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OpinionColumnistsMark Chiusano

Immigration ignites zeal in New York

The Hamilton Heights' community Facebook page.

The Hamilton Heights' community Facebook page.

This Harlem story starts on the Hamilton Heights neighborhood Facebook page, that forum of modernity. Last Friday, a group operator posted a warning about recent reports of Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials in the area, urging residents to know their rights.

A Manhattan resident named Lovelynn Gwinn responded. She immediately cranked things up to the usual internet DEFCON 1: “By undocumented you mean ILLEGALS! They didn’t follow the laws in order to immigrate here legally. When a person breaks the law they are criminals.”

Then Gwinn added the part that made this more than a story about social media: “Here [sic] the number to report them.” And she included an ICE tip number. This did not go down well among left-leaning New Yorkers in a heavily Hispanic neighborhood. She posted this number at a moment when ICE operations in New York City are common and lead to deportations that separate families.

And Gwinn was happy to double down: “If you are here illegally you breaking the law. Illegals are criminals! Time to clean things up!”

Her posting exposes the strong feelings some Americans have toward new immigrants, even if they themselves trace their lineage to past immigrants. Reached by phone, Gwinn, 51, said she is a supporter of President Donald Trump and a member of the National Rifle Association. She says she supports legal immigration, and is “very vocal” about illegal immigration. She thinks people should wait in line.

A real estate consultant, she says she is of Chinese and Filipino origin on her mother’s side, Syrian and Lebanese on her dad’s. She moved to New York from Hawaii and has lived in the Harlem area since the turn of the millennium.

She is under the false impression that ICE is arresting only people “doing bad things,” though the increase in immigrants arrested without criminal records is well-documented.

In short, she is a voter who is lockstep with Trump on his immigration policies, but not exactly a typical caricature of that voter. Which just goes to show that constituency’s reach even in liberal areas.

But Gwinn’s diatribe and the backlash also demonstrate the alarming and anxious moment we’re living in, when even neighbors fight about what America is and should mean.

“We just found out one of our neighbors is actively reporting people to ICE,” wrote one moderator under the group name. “[T]here is a fox in the hen house.”

Posts like this angered Gwinn. She says she has never reported anyone to ICE, and it’s true that her post didn’t directly mention it, though calling seems to be encouraged.

Gwinn says she is considering a defamation lawsuit.

Meanwhile, community board member Marti Gould Cummings had a more productive idea for the neighborhood: launch a know-your-rights campaign. So Cummings, 30, and about 30 others handed out info from the advocacy network United We Dream about the rights of immigrants here illegally in case ICE knocks.

“We don’t want to see families ripped apart,” says Cummings, referring to the ongoing immigration debate that continues to tear at the nation.

Mark Chiusano is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.