Activists at a pair of Long Island events held Sunday to highlight the plight of children separated from their parents at the Mexican border included the woman who climbed the Statue of Liberty to protest President Donald Trump's "zero-tolerance" immigration policy.
"I had to take a stand that putting children in cages is inhumane," said Patricia Okoumou, 45, of Staten Island, who joined about 70 others for Sunday’s afternoon rally at the corner of Route 110 and Jericho Turnpike in Huntington Station. "Something has gone wrong with our government. We can't tolerate Trump's actions."
Okoumou and others at the rally demanded that federal officials find the thousands of immigrant children they said are missing after being separated from their families at the United States' southern border.
She became a national symbol of resistance to Trump's immigration stance when she scaled the base of the Statue of Liberty on July Fourth last year.
Later Sunday, Okoumou met with activists in Massapequa who were writing letters to children they said continue to live in shelters after being separated from their parents. The activists also wrote letters to Nassau County Executive Laura Curran asking her to end county cooperation with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Faith Rashid, of Mill Neck, was among those writing letters to Curran.
“I want her to know we don’t want ICE in our neighborhood," Rashid said.
Stephen Figurasmith, a co-founder of the group, Prison Abolitionists of Nassau Inciting Change, said Curran "got elected riding on a wave of anti-Trump sentiment, and now that she’s in office she needs to remain accountable to those values.”
Late last year, Nassau officials asked ICE agents to leave the correctional center in East Meadow by the end of January. Curran later changed her position, allowing ICE to remain at the neighboring Nassau University Medical Center, which prompted concerns that patients would avoid the hospital in fear of getting deported. Curran then said ICE could stay at a correctional center trailer while she reviewed an agency proposal for permanent quarters there but away from the visitors’ center.
In a statement Sunday, Curran said: “I recognize the legitimate concern about this issue in the immigrant community, which I take seriously. I want to make sure that all our residents — including those who are undocumented — don’t have to live in fear and can feel safe reporting threats and criminal acts to our police. It is important to know however, that ICE will remain at the NC Corrections Center, where they have been for over two decades, until we can find a solution that works for everyone.”
Organizers of the Huntington Station rally said Rep. Tom Suozzi (D- Glen Cove) had contributed a statement of support.
In a phone interview Sunday, Suozzi called Trump’s policy a “disgrace.”
"It's an awful, awful policy of this administration, to separate children from their parents," Suozzi said. "There's just no circumstance where that makes sense."
Former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in April announced the "zero-tolerance policy" along the southern border for violation of the law prohibiting entry or attempted entry by those without proper documentation.
The Department of Health and Human Services originally identified 2,737 children who had been taken away from their parents, federal officials said.
However, a report issued by the inspector general for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services last month estimated that thousands of children had been detained and released before the policy began.
"I just think it's important as a parent and human to support getting children and their families back together," said protester Colleen Furrini, 54, of Centerport.