“Each Indian immigrant in my jurisdiction contributes to its richness”: Melinda Katz

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Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, keeps in close touch with the Sikh community in Queens for matters ranging from Vaisakhi celebrations to hate crime incidents. (Courtesy: Office of Queens Borough President’s Office)

In a borough where you can meet people from 100 countries in a span of two hours, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz says she keeps closely engaged with the Indian immigrant community.

In an exclusive interview with Desi Talk, Katz, whose name is surfacing as a potential candidate for Queens District Attorney, said, “We interact on a daily basis.”

Indians and Indian-Americans are woven into the fabric of the borough, Katz indicated, not just in terms of the festivals, but also with different non-profits that seek to make life easier for new Queens Borough to Chhaya’s Executive Director Annetta Seecharan, declaring Dec. 5, 2018 “Chhaya Day” in Queens.

“India has such a diverse population, so we celebrate Vaisakhi, Diwali, Ramadan. And not only that, but also we work with non-profits,” Katz said.

“We’ve given almost $1 million to India Home; $20,000 to Chhaya Community Development Corporation; and we work with South Asian Council for Social Services, and the Indo-Caribbean community,” Katz said. “And then we bring them all together in August for Independence Day,” she notes.

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, standing next to a police officer in his patrol car, at the Queens County St. Patrick’s Day Parade March 3, 2018. (Courtesy: Office of Queens Borough President’s Office)

According to 2014 statistics, there are 145,000 Indian-origin residents in Queens, Katz says. “That means there are 145,000 contributors to this great borough,” she emphasizes.

City Hall holds numerous events with Indian-Americans, Katz said, and also through the Immigration Task Force, the city makes sure to deliver services, including immigration resources, to Indian immigrants, including those needing lawyers to take up their cases, or how to apply and receive home loans etc.

“We work a lot with the Sikh community, not only on celebrations, but also when discrimination occurs. We support them in hate crime incidents,” Katz said.

Sudha Acharya, founder and executive director of the South Asian Council for Social Services, who is on the Immigration Task Force Advisory Committee, told Desi Talk Katz draws upon the input of minorities in her jurisdiction. “She has a General Assembly of individuals who can contribute, that she can draw upon. It meets regularly. And our Immigration Task Force also meets regularly. This also helps us to interact with administration officials,” Acharya said.

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, 7th from left, at the India Independence Day celebrations Aug. 17, 2017. (Courtesy: Office of Queens Borough President’s Office)

She recognizes the different income levels to which immigrants from India and other countries belong, and is concerned about the “Public Charge” policy announced by Washington, which if implemented, would she says, harm numerous immigrants, including those from India.

On Oct. 10, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service put out a “public charge ground of inadmissibility” which says, ” “public charge” means an individual who is likely to become primarily dependent on the government for subsistence,” and it also says that the green card could be denied to anyone who, “at the time of application for admission or adjustment of status, is likely at any time to become a public charge.”

Chhaya’s Executive Director, Annetta Seech was presented a proclamation from Queens Borough President, Melinda Katz at last week’s holiday reception. It’s official, 12/5 is “Chhaya Day” in Queens. (Courtesy: Twitter)

Acceptance of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act may lead to the determination that the individual is likely to become a public charge. These include – Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash assistance; State and local cash assistance programs that provide benefits for income maintenance; and programs (including Medicaid) supporting individuals who are institutionalized for long-term care.

“The ‘Public Charge’ policy that the government is trying to implement is harmful to us. If you take SNAP or Medicaid assistance then it makes it harder to become a citizen,” Katz contended. Today, in Queens, she estimates that around 68,000 children live in mixed-status households.

“Nobody should have to choose between putting food on the table or a roof over their heads, and the path of citizenship. It’s an immoral choice,” she asserted.

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, 6thg from left, with members of the Muslim community at an Iftar celebration in Queens Borough Hall May 22, 2018. (Courtesy: Office of Queens Borough President’s Office)

Katz was elected on November 2017, to a second term as Queens Borough President. She has held various governmental positions on both the city and state levels for the last 20 years. She was a City Council member from 2002 to 2009, during which time she secured private-sector partnerships that led to the creation of over 15,000 units of affordable housing, according to the bio provided by her office.

Prior to being on the city council, Katz was Director of Community Boards for Queens Borough President Claire Shulman.

From 1994 to 1999, Katz also represented Forest Hills, Rego Park, Middle Village and Glendale in the State Assembly.

Born and raised in Forest Hills, Katz attended public school. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and received her juris doctorate from St. John’s University School of Law.

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