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Long Beach immigration rights forum draws more than 100 people

A panel of legal experts including Elise S.

A panel of legal experts including Elise S. Damas, director of Pathway to Citizenship Long Island, center, discuss community immigration concerns at St. Mary of the Isle Community Center in Long Beach on Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017. Photo Credit: Newsday / Jeffrey Basinger

Immigrant advocates at a Long Beach community forum Sunday reassured a fearful community that they could trust the police, while still warning them about the ever-changing circumstances for people without legal documentation under the Trump administration.

The Long Beach Latino Civic Association organized the event, which drew more than 125 people to St. Mary of the Isle Community Center for a discussion about immigrants’ rights in the era of Trump’s vision of immigration reform, officials said.

“We have to be realistic with the community about what it is that they’re facing,” said Elise S. Damas, director of Pathway to Citizenship Long Island, a program that provides free citizenship legal services to low-income immigrants.

“We’re seeing an administration that from the first week has targeted all swaths of the immigrant community, from undocumented, to visa holders, to even green card holders,” she said.

Attendees had the opportunity to ask questions of the panelists, who included state State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), Long Beach Police Commissioner Michael Tangney and representatives from the offices of state Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas.

Many of the questions from the audience focused on understanding their rights and how to deal with law enforcement.

“If you are here, you will be treated the same as everybody else who is in this city,” Tangney said, drawing applause from the crowd.

The police commissioner was asked by audience members whether police in Long Beach and across Long Island were working with federal immigration officials to find and deport people.

The short answer, Tangney said, was no. But Tangney acknowledged that could change with a federal directive.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced new rules to fulfill Trump’s pledge to crack down on illegal immigration. According to DHS memos signed by Secretary John Kelly, ICE can target people here illegally for any offense or on suspicion of committing a crime.

The Trump administration also has stated plans to work to deputize local police to act as ICE agents, a fearful topic among some Long Beach residents at Sunday’s forum.

“We’re terrified, really,” said Angela, a Long Beach resident originally from the Dominican Republic who declined through a translator to give her last name. “People don’t want to go out on the street.”

Officials at the forum urged attendees to feel safe contacting law enforcement if they are victims of a crime.

“We will never ask about immigration status, ever,” said T.J. Hatter, Long Island director of intergovernmental affairs for Schneiderman’s office.

Tangney said police are there to protect people, particularly from scammers pretending to be immigration agents or attorneys promising a green card in exchange for a large upfront payment.

“None of us [in local law enforcement] are going to commit resources to deport a person that is productive and did nothing wrong,” Tangney said, to another round of applause. “Every police chief I spoke to supports the people in this country.”

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