This issue prompted Melissa to write a letter to the Department of Education last year, signed by thirty-five Council Members inquiring about the DOE’s plan to improve the quantity and quality of gym class in City schools and to address the disparities between schools. Melissa was joined by education chair Robert Jackson along with other phys ed experts, all of whom discussed the many evidence-based benefits of PE, including improved academic achievement along with physical health.
Melissa expressed her strong stance on this issue:
“Providing quality physical education in our public schools is critical in a time when our City is facing a staggering childhood obesity epidemic! It is shocking that according to the City Comptroller’s Audit none of the 31 elementary schools visited were meeting State requirements for gym class, due to factors such as co-locations and budget cuts. This issue is particularly important to low-income communities of color such as the South Bronx, East and Central Harlem, and Bedford-Stuyvesant which are disproportionately impacted by higher rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other related illnesses. The issue of gym class is a symptom of the overall direction the DOE has been headed over the last decade. Budget cuts, a lack of gym teachers, an overemphasis on high-stakes test prep, and the co-location of charter schools, have all served to undermine physical education in our schools.”
Persistence and hard work does pay off. We ended 2012 with the honor of having Melissa’s hard work recognized with a Streetsie for Elected Official of the Year. If you don’t know, Streetsies are given by Streetsblog NYC, which covers all things sustainable transportation and advocates for “progressive policy changes that are saving lives and creating a more sustainable future for New York.”
The winner and Streetsblog’s Elected Official of 2012 is Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito. This was the year that the East Harlem representative’s persistent advocacy for safer streets in her district finally paid off, when the first protected bike lane above 96th Street was installed on Second Avenue. From speaking on the City Hall steps in 2010 to facing down the misinformation campaign against the project in 2011, Mark-Viverito was at the center of the effort to bring complete streets to East Harlem. This wasn’t the first time she’d taken a stand for livable streets, either. Mark-Viverito was the council’s clearest voice for congestion pricing in 2008, and she’s a big proponent of Bus Rapid Transit. If every City Council member was so willing to embrace change, progress would come to NYC streets a lot faster.
Today, Melissa joined her colleagues in announcing a new legislative action that will reduce the unjust deportations of immigrant families due to the federal Secure Communities program. Building on legislation sponsored by Melissa which became law last year, the two new pieces of legislation that will be introduced this month will limit the city’s ability to hand over immigrants who pose no threat to public safety for deportation proceedings. Melissa is the lead sponsor of one of the two new bills, which should receive a hearing within the first quarter of 2013. The other bill is sponsored by Speaker Christine Quinn.
Because of the current Secure Communities program in NYC, once an immigrant encounters the criminal justice system, they are at automatic risk of deportation. Under the current system, regardless of immigration status, age, criminal record or the accused crime, immigrants can be detained and deported – constantly living in fear. With this proposed legislation, the city would only be able to honor a detainer request from the federal Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) if the person poses a threat to our city or has serious criminal charges pending. It would specifically ensure that immigrant youth and individuals that only have old or very minor convictions, or convictions directly related to their immigration status like driving without a license, are not funneled into the deportation system.
“New York City continues to be at the forefront of protecting our immigrant communities from unjust deportations. I am proud that this Council is again ushering through legislation that expands our city’s ability to have discretion in its collaboration with federal immigration enforcement. This legislation comes in response to the forced roll out of Secure Communities in our state, which threatens to funnel immigrant New Yorkers directly from central booking to deportation centers. We must extend to our police precincts the same protections we put in place in our city’s jails to prevent the unfair deportation of immigrant New Yorkers. We also want to strengthen the current law to ensure that immigrant youth and immigrants with old or minor convictions are clearly protected from deportation. I thank Speaker Christine Quinn and Immigration Chair Danny Dromm for their leadership, as well as Make the Road New York and the Cardozo Law School for their continued advocacy.”
This legislation will surely serve as a model for other municipalities throughout the U.S. as we await for comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level. We will keep you all updated on this piece of legislation.