by Richard Cowen
With an election cycle that has been filled with negative stereotypes and outright insults directed at Latinos, Rep. Bill Pascrell visited Passaic High School on Thursday to deliver what he called a “real life” message about equality.
“It doesn’t matter if you were born in the Sahara Desert,” Pascrell told the teenagers assembled in the auditorium. “Everybody is equal. It’s not the Constitution that makes you equal. It’s the Constitution that guarantees your equality. You didn’t get your dignity from the Constitution. You got it the moment you were born.”
The Paterson-bred Pascrell is running for reelection to his 9th District congressional seat against another Patersonian, the Republican Hector Castillo, but there were not a lot of votes in this audience. Almost all of the kids in the auditorium were too young to cast a ballot, but the high school is 85 percent Latino and the city has a sizeable population of undocumented residents.
Pascrell had debated Castillo on Tuesday night at the Englewood Library. His appearance at Passaic High School on Wednesday was billed as a celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15.
Pascrell ticked off the accomplishments of major latino political figures, among them Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor and Passaic’s mayor, Alex D. Blanco. But it seemed everyone had heard Donald J. Trump’s rants about Mexicans flooding across the border and his promise to round up illegal residents and deport them, and the students were curious to know where Pascrell stood.
Stephanie Rodriguez, a junior, wanted to know whether Pascrell favored deportation.
Pascrell said he was dead set against it. “This is not the America I want,” he said.
Pascrell said he believes that people who are in the country illegally should “pay a price” and then “go to the back of the line” when applying for citizenship. But he said that he is morally opposed to round-ups and said they are not feasible.
“The government has a right to know who’s coming to this country and who’s leaving,” Pascrell said. As for the fear of terrorism, Pascrell reminded the audience that many terrorist acts, starting with Timothy McVeigh and the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, are the work of American citizens.
“Many terrorists were born right here,” Pascrell said. “The question is, are we going to talk about this rationally or let our prejudices guide us?”
Pascrell said his grandparents emigrated from Italy. His mother and father, he said, had sixth grade educations, but worked hard. He was the first to go to college in his family, and when he graduated Fordham, his father thought he was going to law school. Instead, he chose to pursue a graduate degree in Philosophy.
Student Leslie Mendez wanted to know why he chose philosophy. “I wanted to learn about ideas,” Pascrell replied. “I wanted to learn about how people think. I wanted to ask basic questions, like why are we here?”
Other students were interested in more mundane things. Danny Velez, a sophomore, wanted to know what Pascrell was doing to bring in money to fix the roads and bridges.
That led Pascrell to make a long-winded explanation about New Jersey’s recent decision to increase the gas tax by 23 cents per gallon to rebuild the Transportation Trust Fund. Pascrell prefers that the gas tax at the federal level be indexed against the inflation rate. Closer to home, he spoke about the $3 million federally-funded project to reconfigure the NJ Transit bus depot on Main Avenue.
Like many in the room, student Guilermo Carpintero worried that that Republicans and Democrats were always fighting. Pascrell responded that he supported public education “because it lifts all boats,” and said the government had to do more to make college affordable.
Carpintero said he was satisfied with Pascrell’s answers. “He connects with us,” Carpintero said. “Both of my parents work, just like his parents.”
Posted October 20 2016 at 10:31 AM Permanent Link