Peter King, Mike Grimm, and the Immigration Problem of New York Conservatives

Protesters at Congressman Grimm's office in Staten Island.
Protesters at Congressman Grimm's office in Staten Island.

Over the last year I have met with Congressman Peter King privately on several occasions and been on the podium with him during public appearances talking about immigration reform. He has generally been warm and open to meeting with his Latino constituency in his newly redrawn Congressional District. On Friday night he delivered discouraging news about the chances for immigration reform this year to a mostly Latino Brentwood audience. While there is still a chance for passage he said, the push for reform has not caught fire among Republican House members.

While King was uncomfortable breaking the bad news, he has been one of the two dozen conservative voices for immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship. Much more problematic are the other New York House Republicans, none of whom have taken a pro-reform stand. Particularly problematic has been Congressman Mike Grimm.

Grimm is in the 11th Congressional District, which is typically described as the “Staten Island District” even though 40% of it is in Brooklyn. Grimm narrowly won re-election a year and half ago with just 52% of the vote. 28% of his constituents are either Latino or Asian American and the district voted for Obama in the last two elections. In other words, his district should be even more amenable to immigration reform than even Peter King’s.

Jacki Esposito of the New York Immigration Coalition says that “Grimm has done an excellent job of not making clear what is his real position on immigration, but his district is heavily immigrant…He says he supports immigrant families but he needs to stop talking and take action.”

There is no meaningful difference between King and Grimm’s respective island districts, but there is a difference in the two men. King is meeting with his immigrant constituents and listening to them, Grimm seems to only listen to the Tea Party.

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