When New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito was first elected to office in January 2014, she was described by The New York Times as “fiercely liberal.” Now in her second term, the native Puerto-Rican has lived up to the label, particularly in her fight for immigration reform in the city.
“There are circumstances whereby people are being held for non-violent, low-level offenses, without probable cause, and that is not constitutional,” Mark-Viverito told Fusion’s Jorge Ramos. “Those are kind of the nuances that we have to figure out as a municipality and as a city.”
New York City has lately been referred to as a “sanctuary city,” a local government that does not comply with requests to detain undocumented immigrants. Congressional Republicans and presidential candidates have been especially critical of these U.S. cities and its leaders. Republican presidential contender Bobby Jindal recently told Boston Herald Radio that the mayors of so-called “sanctuary cities” should be jailed.
Mark-Viverito, however, is proud of the reputation her city has earned, even by a Republican’s definition, she says.
“Due to the inaction of congress and the obstructionist, reactionary policies of Republicans, municipalities and cities like New York are kind of left to fend for ourselves to figure out exactly what are we going to do when it comes to immigration matters,” she told Ramos. “We are a city that welcomes immigrants.”
But the speaker, who is also the city’s first Hispanic to hold the office, doesn’t let party lines keep her from being critical: she’s taken a clear stance against New York Mayor and fellow Democrat Bill de Blasio on criminal justice reform, and has publicly called on President Obama to help Puerto Rico’s $72 billion debt crisis—an issue that literally hits close to home.
She said she’s using her platform as a boricua and “Puertorriqueña” to highlight the issues facing the island where her parents and grandparents continue to reside.
“My focus right now for Puerto Rico is the economic crisis that exists, the healthcare crisis that exists,” she told Ramos. “Right now the situation is so dire, that I think the focus has to be on what we can do to provide relief.”
Watch the full interview above to hear more on the speaker’s plans for New York City and her thoughts on Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.