An Interview With Congressman Adriano Espaillat: I Am Proof of the American Dream

co-written by Theodora Moldovan and Ellen Nordlund

Meet U.S. Representative Adriano Espaillat, who proudly represents New York’s Thirteenth Congressional District. He was sworn into office on Jan. 3, 2017, during the 115th Congress.

He has a long history of public service and served as a New York State Senator, during which he was a vocal advocate for protecting tenants, improving schools and making serious, smart investments in economic development, job creation and environmental protection. He has continued to be a strong advocate of a fair living wage, immediate and effective investments in affordable housing, meaningful criminal justice reform, infrastructure improvements, expanded youth programs and better educational opportunities. You can read his full bio here.

Affinity: Congressman Espaillat, thank you for taking the time to speak with Affinity Magazine and for showing your support for our magazine. On the stage of the Democratic National Convention last year, you said “Perhaps even just as important [as being the first Dominican-American to ever serve in the U.S. Congress], I will be the first member of Congress who was once undocumented as an immigrant. You take that Donald Trump!” and went on to criticize Mr. Trump’s hateful comments towards immigrants. How do you feel about that comment now?

Congressman Adriano Espaillat: I feel just as passionately about my remarks during the Convention today as I did when standing on that stage. I am proof of the American Dream, having first come to this country with my family at the age of 9 years old, someone who was once undocumented, and now as the first Dominican-American member of Congress.  

Affinity: How do you feel about Trump’s comments on immigrants now that he’s the President of the United States? When did it become apparent to you that Mr. Trump might actually get elected?

Rep. Espaillat: It comes as no surprise that I strongly disagree with President Trump, and I am particularly concerned by his hard-line policies on immigration reform. I have been vocal in my disagreements with President Trump and have heard from many of my constituents, both in favor and in opposition to my positions, but I firmly believe that as a member of Congress, it is my duty to defend and challenge policies that I believe will lessen our American values and our standing as a beacon of hope and freedom for all.

Affinity: You are a vocal critic of President Trump’s, and you decided to skip his inauguration this past January. You’ve said in the past that you believe his hate-filled rhetoric will continue in his administration and that it is up to us to preserve Barack Obama’s legacy and Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream. What can we do to preserve their legacies?

Rep. Espaillat: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had a tremendous impact on American history and our culture. As a leader of America’s civil rights movement, his leadership during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and as a champion of voting rights, Dr. King played a pivotal role in ending racial segregation and changing the dialogue of race relations in America.

President Barack Obama also has had a tremendous impact and our country made significant advancements in civil rights and economic progress during his administration.

We each have the ability to make a positive impact and bring about change in society and communities around the world. It is up to each of us, as the next generation of leaders, to renew our commitment to the advocacy for freedom and justice that both Dr. King and President Obama championed.

This is how we preserve their legacies and continue to uphold their dreams to ensure all citizens are afforded a life of opportunity and equality in communities around the globe. 

Affinity: You have also served as a member of the New York State Senate and as a member of the New York State Assembly. How do you feel towards how people in Congress, the Senate and the Assembly deal with issues surrounding immigration today?

Rep. Espaillat: I hope that my personal story as someone once undocumented and now a member of the U.S. Congress will help change the negative perspectives on immigration in this country.

Affinity: On President Trump’s Muslim Ban, you said, “This is not America, the country we love. This is directly a religious test.” What was your honest reaction when you first heard of Mr. Trump’s ban?

Rep. Espaillat: My initial response to President Trump’s Muslim ban, was here we go again! I love our country and was saddened by the divisive and hateful actions that are being wrongfully taken in the name of national security.  

This is a critical time for our country and these executive actions make us less secure and less safe by jeopardizing U.S. national security interests and endangering tens of thousands of lives around the world.

Affinity: You have shown that you aren’t just going to speak up against Trump, but also act on your words. For example, when you introduced the legislation “Make Our Government Safe Act.” This law likely won’t pass due to the Republican majority, so what were you hoping to achieve when you proposed this law?

Rep. Espaillat: It is my hope that this legislation will draw a renewed focus on the many reckless and inflammatory remarks Steve Bannon has made throughout his career. Mr. Bannon has proven, through his statements and actions, that it is not appropriate for him to serve in the White House, let alone on the National Security Council (NSC). Mr. Bannon has even made numerous statements in support of overthrowing the United States Government, declaring himself to be a “Leninist.” I believe someone who has declared such animosity to our government should not be allowed to sit on the NSC, and neither do the many constituents who have contacted my office voicing their opposition to Mr. Bannon’s presence in the White House and on the NSC.

Affinity: You have called the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as the next U.S. Secretary of Education “troubling” and something that “puts our students at risk.” What risks are you referring to and what are you worried that she will do as Secretary of Education? What would you do if you were in her position?

Rep. Espaillat: I was extremely disappointed to see Betsy DeVos confirmed as Secretary of Education. Secretary DeVos does not have experience working in public education, nor does she believe in public education. This is a dangerous combination.

Without a public education, I would not be where I am today, sitting as a Member of the United States Congress. Public education is a cornerstone of our society, and a good education can make the difference between poverty and progress.

Secretary DeVos has demonstrated that she lacks the experience and compassion to run the Department of Education, and putting students’ interests first is not on her agenda. We need someone who puts students first – not Trump first. We cannot afford her vision for education and it will take each of our efforts, working together in unity to ensure that Secretary DeVos does not take away critical funding from the children that need it the most.

Affinity: Following on the question regarding Secretary DeVos, you have also been very involved in housing during your time as State Senator. What do you think that Ben Carson, who has less experience in this matter than you, should focus on now that he is Secretary of Housing and Urban Development?

Rep. Espaillat: As a member of Congress and a proud New Yorker, I understand the importance of public housing, the need to protect low-income renters from being displaced from their homes, and the need to support the intersectionality of public health and housing.

New York City has the highest number of housing units of any city and it is important to me that we find a way to continue advocating for tenant rights, neighborhood capital investment, public housing and affordable housing from the ground up.

It is my hope that I, along with the rest of the New York City delegation, can forge a productive relationship with Secretary Carson aimed at addressing our unique housing challenges. Collectively, our districts are some of the most diverse and densest in the United States, with capital needs far exceeding current funding availability. It is for this reason that our delegation has invited Secretary Carson to make New York City the first stop of his promised nationwide listening tour, providing him the opportunity to get a close-up view of what it’s like to administer the largest municipal housing agency in the country.

Affinity: During a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Russia’s interference in the 2016 American presidential election you said: “The American public need[s] to know who tried to hijack our democracy and we need those answers and we need to bring a group of witnesses here if necessary, to subpoena them, to come in and give us the answers to these critical questions.” Who would you like to ask about Russian interference in the election?

Rep. Espaillat: Russia’s interference in the Presidential election was an assault to our democracy. It was an attempt to undermine our institutions and create chaos in our government. Members of the President’s inner circle, including Paul Manafort, Carter Page, Roger Stone, Jared Kushner and Michael Flynn, have all been linked to Russia, and their inappropriate actions have caused several of them to be removed from their positions with the Trump Administration. America’s democracy cannot be trusted in the hands of those who conspired with Russia, which why a thorough and independent investigation needs to be conducted, one that involves the testimony of the aforementioned individuals.

Affinity: Thank you for your time, Congressman. You can find Adriano Espaillat on Twitter and Facebook.

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Ellen Nordlund
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Ellen is horrified by the state of the world and hopes that she can use her voice to move the world towards a better place. She is politics editor and also the maker of some of the collages and illustrations that Affinity uses.

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