Glen Cove and Nassau County officials on Sunday assured about 700 Latinos that they will be treated equally, no matter what their immigration status or ability to speak English.
“It’s very important to myself and to all of the public officials in Glen Cove that you aren’t afraid of coming to any of us with any problems or concerns,” said City Court Judge Richard J. McCord, who organized the meeting in the parish hall of St. Patrick Catholic Church directly after a Spanish-language Mass.
City schools Superintendent Maria Rianna, school board member Alexander Juarez, City Attorney Charles McQuair and Deputy Police Chief Christopher Ortiz were among the other speakers.
Silvia Pastor Finkelstein, who works with crime victims and witnesses as director of immigrant affairs for the Nassau County district attorney’s office, said some crime victims living in the country illegally are afraid to call authorities.
“The message I want to be very clear about is that the district attorney’s office will never ask a victim or witness your immigration status . . . ,” she said in Spanish. “Our function is to help you and protect you as people who live in our community. You have the same rights under the law as anyone else, whether you have papers or not.”
McCord said he began planning the forum after reading a Jan. 2 Newsday story in which Latino community leaders said some residents hesitate to seek assistance because of their immigration status or lack of fluency in English.
McCord and most others spoke in English through interpreter George Dargelo, who also interprets in the judge’s courtroom and in county courts. McCord and other officials said non-English-speaking residents can obtain assistance through interpreters or Spanish-speaking employees.
After the forum, officials mingled with residents over bagels and coffee.
Renato Salazar, 52, said the forum was especially important amid heightened anxiety among immigrants since the election of President Donald Trump, who has vowed to deport millions of people. The Peruvian immigrant is a U.S. citizen, but friends who are not legal residents tell him they sometimes worry about leaving home, for fear of being arrested by immigration authorities, he said.
“I’m afraid, even though I’m a citizen,” Salazar said. “I don’t have a sign that says I’m legal. They look at me and think I’m Mexican” and living in the country illegally.
“This gives us hope and security,” Salazar said of the forum. “In these very critical moments we are living in, it’s very important to have the hope that we get from all of these important people in the city.”