‘Living In Fear’

outhampton Town residents pack town hall in support of legislation proposed by Organización Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island human rights lawyer Andrew Strong. Independent/Courtesy Southampton Town
Minerva Perez, executive director of Organización Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island, asks Southampton Town board members to adopt legislation to limit ICE agents’ communication with town police officers. Independent/Courtesy Southampton Town

Hampton Bays resident Nelly Amaya fought back tears as she spoke of how she and her neighbors are living in fear. Once an undocumented immigrant, she was detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in 2007. She’s been a citizen for four years now, and said she’s since then tried to leave the country due to her rising anxiety, and was shocked and dismayed when she found out she couldn’t leave because of her daughter’s medical condition.

“I need to be strong,” she said, crying, holding up her driver’s license at a September 25 meeting of the Southampton Town Board. “I have been documented for four years. We pay our taxes. My little ones are citizens. When I was detained by ICE, they destroyed my life. I’m scared to even go to the pharmacy, wondering if someone I come across is racist.”

She joined nearly 25 people — half of whom were members of Organización Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island, the Southampton Town Anti-Bias Task Force, and Neighbors in Support of Immigrants, among other local organizations — who urged that the Southampton Town Board consider adopting legislation that would limit town police’s cooperation with ICE agents holding administrative warrants for non-violent immigrants.

Human rights lawyer Andrew Strong, who is working with OLA to draft the legislation, said he’s hoping the town can follow suit with other New York communities in doing two things: not honor administrative warrants and manage what information flows from local law enforcement to ICE officials.

“They’re both viable and mean so much to this community,” he said. “There’s not a lot that we can do about the federal stuff that’s happening, but what’s really exciting about tonight and about your position on the town board is there are concrete things we can do. We need to say to our vulnerable population, ‘We see you, and we support you.’”

Strong said the legislation he is drafting will be presented to the board at the end of the week. He said he believes law enforcement is being roped into doing the federal government’s job, which, he added, creates a significant liability for the town and undermines community members.

Minerva Perez, executive director of OLA, reinforced the need for local law.

“We need legislation that explicitly states how this town will protect members of our community now — not as an empty and toothless proclamation, but as a means to lawfully protect peaceful members of our community,” the Southampton resident said. “I lead with love and respect. I know how much you all care and how much the chief cares, but we are facing times that require a level of diligence like no other. It’s not politics anymore — it’s people. Let’s do this together.”

Many town residents voicing support were overcome with emotion. A Spanish-speaking clinical social worker who is working with a 6-year-old United States-born daughter of undocumented parents, said the girl was sent to her after teachers found out she wakes up three or four times a night to touch her parents to make sure they’re still in their bed. When the social worker asked her to draw a picture of something scary, or what worries her, the girl drew a photo of she and family members with sweat dripping from their faces. The social worker held up the photo to show those in attendance, saying the girl had heard it’s hot in Ecuador, even though she’s never been.

Supporters of legislation said many immigrants that are “being demonized by society” are just working hard to make better lives for themselves and their families. Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman thanked the community members for speaking, but did not specify how or if the town would address their concerns.

In 2017, 143,470 arrests were made throughout the country by ICE — a 30 percent increase from the previous year.

“ICE, with cooperation of local law enforcement, is hounding our immigrant brothers and sisters who increasingly live in terror of their lives and their children’s lives being destroyed — and a large number of non-violent offenders are being detained and deported,” said Sag Harbor resident Kathryn Levy. “ICE’s net keeps widening and we need to pay attention to this. This insidious net will keep widening unless we draw the line now. We need to enact legislation to limit local police cooperation with ICE and protect the peaceful and hard-working members of our town. Our immigrant ancestors came here for a better life, and we, their extremely fortunate descendents, have a responsibility to be better.”

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