Congressman Gregory Meeks, who represents the 6th. District of NY encompassing the greater Richmond Hill area, met with Guyanese community leaders in a town hall style meeting on Thursday evening to listen to their concerns.
The Congressman took questions and offered assistance on problems the community faces. Meeks has been serving as Congressman for the 6th. District for 11 years.
He serves as the Ranking Member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and is also a member of the Financial Services Committee of the House. He previously served as the Chair of the Sub-Committee of International Monetary Policy and Trade when the Democrats were in the majority. The Democrats lost the House in January. Meeks thanked the Guyanese community for the invitation so “I can dialogue with the community”.
The Congressman said he does not have great news for the district or the country. “I don’t want to mislead you and paint a rosy picture. We are in the worst financial crisis since the depression and the Republicans are in control. So resources are hard to get. For two years, earmarks were banned and I haven’t had any for the district. Republicans don’t want to deal with issues affecting poor and middle class people. So it is not about to get better. I can’t get earmarks or pork for the district but it is possible to get government grants and I want to guide the community to apply for these grants. I want to help small businesses which are the backbone of America and of this community”.
The Congressman noted that his district has the largest number of South Asians and Indo-Caribbeans in the country. He said he is aware of issues affecting the community and wants to address them. “Government should not be an obstacle. I want to make government easy so it can address peoples’ problems to make their lives better”.
Asked about immigration and religious sponsorship, the Congressman’s staff said church sponsorship has become difficult because of widespread fraud and bogus churches. The Congressman said the Democrats and the President have been trying to get an amnesty programme passed but the Republicans are opposed. He said the Democratic House passed the Dream Act that would have granted residency to undocumented college students but the Senate Republicans blocked its passage in the Senate and the bill died. Meeks said he is in favour of Comprehensive Immigration Reform but noted “there is no hope for immigration reform in this Congress”.
Asked about police harassment of Guyanese in Richmond Hill and the planned closure of Richmond Hill high school where hundreds of Guyanese are enrolled, Meeks said “those are local matters that don’t fall under federal purview”. However, he said he is willing to be an advocate and talk to legislators from the City Council and the State Legislature. He suggested that the community seek the intervention of the Council members of the area to address these local matters.
The Congressman assured the community that the Democrats have been battling the Republicans and will do all possible to address medicare and the employment situation, debt ceiling, taxation, etc. Meeks said the unemployment in the district is 15%. The Congressman is hosting a job fair on May 6 at York College to help people find jobs. He said the community should seek assistance from the Jamaica Business Resource Center and the York College Small Business Development Corporation to develop their small businesses.
In response to a question, that foreclosed homes from the community are directed to realtors from Long Island and people from the community are not being given an opportunity to acquire these foreclosed properties, Meeks said that home foreclosure is a big issue in the District. “It is an old boys’network that get the foreclosure list and access to buy the properties.
I have addressed this issue with Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac. They said our realtors must be registered and once they get registered, they should be able to get access to purchase or sell foreclosed properties. I agree that people from the community should get the first opportunity to foreclosed properties”.
Meeks told the gathering that his committee he has been battling the Republicans to increase aid to poor countries like Guyana.
The Congressman appealed to the community to file for citizenship if they are qualified residents. “You must register to vote to make your voices heard. We have got to organize to retake the majority in Congress”.
Meeks said he loves the diversity of the population of his district. He said: “America is a nation of immigrants and immigrants like you make America better”.