Senator Jose Peralta speaks at CIANA's office with CIANA Executive Director Emira Habiby Browne to his left, August 2017. Photo: Carissa Davies
Astoria, NY- State Senator Jose Peralta suddenly passed away the night before Thanksgiving 2018 at the age of 47. In 2010, Senator Peralta broke barriers as the first Dominican-American elected to the New York State Senate. During his eight-year tenure, he fought not only for the Dominican community in Queens, but all immigrants, as well as other marginalized groups, children, families, schools, and more.
Peralta’s support for immigrants was tied to his own background as the child of two immigrants from the Dominican Republic. He first moved to Queens from Washington Heights when he was eight years old, and graduated from Flushing High School and then from Queens College, where he was the first Student Body President of Hispanic origin. Peralta embodied the American dream, coming from a working class background and moving up to become a leader and an advocate for the community. After graduating college, he worked a number of public policy-related jobs, including as a community liaison for the New York State Assembly and as the Director of the Commission on the Dignity for Immigrants, a division of the New York City Central Labor Council.
Peralta was first elected to the State Assembly to represent District 39 in 2002, where he proposed changes to drug laws and to increase the minimum wage, and voted for same-sex marriage in 2007. In 2010, he won a special election for State Senate to replace disgraced Senator Hiram Monserrate, and was reelected in three more times. As a Senator, Peralta represented District 13, which encompasses Astoria, Jackson Heights, East Elmhurst, and Woodside, neighborhoods with large immigrant populations.
District 13 is also the one in which CIANA is located, one that has been the target of ICE raids and deportations since the Trump Administration began. Senator Peralta, along with Assembly Assistant Speaker Felix Ortiz, responded in July 2018 by proposing legislation to make New York a Sanctuary State, limiting the ability of law enforcement to work with ICE and target undocumented New Yorkers, who, according to a report referenced by Peralta, make up a crucial component of New York’s economy. Peralta’s proposal also vocally opposed family separation and supported abolishing ICE. CIANA attended the rally the late senator held, and issued a statement wholeheartedly condemning ICE.
Even as a member of the widely criticized Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), Peralta continued to fight for the rights of immigrants. Peralta and the IDC partnered with CIANA and numerous other immigration-oriented organizations, including the New York Immigrant Coalition, to form the Immigrant Defense Coalition, which provided legal and social services, as well as an emergency hotline, to immigrants in Peralta’s district.
Peralta also helped secure funds for CIANA from the State budget to fund free legal services for immigrants through CUNY Law School’s CLRN program.
Senator Peralta had many friends and allies within the State Senate, Assembly, and New York City Council. Council Member Francisco Moya, who represents Jackson Heights and succeeded Peralta in the State Assembly, was with Peralta’s family shortly after Peralta’s death and issued a statement regarding the passing of his close friend. Primary challenger Jessica Ramos, who unseated Senator Peralta in the 2018 Primary Election, expressed her condolences as well.
We at CIANA are grateful for the work that Senator Peralta did for his constituents, many of whom are our clients. Peralta understood the importance of the integration of immigrants while allowing them to hold on to their rich, diverse cultures, and we will always be thankful that we worked to achieve these goals together. We extend our deepest sympathy to Peralta’s wife, Evelyn, and their two sons.