Throngs of Long Islanders turned into immigration activists Saturday, protesting the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy.
Signs carried by local protesters proclaimed “Families Together,” “We Are A Country of Immigrants,” and “Make The World Great Again.” More than 750 “Families Belong Together” demonstrations across the country drew hundreds of thousands of people who want the administration to reunite immigrant families and abolish the detention of families, according to The Associated Press.
“I believe that families belong together,” said Alethea Shapiro, 39, of Roslyn, one of a few hundred who braved the scorching heat to demonstrate in Westbury Village Plaza. Her 3-year-old son grinned as he posed for a photo, holding a sign that read, “2047 children still separated from their parents.” His mother continued: “I have four children and I can’t even imagine ever being separated from them.”
To deter illegal immigration, the Trump administration adopted the “zero-tolerance” policy to arrest and prosecute immigrants who are suspected of illegally crossing the border.
Under the policy, if an adult was with a child when caught at the U.S.-Mexico border, the U.S. government would put the child into a shelter or foster care during the prosecution. Trump reversed the separation practice on June 20 in response to political pressure and public outcry, amid accounts and images of children crying as they were taken from their parents after crossing the border.
There are an estimated 2,000 families who remain separated, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, and many families say they do not know how to find their children.
“The Trump Administration has been engaged — since January of 2017 — in restoring order to the lawlessness at the Southwest border and protecting our nation’s citizens, but we are beholden to a broken immigration system that Congress has refused to fix and that courts have exacerbated,” the Department of Justice said in a news release Friday.
The president took to Twitter amid the protests, including to show his support for Immigration and Customs Enforcement as some Democrats called for major changes to the agency.
The sidewalks at Route 110 and Jericho Turnpike in Huntington Station were crowded with demonstrators — unofficially estimated at 800 to 1,000 — some chanting “Say it loud, say it clear, immigrants are welcome here.”
“No child should be punished for wanting a better life,” said Hector Acosta, 34, of Huntington, wearing a baseball cap with a large X scrawled through the letters “ICE,” which stands for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
For Acosta, the issue is personal; he was 8 years old when his family came here. “I feel fortunate that my parents had the know-how and the means to bring my entire family to the United States, and I believe that everyone should have that right,” he said.
Pamela Laskin, a part-time Lido Beach resident, recalled that her relatives relied on forged papers to flee Germany and enter the United States during World War II.
“These are not criminals,” Laskin said. “We always have room for people trying to come into the country,” said Laskin, who helped organize the Lido Beach march to spark dialogue within the community.
“This is not the America I know.”
Thousands also took to the streets in New York City to join in the nationwide rallies. In Manhattan’s Foley Square, sign-holding picketers filled the plaza, a nearby courthouse’s steps and surrounding streets, chanting, banging drums, and handing out anti-Trump literature, before marching toward the Brooklyn Bridge for a rally across the East River in Brooklyn.
Pepper Lewis, a 39-year-old retired caretaker from upstate Croton-on-Hudson, said she wants no immigration limits, assuming a migrant has good intentions and isn’t a member of a gang like MS-13.
“If we all open our arms and welcome one another and welcome each other, this world would be a much better place,” she said.
Dan Ocampo, 22, of the Upper East Side, a paralegal and U.S. citizen originally from the United Kingdom, said he would be willing to agree to the U.S.-Mexico border wall proposed by Trump and stronger borders in exchange for concessions such as the abolition of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, easing immigration limits, and more acceptance of refugees in need.
“Undocumented people in this country is not good for anybody,” he said. “It creates abuse. They live in fear of the law.”
Back in Huntington Station, Hope Mann, 72, of Northport, said she had only participated in one political protest in her life before Trump was elected. This was her sixth since then. “How could a government do that to people?” she asked of the family separation policy. “Our government,” she corrected herself.
“We should take down the Statue of Liberty, I guess,” she added.
There were a handful of counterprotesters there. One young man leaned out the back window of a car, shouting at demonstrators in Huntington Station.
In Rockville Centre, local speakers told the crowd to advocate for immigration reforms in the upcoming election by contacting elected officials.
“We have been the silent majority for far too long now,” said Emma Travers, co-founder of Raising Voices, an activist organization. “This protest is only the beginning.”
Joan Gralla, Matthew Chayes, Sabrina Escobar, Raisa Camargo, Jesse Coburn and The Associated Press reported this story. It was written by Gralla.