By Christine Sampson
The federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency’s activity on the East End has hit a level that the Organización Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island considers an all-out ruthless hunt, according to the group’s executive director, Minerva Perez.
In response, Ms. Perez has issued a passionate call to action for all local residents to help ICE’s targets — the vulnerable population of undocumented neighbors — feel safer in their own community.
“I’m not going to stand here and tell you how we’re going to undo current federal decrees, but I will share with you ways we can protect and support those among us who are most affected by these decrees,” she said.
OLA is circulating three petitions — a “red petition,” a “white petition” and a “blue petition.”
The red petition calls for local law enforcement agencies to stop honoring ICE administrative warrants, which are not signed by judges but are still used to detain community members simply on the suspicion that they are in the United States illegally. OLA says this practice is unconstitutional.
“There is nothing about this administrative warrant that is making us safer,” Ms. Perez said.
The white petition addresses another of OLA’s critical platforms: public transportation that covers enough area and is reliable. “Suffolk County is not providing viable bus transportation to its full community,” it reads.
The blue petition is also aimed at local law enforcement. It demands that officers are given access to live translation services both at headquarters and in the field so that community policing is safer, fairer and more effective. “At a time when trust and communication are needed to ensure the safety of all, we need to increase access to law enforcement for many who are too fearful to report crime as a victim or witness,” it reads.
“These are our top three priorities,” Ms. Perez said. “We are working toward immediate solutions — action we are going to be doing with your help.”
Many of the more than 100 people at Thursday’s forum signed these petitions and took home blank copies to solicit more signatures from friends, relatives and neighbors.
Ms. Perez reported the activities of ICE regionally have increased, with agents in unmarked cars engaging in what she said was racial profiling to pull over cars with Latino drivers and passengers, often hauling them off right then and there to hold them in the Riverhead jail. But, Ms. Perez said, sometimes it can be difficult to determine whether it is an actual police officer in an unmarked car attempting to pull over a driver. To help drivers determine whether they are being pulled over by an actual officer in an unmarked car, Ms. Perez advised them to use their cellphones to call 911, provide their information and ask the dispatcher if there is an officer attempting to pull them over. They should also pull over to the nearest well-lit, public parking lot that is likely to have video surveillance.
For those who may see such an incident taking place, Ms. Perez advised witnesses to not get involved, but rather to attempt, in a safe manner, to take photos or videos and send them to OLA, which is maintaining records of these incidents.
OLA has also hired a full-time attorney, who will be with the organization for at least three years, thanks to new funding from a donor.
Ms. Perez told the audience it is counterproductive and irresponsible for people to think, speak and act in ways that subdivide the community based on immigration status. She also said while people should be friendly, they should not go overboard in asking how people are doing or offering help, as it may cause someone to “clam up or shut down.” She instead suggested simply handing someone your business card as an introduction, an idea she borrowed from Kathryn Szoka, co-owner of Canio’s Books in Sag Harbor.
Ms. Perez also called for people to combat the spread of misinformation by staying informed.
Maria del Mar Buena, the editor of the online news outlet Riverhead Local en Español, who spoke at the event not as a journalist but as a community member, urged people to speak up in support of those who are being attacked.
“The Latino community needs the support of the non-Latino community,” she said. “We are stronger together.”