Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) addresses audience at a town hall...

Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) addresses audience at a town hall in the Uniondale Public Library on Saturday. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin/Debbie Egan-Chin

Dozens of New York’s fourth congressional district residents turned out to Rep. Kathleen Rice’s monthly town hall on Saturday to ask her position on a wide range of issues, from providing a pathway to citizenship for temporary protected status holders to the state’s bail reform law.

Though most of the hourlong forum was tame, tension between constituents and the congresswoman escalated a few times in the Uniondale Public Library basement theater when the conversation would shift toward national and partisan issues.

“Is this a campaign rally or a town hall,” one resident yelled when Rice, a moderate-Democrat whose seat is up for reelection in November, began to criticize the Republican Party and more liberal Democrats in Congress.

“Right now, there is a very stark divide in the Democratic Party,” said Rice (D-Garden City). “There has been a lot of conflict because you have the Alexandria [Ocasio-Cortez] and her wing in the party, and then you have all the new members, and if they don’t come back, we’re going to lose control of the House.”

Danilo Osejo, 48, of Hempstead, said he had held a temporary protected status since 1999 and went to the town hall in hopes of getting Rice's support to help constituents like him obtain citizenship.

“Everyone in Congress likes to speak about the dreamers, which I’m OK with, but I believe TPS holders have been waiting in line for years for this opportunity.”

TPS holders face an uncertain future in the country after the Trump administration ordered an end to the program. Federal courts are considering legal challenges to the decision and the Department of Homeland Security extended TPS until 2021.

Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) holds a town hall in...

Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) holds a town hall in the Uniondale Public Library on Feb 22, 2020. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin/Debbie Egan-Chin

“I support a path to citizenship one thousand percent, I always have,” Rice said. “But right now, immigration, especially leading up to this election, is going to be weaponized … We’ll revisit this when we see what the Supreme Court does.”

Kamau Cush, of Freeport, said after the town hall that he thought Rice's stance on issues affecting underrepresented communities needed to go more to the left.

"Rep. Kathleen Rice is a moderate but the issues that are confronting all citizens, especially African-Americans and Latinos, aren’t moderate issues," Cush said, adding that he wants Rice to support bail reform and legislation to provide more affordable housing units.

The state's bail reform law, which eliminated cash bail for most misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies, has sparked a political debate among Democrats and is universally panned by Republicans.

"The justice system clearly needs to be fixed," Rice said. "We have to address these policies that have a disproportionately negative affect on people of color, but I don’t think you do that by saying no one can be held in jail during the pendency of their case when you have violent sex offenders."

Rice will hold a town hall next month, but details are still being worked out, her aides said.


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