Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) fielded some tough questions at a joint meeting of the Queens Colony and Bellerose Commonwealth civic associations in Jamaica on Friday.
Attendees were concerned about a variety of issues including healthcare, the Iraq War, the budget and, of course, the controversy surrounding Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Queens and Brooklyn), but most inquiries seemed to surround illegal immigration, with the discussion becoming heated at times.
Joan Carter of Bellerose, who teaches English as a second language, told Meeks that dealing with the parents of her students on a regular basis has taught her that “those people know how to work the system better than me and half the people in this room. So how could somebody come here and get all kinds of funding for healthcare and this, that, and the other thing, when they haven’t put any money into it?”
Meeks noted that the healthcare reform law states that illegal immigrants are not entitled to benefits. However, he added that there are dangers associated with that. Suppose, he said, someone comes here illegally from another country and has a contagious disease but can’t get treatment. That ailment can spread and affect others.
“So we have got to make sure that we are smart about how we do this,” Meeks said. “We have got to make sure that when people get here that they are here legally and that we stop the flow of illegal individuals into this country.”
Meeks noted that the DREAM Act, which failed to pass, stipulated that illegal immigrants have to pay before they are entitled to benefits. “You are not realistically going to be able to round everyone up and get them out,” Meeks said.
“Why not? Other countries do it,” rebutted Carter.
Meeks said that logistically it would be impossible, plus it would be way too expensive. But that answer did not seem to satisfy some in the audience.
“How much are we going to save if we get rid of all of them?” one man shouted from the crowd.
Meeks said the United States has to secure its boarders to make sure that no one else comes here illegally. He also added that some undocumented immigrants have been here since childhood and don’t know any other country.
“They wanted to serve in our military,” Meeks said.
It was a comment that really angered veteran Bill Turis of Bellerose.
“I don’t believe that,” he said. “That’s a bunch of baloney. We’ve got Sikhs and Indians living in this neighborhood that would not serve in this Army. My father was a Pearl Harbor survivor, highly decorated, me and my brother were in the service, and I can tell you sir that’s a bunch of BS.”
Jaqueline Budds of Bellerose expressed similar frustrations, stating that undocumented immigrants skirt the system while citizens have to pay large amounts for healthcare. She also said that they get free breakfast and lunch programs while seniors are forced to decide between food and medicine.
“How many diseases are being brought back into our schools by these foreigners?” she asked. “When our kids went to school they had to show proof of inoculations or they weren’t allowed in the school.”
Meeks said that this is a country of immigrants and our ability to tolerate other people’s differences is what makes this nation great.
“All you have to do is go to a military graveyard or Walter Reed Hospital or go to the Naval academy and you will see a Muslim, a Christian and a Jew lying side by side, and you don’t see that anywhere else,” Meeks said. “I see a person who is black, white, brown, red and yellow, all who have sacrificed a lot for this country. And that’s what makes it magnificent.”
Mike Augugliaro of Bellerose told Meeks that if he were president the first things he would do is stop the flow of illegal immigrants into this country and reduce the amount of money given to foreign nations.
“We keep giving all this money to these terrorist countries — they hate our guts — but now we are sending two billion dollars a year to Pakistan because we’re afraid that they got nuclear power,” Agugliaro said. “So because we’re afraid of them, now we give them more money?”
Meeks said the amount of money sent to foreign countries is only 0.5 percent of the nation’s total budget. He also noted that it is his job as a member of Congress as well as Obama’s job as president to keep the country safe, alluding to the expression, “You keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” Pakistan is a nuclear power, but it is also a sovereign nation, so the United States must work its officials in order to ensure that we can also keep an eye on them, Meeks said.
In light of the controversy surrounding Weiner sending sexually explicit photos and text messages to at least six women, Bob Friedrich, president of the Glen Oaks Village co-op complex, asked Meeks a question that was on the minds of many.
“Will you be the first person in Queens that has the guts to say that Anthony Weiner should resign?” Friedrich asked, garnering much applause from the crowd.
Meeks said he believes that Weiner’s constituents should ultimately determine whether or not he should step down.
“That’s what a democracy is all about,” he said. “The people who elected Anthony are the ones who have to hold him accountable. They’re the ones who trusted him. So, it’s not for Gregory Meeks to say, it’s for them to say.”
Anne Marie Estrada of Bellerose wanted to discuss her frustrations with Medicare. She has an 86-year-old mother and when she called the office to resolve an issue she was having, she got less than satisfactory results.
“They tell me I have like 125 people ahead of me and there’s about an hour wait to speak to a customer service representative,” Estrada explained. “Do government officials down in Washington deal with Medicare? Do they know that this is what we have to face?”
Meeks advised the woman to call her Congressman. “Call me. That’s my job. We have got to cut through that kind of red tape.” Meeks’s staffers wrote down Estrada’s information and the lawmaker vowed to help her.