Adriano de Jesus Espaillat was born on September 27, 1954, in Santiago, Dominican Republic. When he was nine, Espaillat and his family migrated illegally to the United States. After graduating from Queens College in 1978 with a B.S. degree in political science, Espaillat became a community organizer and an advocate for crime victims’ rights, working as a court services coordinator for the New York City Criminal Justice Agency from 1980-88. From 1991-1993, he was a member of Governor Mario Cuomo’s Dominican-American Advisory Board. And from 1994-1996, he served as director of Project Right Start, an initiative designed to combat substance abuse by children and teens.
Espaillat’s political career began in 1993, when he became a district leader with the New York County Democratic Committee, a post he continues to hold. Moreover, Espaillat served in the New York State Assembly from 1996-2010, and in the New York State Senate from 2011-17.
In 2012 and 2014, Espaillat ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. House of Representatives seat held by longtime incumbent Charles Rangel, representing New York’s 13th Congressional District. But after Rangel retired in 2016, Espaillat was elected to succeed him, thereby becoming the first Dominican-born individual — and the first former illegal alien — ever to serve in the U.S. House. There, he is a member of both the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Espaillat also tried to join the Congressional Black Caucus but was prevented from doing so when a number of its members objected to admitting anyone who was not African American.
In July 2014, while tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador were illegally flooding across the Mexican border and into several southern U.S. states, then-State Senator Espaillat spoke in favor of admitting them into the country. “I think to slam the door on them and send them back is un-American,” he said.
Espaillat has repeatedly advocated on behalf of the DREAM Act, legislation that aims to legalize and eventually naturalize a large number of so-called “Dreamers” — i.e., illegal-alien teens and young adults who first came to the United States as minors. On September 19, 2017, Espaillat was arrested while participating in a pro-DREAM Act demonstration in front of Trump Tower in New York City. Also arrested were such notables as Luis Gutiérrez, Raul Grijalva, and Melissa Mark-Viverito.
Espaillat is a staunch backer of former President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative, which began with a 2012 executive action temporarily protecting hundreds of thousands of young illegal aliens from deportation. When President Donald Trump in 2017 sought to phase out the DACA program, Espaillat charged that Trump had “declared all-out war on immigrant youth.”
Espaillat has condemned President Trump’s call for the construction of a wall along the southwestern U.S. border. In August 2017, the congressman stated that Trump’s proposal: (a) was rooted in “fear-mongering”; (b) would divert “money away from Medicaid, which would hurt children and families, poor families, [and] women”; and (c) would “thro[w] salt on the wound of … what just happened in Charlottesville, Virginia.” The latter was a reference to an August 12, 2017 incident where, amid clashes between KKK/neo-Nazi demonstrators and Marxist/anarchist counter-protesters affiliated with Antifa, a deranged white supremacist had rammed his car into a crowd of leftists, killing one and injuring numerous others.
Espaillat has endorsed the policies of sanctuary cities, where illegal aliens are protected by local governments that refuse to cooperate with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. In January 2017, the congressman pledged to fight President Trump’s “un-American” pledge to cut off federal funding from such cities. “We will go to court, we will march, we will do anything that we have to do to prevent this … [and] to preserve our nation,” said Espaillat. Moreover, he co-sponsored the Safeguarding Sanctuary Cities Act of 2017, designed to “ensure that any State or local authority cannot lose Federal financial assistance if it limits or restricts compliance with an immigration detainer request.”
Espaillat stood against a January 2017 executive order by which President Trump attempted to place a temporary moratorium on the issuance of visas for people seeking to travel to the United States from seven majority-Muslim nations that were known to be hotbeds of Islamic terrorism. The congressman co-sponsored the Statue of Liberty Values Act of 2017 (SOLVe), which declared that Trump’s executive order “is null and void, shall have no force and effect, and may not be implemented, administered, enforced, or carried out.”
In October 2017, Espaillat joined 120 fellow members of Congress in signing a letter expressing their “deep disappointment” over President Trump’s announcement that he planned to admit no more than 45,000 foreign refugees to the U.S. in 2018. The signatories asserted that this number was “woefully insufficient when compared to the millions of people who have been forced to flee their home countries.” “As a nation of immigrants,” they added, “our country has a long history of welcoming newcomers of all different backgrounds. Any efforts to require refugees meet an assimilation standard misunderstands the purpose of our resettlement program which is to assist the most vulnerable.”
For an overview of Espaillat’s voting record on a variety of key issues, click here.
Further Reading: “Immigration” (Espaillat.House.gov); “New Lawmaker Was Once an Undocumented Immigrant” (RealClearPolitics, 11-17-2016); “Running for the House on Pride in His Roots, and Pure Energy” (NY Times, 6-18-2012); “Black Caucus Chafes at Latino Who Wants to Join” (Politico, 2-3-2017); “…Espaillat, Congressional Leaders Hold Moment of Truth Forum on Next Steps on Immigration in America” (9/20-2017); “Adriano Espaillat Says Trump’s Border Wall ‘Throws Salt in the Wound’ of Charlottesville” (Washington Times, 8-23-2017); “NYC Latino Congressmen Vow to Battle Trump’s Sanctuary City Executive Order in Court” (Observer, 1-26-2017).