “Many civil rights could potentially be rolled back or limited.”
Few panelists offered concrete calls to action, other than exhorting people to organize within their communities, get educated on political reform, and strategize ways to push back against infringements to their civil rights.
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams called on the community to embrace the CUNY system – long touted as a vehicle for upward mobility for lower-middle class New Yorkers – as a means to increase civic engagement among young people and ensure more and more people are politically educated.
“CUNY has always been the stepping stone of our immigrant population. Let’s energize that body,” Adams said. “If we’re going to out-Trump them, then we have to be organized block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood, community by community and we can’t alienate each other.”