By Todd Maisel
Hundreds of mourners packed a church in Jackson Heights on Tuesday to pay their respects to the late State Sen. Jose Peralta.
The St. Joan of Arc Roman Catholic Church was filled to capacity to honor Peralta, who died at Elmhurst Hospital on Nov. 21 after suffering a heart attack.
Peralta’s loved ones and colleagues recognized his work, especially his personal crusade to pass the New York State DREAM Act.
The Washington Heights native’s wife Evelyn delivered the eulogy as her son Myles, 13, and stepson Matthew, 21 sat in the front pew with other relatives and friends. Matthew played classical music on a cello.
Evelyn took the moment to remember her husband as a loving and devoted father and to promote his mission to pass the DREAM Act.
The state DREAM Act was first introduced by State Sen. Jose Peralta and then-Assemblymember Francisco Moya in 2013. The bill, which has yet to pass, would allow college-bound undocumented immigrants to access the same in-state scholarships and financial aid available to U.S. citizens. Despite Peralta’s efforts, Republican-controlled state senate stymied the proposal.
Now, some state legislators and community leaders are calling for the DREAM Act to be named for the late senator.
“The one thing I would like to mention is his legislation on the New York State DREAM Act, this was a piece of legislation that he was passionate about,” said Evelyn. “It should be hoped that the New York State Assembly and Senate will bring to passage and perhaps give my husband some courage for being the main sponsor.”
Father Brian Jordan delivered a message about Peralta as a community advocate who helped those in need and believed that the DREAM Act was necessary for people of the state.
“I believe, as a priest and member of the Archdiocese, that the dream of the Dreamers Act will come true,” Jordan said. “You in New York State, you can make the Dreamers Act come true.”
Many other legislators echoed their call.
Assemblymember Felix Ortiz said he worked with Peralta closely and “lost a good friend.” He said that he worked with Peralta to get the DREAM Act to fruition.
“We have to give him a lot of credit for his dedication to make sure those dreamers will have the opportunity in the state of New York as he had,” Ortiz said. “By naming the bill in his name would be a great privilege for his family and for all those dreamers to never forget who it was who Jose Peralta was.”
Hiram Monserrate, whose criminal activities cost him a seat in the state senate that Peralta won in a 2010 special election, said the DREAM Act represented much Peralta’s message.
“He preached unity and support for the immigrant community and I hope that the DREAM Act becomes a reality and that would be the ultimate legacy for him,” Monserrate said.
Councilmember Daniel Dromm called Peralta “a good friend” and “a brother from another mother.” Dromm said naming the DREAM Act for Peralta would be a great tribute.
Queens Borough President Melinda Katz said she was shocked by Peralta’s sudden death. She added that the Dream Act “is very special to a lot of people and there is a lot of folks in the borough of Queens especially that will benefit from the Dream Act so my first priority is to get it passed – there is a lot of work to do there.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio also attended funeral and left without fanfare. Governor Cuomo was not in attendance despite his $10,000 contribution to a GoFundMe page set up for Peralta’s funeral fund.
Peralta was the first Dominican-American elected to the state senate. He attended Flushing High School and later CUNY’s Queens College. Peralta served as a community liaison for the State Assembly, performed outreach in the Latino community, and advocated for immigrants in the New York City Central Labor Council.