WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — Dozens of uptown residents — including documented and undocumented immigrants and others present to support friends and family members too fearful to attend — gathered at a town hall meeting on Friday to learn about their rights and how to protect themselves amid President Donald Trump's immigration crackdown.
The meeting came days before Trump was expected to release a revised travel ban and before the Department of Homeland Security released a memo outlining the expanded efforts of Immigration Customs Enforcement agents to remove both documented and undocumented immigrants from the country. It was focused on providing those present with actionable steps they can take to protect themselves and their loved ones.
“If you’re detained in the airport, have a plan of action,” said Ernie Collete of the MFY Legal Services, one of dozens of panel members present at the meeting.
“That means memorizing your lawyer’s number, or if you have the opportunity to call someone from your family, then ask them to help you find someone. Also, don’t sign anything — because most of the time the documents are in English — and then that’s effectively telling the government that you voluntarily signed over your rights.”
Those on the panel, which also included members from Latino Justice, NY Legal Assistance Group, Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights and the NY Immigration Coalition, urged immigrants to be prepared to come under hostile treatment at airports, and expect to wait for several hours, especially if they refuse to sign documents they’re unable to read or understand.
“They’re going to intimidate you at airports — and they’ve done it before, but now they have more motives to do it,” said Angela Fernandez of Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights.
Panelists also discussed how to address immigration officials when reentering the country, and what to do if they're threatened with being deported back to their native country.
The meeting was organized by newly-elected state Sen. Marisol Alcantara and the Community Education Council for District 6.
Collete and Fernandez urged parents to establish a legal guardian for their kids in the event that they’re deported and they wish their children to remain in the U.S.
“You can go to family court — with a lawyer — and identify someone you want to be the guardian of your children,” said Fernandez, adding that it’s crucial families make a plan to ensure their kids are safe and prepared to remain in the country with the help of professional organizations that work with guardianship and family law.
Parents, like Carmen Ortiz, 37, who arrived from Mexico over 12 years ago, say they’re worried about their families and children, as news of deportation and harassment increases.
“I’m afraid that they’ll deport us, and that my kids will remain alone here in the country,” Ortiz said in Spanish to DNAinfo New York. “I want to know what to do, and how to respond and find ways to prepare my family.”
Alcantara declared the 31st District an "Sanctuary District" on Friday, although she didn't detail what that would entail or how it would differ from the city's declaration as a "Sanctuary City" where local law enforcement does not cooperate with ICE officials to deport New Yorkers.
Alcantara said she was proposing to spend an additional $11.1 million of the state budget to support the organizations present at the panel to provide legal representation to immigrants.
She said that because people are scared, she wanted to use the Town Hall to address their concerns, and not to discuss her "political agenda." She has come under fire for leaving the Democrats to join the state senate's Independent Democratic Conference (IDC).
"We are providing services for immigration, training staff to answer questions on immigration, and collaborating with the groups here," Alcantara said of the proposed $11.1 million, adding that she recognizes that her district has the largest Dominican population in the city and a growing Mexican population.