By Stephen J. Kotz
East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell, speaking to an overflow crowd that squeezed into Town Hall on Thursday, February 16, promised to safeguard the rights of immigrants in the face of a new get-tough policy announced by President Donald J. Trump.
Mr. Cantwell noted that the president had recently signed an executive order that grants authority for local officials to direct their police to perform the duties of immigration officers.
“The Town of East Hampton will not enter into such an agreement with the federal government,” the supervisor said to wild applause.
The outpouring of support for the immigrant community was spearheaded by Minerva Perez, the director of the Organización Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island (OLA), and came as rumors have swirled about stepped up activity by federal immigration agents.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement were reported to be in town earlier that day, searching for an individual wanted on several felony charges.
OLA will hold a forum on immigration rights from 6 to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, February 21, at Queen of the Most Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Bridgehampton.
Mr. Cantwell said while the town would continue to work with federal agencies, when appropriate, “the policy of the town and the police has not changed today from what it was six months ago or a year ago.”
Ms. Perez asked the town board to “diminish the fear that your good, hard-working, family-loving, faith-abiding residents of East Hampton are being crushed by” and urged it to uphold the Constitution by not allowing immigrants to be held without judicial warrants.
“The rupture of trust that vulnerable members of this community could have with law enforcement and the town is a breach of trust for us all,” she said.
Daniel Hartnett, a social worker with the East Hampton School District, said fear is growing in the Latino community.
“I’m here to speak for children, American citizens, who come with increasing anxiety and sadness to school because they are afraid they are going to be separated from their parents, and are afraid to leave their homes in the morning because they are not confident their families will be intact when they return,” he said.
Mr. Hartnett said he and his colleagues had begun to put together “family preparedness plans” to help families if they face deportation.
Christine Sciulli said she had been asked to step in as guardian for a family of immigrants, whose daughter is a good friend of her daughter.
“They pulled me aside and asked me if I would take care of their kids if they were detained,” she said. “They had to tell their kids this. They don’t want their kids to be upset if they come home and I was there, if I came to school to pick them up or if I was called in the middle of the night to come over.”
“Now this girl is afraid to go to school,” she continued. “It’s a nightmare for these kids and it affects other kids in the classroom.”
“All of us as individuals have a responsibility to help reassure people who are living here who we know that it is going to be okay, that we’re going to be with them, that we are gong to try to help them,” the supervisor responded.