When Judge Richard J. McCord recently visited an English language class in Glen Cove to talk with more than two dozen Latin American immigrants, they peppered him with questions about supposed immigration raids in the city.
The rumors of raids were not true, McCord said. But the judge said after the class that the apprehension that underlied the questions illustrates the need to assure immigrants that they will be treated fairly by the court system and by local government.
“It’s incumbent upon people like myself and other public officials to get out in the community and make sure they’re aware of their rights, and that they’re aware of the services provided to them,” said McCord, the supervising judge for the Glen Cove City Court.
McCord on Sunday will speak at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Glen Cove after the Spanish-language Mass, at a forum that he has been planning for weeks as part of an outreach effort toward the city’s large Latino community — especially its Latin American immigrants.
McCord said he wants Latinos, whether they are living in the country legally or not, to feel comfortable in his courtroom and while interacting with local government. Officials from the Glen Cove Police Department and school system, the Nassau County district attorney’s office and the city attorney’s office also are scheduled to speak at the forum.
The judge in January began meeting with Latino community leaders to get advice on how to reach out to the city’s Hispanics and find out what their top concerns were. He then attended several gatherings, including the adult English language class.
McCord said he realizes some immigrants may not fully understand the U.S. legal system and may speak little or no English, so he explains the basics about his court — such the right to challenge tickets and the presumption of innocence — and tells them that interpreters are available.
McCord said he was spurred to action after reading a Jan. 2 Newsday story on efforts by the city’s Latinos to better organize themselves and to expand services to Hispanics.
The judge said he hadn’t realized that Latinos comprise nearly 30 percent of the city’s population and that some immigrants don’t report crimes because they fear police will turn them over to immigration authorities.
McCord told the class that the federal government, not the local police and courts, enforces immigration law.
“You don’t have to worry about someone saying, ‘Are you documented, are you undocumented?’ ” he said of his courtroom. “That question never, never comes up.”
Susana Armentia, a community organizer with the nonprofit Glen Cove Equal Opportunity Council, is one of the community leaders with whom McCord consulted. She said events like Sunday’s forum help build trust between immigrants and the courts, police and city government.
“They’re making them feel welcome,” she said.
A forum Sunday will educate Latinos in Glen Cove about the courts and police and about local services available to them. The forum will begin at 10 a.m., after the Spanish-language Mass, in the parish hall of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, 235 Glen St., Glen Cove. A light breakfast will be provided by the YMCA at Glen Cove.