Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn) thought issues like unemployment and foreclosures would dominate his first 100 days in office, if he was to win the 8th Congressional seat.
Then Hurricane Sandy happened, and then a gunman killed 26 people —including 20 children — at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut a month later.
And the storm’s recovery as well as the fight over gun control legislation has dominated his time in office so far.
Sitting with members of community-based news outlets from both Brooklyn and Queens — the two boroughs he represents — Jeffries said by having a seat on the House Judiciary and Budget committees, he has a front row seat for the process to craft legislation in response to both incidents, as well as an issue on top of President Barack Obama’s second-term agenda: immigration reform.
Jeffries’ district includes Howard Beach and Ozone Park, but also includes Brooklyn neighborhoods hard hit by Sandy’s storm surge, such as Canarsie, Mill Basin, Manhattan Beach, Brighton Beach and Sea Gate.
Jeffries has called for the Army Corps of Engineers to look into ways to mitigate coastal flooding in Jamaica Bay to protect the bayfront neighborhoods in his district in the future, including restoring marshland and building jetties and other forms of flood control.
On more national issues, such as gun control, Jeffries said he expects the Judiciary Committee to take up a bill only after one passes the U.S. Senate.
He noted that some Republicans, including the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Virginia) are not very supportive of gun control proposals and Goodlatte has not yet scheduled hearings on a proposal.
Jeffries supports strengthening background checks, saying that the current system of background checks works, but only where it’s applicable.
“Though it’s been successful, there are still gaping loopholes,” he said. “Forty percent of gun sales do not require background checks.”
Jeffries also expressed optimism that immigration reform would also come to a vote soon and said the Judiciary Committee has held hearings on the issue.
“It’s a broken system that needs to be reformed,” he said.
As a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, Jeffries was appointed, with two other members, to a CBC task force on immigration.
“It’s an important issue for my district because we have a big population of immigrants here,” he said. “Any bill will have a direct impact on the people I represent.”
He noted the number of constituents from Africa and Eastern Europe in the district have been negatively effected by the system of diversity visas, which creates the lottery system that limits immigration from countries with a lot of people coming to the United States.
He discussed the difference between immigrants who illegally cross the Mexican border, which often get the majority of the attention in the debate, and those who let their legal status lapse and are simply undocumented, or are “out of status.”
Jeffries noted that there are many undocumented immigrants from South Asian countries like India and from Caribbean nations, especially in parts of southern Queens.