Young immigrants and their supporters rallied Friday afternoon outside Rep. Peter King’s Massapequa Park district office, protesting aggressive immigration enforcement and asking the congressman to commit to protecting them and their families.
About 100 people gathered at the nearby Long Island Rail Road station, chanting “No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here” as they marched a short distance to the congressman’s office, where they were kept inside police barricades.
The demonstration was organized by the Dream Coalition, a group that supports the efforts of young immigrants — known as “Dreamers” — who were either brought illegally to the United States or overstayed their visas as minors.
Advocates are focusing on the Seaford Republican because he has backed President Donald Trump’s restrictive executive actions on immigration matters — but also because he represents a sprawling district that includes communities like Brentwood, Central Islip and Patchogue, where many immigrants reside.
Angel Reyes Rivas, an advocate with the Manhattan-based group LatinoJustice, said immigrants are tired of being criminalized to justify enforcement.
“I’m here to tell you that we are not criminals, that we must not let this bring us down,” Reyes Rivas said to cheers and applause.
Advocates said King has been inconsistent, supporting Dreamers on the one hand while also backing Trump’s strict enforcement agenda on the other.
But King said before the protest that “some people don’t know when they are getting a break,” because he has publicly called for those young immigrants to be shielded from enforcement.
“I have said that I hope the Dreamers who obeyed the law, have gone to school and/or served the military get a path to citizenship,” he said.
Enforcement actions under Trump, he said, are not focused on the law-abiding population.
“I know that the overwhelming majority of those being targeted are people with criminal backgrounds, people who are gang members, and the overall majority of those deported are bad people and should be deported,” King said.
While there was no organized counterprotest, a few men standing outside a bar on the other side of the road shouted “Build that wall!” and “Eight more years!” — referring to Trump and his plans for a barrier along the southern border with Mexico.
At one point protesters responded with chants of “Love not hate; that’s what makes America great!”
Immigrant advocates see the recent policy changes under Trump as threatening to communities and families in which people of different statuses coexist under one roof — particularly as the administration moves to increase deportations and largely do away with exemptions and the use of prosecutorial discretion that shielded some immigrants.
Gail Inzerillo, a West Sayville resident who joined the protest, said she couldn’t stand idly by while her congressman supports a Trump agenda that goes against American values. She wore a button that read: “Elect a smart decent person 2020.”
Immigrant’s advocates also have cited as an example of indiscriminate enforcement the recent case of Daniel Ramirez Medina, a 23-year-old Seattle man arrested on Feb. 10 and detained for deportation to Mexico despite being a Dreamer. The federal government claims Medina admitted to “gang activity,” but his lawyers dispute that claim.
Many Dreamers have been protected from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, authorized by executive action in 2012 under President Barack Obama, partly as recognition that those children have grown up immersed in American culture and shouldn’t be penalized for decisions adults made to bring them here.
About 14,000 of those young immigrants on Long Island were believed eligible to apply under Obama’s deferred action, according to the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington research nonprofit.
“We just want to make sure ... that the hate against immigrants stops, that the DACA program doesn’t end,” said immigrant advocate Francis Madi, a Hempstead resident and DACA recipient herself. “There are many people in the immigrant community who are very scared right now.”
With The Associated Press