Staten Island’s Sam Pirozzolo, who was elected to the New York State Assembly for the 63rd Assembly District on November 8, 2022, is no stranger to the borough’s issues and concerns.
Pirozzolo successfully managed his family’s optical practice for over three decades and served as the seven-year president of the Community Education Council (CEC) in District 31. He was also the Vice-President of the NYC Parents Union for almost a decade. Pirozzolo is well-equipped to take on the unique challenges facing New York City.
Some of his most notable accomplishments include establishing a Gifted and Talented program for middle school students and reintroducing yellow school buses to the streets of Staten Island.
In an exclusive interview with Mona Davids for LittleAfrica News, Assemblyman Pirozzolo discussed various challenges the city is facing and shared his opinions on the matter.
The Right-to-Shelter Policy’s Consequences
Established in 1981, New York City’s right-to-shelter policy was introduced with the primary objective of guaranteeing housing for the city’s homeless population.
However, the initiative, which was not designed to accommodate migrants, is now witnessing an influx, with over 110,000 migrants drawn to the city seeking its care.
Currently, the city is providing shelter and sustenance to approximately 60,000 individuals, leading to significant budgetary concerns with a projected shortfall of up to $12 billion in the next three years.
Many analysts and state residents have criticized that most migrants are likely not eligible for asylum, viewing them primarily as economic migrants who don’t meet asylum qualifications.
Pirozzolo echoed this sentiment, noting that he has encountered numerous families from regions like Russia, Ukraine, Africa, and Europe who journey to Mexico with the singular intention of crossing into the United States.
Elaborating on the original intention behind the right-to-shelter policy, Pirozzolo emphasized it was a decree between New York City and the Coalition for the Homeless, facilitated by the Legal Aid Society, specifically for the city’s homeless population.
He noted that when the rules were established, “no one could have imagined that [the right-to-shelter policy] would have expanded to the homeless of the world.”
Adding to this, Pirozzolo shared, “I will tell you that these people are not homeless. They’re leaving their home, coming here because the Adams administration has somehow given the impression that if they come to New York, they will be fine. They will be given a place to live. They’ll be given a job.”
He also drew attention to reports indicating that some migrants are allegedly paying coyotes and drug dealers in Mexico thousands of dollars to enter the U.S. illegally. However, he points out that these migrants are not using this money to hire immigration lawyers for legal entry into the country.
Migrant Crisis is about “Dollars”
To a question about why the city’s shelter rule has been facing unprecedented challenges since last spring despite being in place for four decades, Pirozzolo remarked, “It’s not about the migrants, it’s about the dollars.”
He elaborated on his perspective, suggesting that NYC is grappling with fiscal challenges due to its mismanagement of funds and, in desperation, is looking towards federal aid to plug its budgetary gaps.
However, Pirozzolo is skeptical about the city receiving any substantial federal assistance. He believes that if the Biden administration aids New York, it would set a precedent, prompting other cities to demand similar financial support.
He highlighted that “Giving money to illegal migrants when we have so many American homeless on the streets and so many American veterans on the streets would reflect poorly on the Biden administration in the lead-up to next year’s election.”
Pirozzolo Challenges Migrant Shelter in Staten Island
Assemblyman Pirozzolo is a plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging the housing of migrants at St. John’s Villa Academy in Staten Island, previously reported on by LittleAfrica News.
St. John’s Villa Academy, a formerly unused Catholic private school, currently shelters approximately 300 migrants. Pirozzolo and other plaintiffs assert that by using this facility for migrant housing, the Adams administration is violating zoning regulations and other established norms.
The case’s presiding Judge, Wayne Ozzi, agreed with the plaintiffs’ arguments, directing the city to “immediately” relocate the migrants from the academy.
In his ruling, Judge Ozzi described the shelter guarantee as “an anachronistic relic from the past,” noting it was meant to tackle an issue vastly different from today’s challenges.
In a recent interview, Adams expressed a similar belief that the city’s right-to-shelter policy does not apply to migrants.
However, his administration challenged Judge Ozzi’s ruling and secured a temporary stay in the high court, citing concerns over Ozzi’s assessment that the city’s policies directly led to the current situation.
Addressing the backlog in legal immigration processing, Pirozzolo proposed that instead of spending on temporary accommodations like hotels and shelters, funds could be diverted to bolster immigration personnel, promoting lawful entry.
Further, Pirozzolo expressed his reservations about the federal government’s decision to grant Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Venezuelan migrants. He questioned the criteria, asking if economic downturns in foreign nations are now grounds for asylum.
This sentiment comes after the federal government announced offering humanitarian relief to Venezuelans in the U.S. last week.
According to a Department of Homeland Security official, the decision will make approximately 472,000 Venezuelans eligible for TPS and work permits. This new policy will permit these migrants to obtain work authorization without undergoing the usual 180-day waiting period applicable to asylum applicants.
Responding to the often-repeated sentiment that immigrants built New York, Pirozzolo emphasized a distinction. He stated, “This country was built on immigrants…who came here the legal way.”
He indicated that it seems that the city has currently adopted an open-door policy, stating, “We’re just saying come, we’re not checking their medical status. We’re not checking their criminal status. We’re not checking their financial status. We’re just saying, if you are not here and you wanna come here, come on in, and we’ll figure out the rest later.”
New York City has seen more than 25,000 migrant students enrolled in public schools since last year. Yet, despite this increase, a staggering enrollment gap has emerged partly due to the pandemic, with the city losing approximately 120,000 students over the past five years, as reported by city officials.
Assemblyman Pirozzolo pointed out that a significant drop in student enrollment might be attributed to the quality of education provided in certain city schools.
In some of these schools, around 95% of students are not proficient in foundational skills like math, reading, or writing, according to their grade level.
Pirozzolo believes that a prevalent system of “social promotion,” where students advance to the next grade regardless of their academic achievement, is exacerbating the issue.
Pirozzolo also voiced concerns regarding the financial implications of the recent surge in migrant students.
Given that city schools rely heavily on state funding for operations, he stressed, “The average general education student may have been worth $25,000 to a particular school. That doesn’t include special education, English language learners, or any other classifications. So the least expensive, I guess it could be, was $25,000 a head.”
Pirozzolo feared that the financial burden associated with accommodating thousands of migrant students could potentially bankrupt the New York State Government.
School safety has been a significant concern for New York parents over the years. There have been numerous incidents where authorities have confiscated firearms and other weapons like knives.
However, due to a shortage of police and School Safety Agents, the city struggles to maintain consistent security measures in educational institutions, leaving many parents anxious about their children’s well-being.
During the interview, when questioned about what more parents could do to urge city officials to ensure children’s safety both in and outside of schools.
In response, Pirozzolo succinctly stated, “The short answer is you need to vote Republican.”
He added, “I’m not saying the Republicans have all the answers in the world, don’t get me wrong. But the Democrats certainly do not have the answers.”
Staten Island: Secession from NYC
Addressing Staten Island’s ongoing discussion of secession from NYC, Pirozzolo highlighted residents’ sentiment of not receiving a fair exchange for their tax contributions.
He emphasized that elected officials, including the borough’s president, are conducting a study to determine the amount Staten Island contributes in taxes versus what is required to operate the city effectively.
**Mona Davids, founder and publisher of LittleAfrica News is also the President of the NYC Parents Union and has worked with Sam Pirozzolo for over a decade on Education and School Safety issues.
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