Long Islanders of varying faiths came together Friday in Riverhead to talk about their concerns, issue calls for unity among neighbors and promote safety for local immigrants.
Amid increasing fears from local immigrants that they would be targeted for bias or deportation in the wake of Donald Trump’s election as president, nearly 100 people came to the First Baptist Church in Riverhead for a gathering focused on getting Nassau and Suffolk law enforcement agencies to talk about their plans to protect Long Island’s immigrant communities.
Francis Madi, a Venezuelan immigrant and senior regional outreach associate of the New York Immigration Coalition, said many immigrant and Muslim communities have been living in fear due to uncertainty over whether local authorities would assist with detainer requests from the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
“That is not OK, that is not a culture of safety,” Madi said. “I think it’s really important that if we are truly going to protect our communities that we don’t create this culture of fear.”
Peggy Fort, a former teacher and social justice chair of the immigrants rights group at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Stony Brook, said that recent rhetoric about “building walls” has put “absolute fear and terror” into immigrants she has worked with.
Advocates urged local law enforcement agencies not to cooperate with the federal agency and to instead protect and build trust with Long Island’s immigrant families and workers.
The event was the second in the past two weeks. Dozens of people attended a similar gathering on Nov. 30 at the Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury, where residents expressed worry about the vulnerability of local Muslims and immigrants to hate crimes after Trump’s election victory.
The president-elect vowed during his campaign to deport the 11 million immigrants living in the country illegally. Trump’s nominee for attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama), supports that ban and previously proposed legislation to defund President Barack Obama’s executive action protecting more than 700,000 “Dreamers,” young immigrants who entered the country illegally as children. There have been several reported incidents across the country of Muslims being attacked and harassed by people invoking Trump’s name as well as mosques defaced with the president-elect’s name.
Irma Solis, the Suffolk chapter director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said if Suffolk County law enforcement agencies reverted to honoring ICE detainer requests, it would be “devastating to our communities in Suffolk County and would undermine public safety.”
“More than ever, immigrants who think that law enforcement officers are working with immigration officials will be less likely to call when they are victim or witness to a crime,” Solis said. “Now is the time for Suffolk County law enforcement agencies to reaffirm their commitment to protecting the constitutional rights of all of its residents.”