Thirty speakers, in sometimes emotional testimony, called on the Southampton Town Board Tuesday night to protect law-abiding members of the Latino community from deportations and family separations. Some asked the board to instruct town police not to execute administrative arrest warrants or share information with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.
Minerva Perez, executive director of OLA (Organización Latino-Americana)of Eastern Long Island, told the board that OLA’s human rights attorney would present draft legislation to codify a police policy for dealing with ICE for the town board to consider by the end of the week.
“We need legislation that explicitly states how this town will protect peaceful members of our community now,” Ms. Perez said, “not as an empty and toothless proclamation, but as a means to lawfully protect peaceful members of our community.”
OLA and its supporters organized what they called the “peaceful and respectful call to action” before the town board, distributing a flyer with the headline, “Our silence equals complicity.”
Town board members listened intently but did not comment on the immigration issues raised by the evening’s speakers.
Tony Hitchcock, the treasurer of OLA, called on the board “to separate us from a national hysteria” and era of “fear that does not need to penetrate any further into the Town of Southampton.
A Latina woman named Patricia from East Hampton, with an interpreter’s help, told the board, “If you don’t protect good people, everybody loses.” She said that “bad, violent people are afraid of nothing but good people are very afraid right now.” It is a good time, she said, to “make laws to protect the community.”
Fifth grade John Marshall Elementary School student Angie Castille, Patricia’s daughter, said in English, “I think it’s important to protect peaceful people of our community” because if they are not protected they will be afraid to report the “bad people.” She said, “we need to make those scared people feel confident to make our community better.”
“We oppose the deportation of non-violent members of our community,” declared Pamela Wittenberg, president of the South Fork Unitarian Universalist congregation of the South Fork.
In her address to the board, Ms. Perez said “we need more than simply not doing the worst. We need an active pursuit of the best. You are governing during a crisis of conscience that rivals that of 1938. These times demand leadership, clarity, accountability and the political will to codify in legislation the deep love that I know that you all have for this community.”
“Our full-time human rights lawyer Andrew Strong,” she said, “is working on legislation that we’ll propose by the end of this week. Because of our ongoing dialogues with law enforcement, we are fully sensitive to the fact that one size doesn’t fit all. We are taking deliberate time to offer what will support the men and women of our police force as well as our residents.”
She added that “the town must step up to its position of leader and direct supervisor of our police chief to offer its guidance related to any and all ICE interactions including shared communication use of town resources acceptance of funds directly or indirectly and other practices that could lead to further detention and separation of nonviolent members of our community. We need liability to start with the town.”
Nearing tears, she concluded, “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 none other. It is not politics any more. It is people. Let’s do this together.”
Among the other speakers, Loretta Werner said, “I firmly believe our town police department should not cooperate with ICE.” She added she loved her Latino neighbors and that the immigrant community was afraid of the police because they feared information about them would be passed on to ICE.
Douglas Newby of Sag Harbor cited a Southern Poverty Law Center report on the liability municipalities faced for detaining people when no crime has been committed. He asked why, 18 months after OLA had received pledges from both East Hampton and Southampton town officials that police would not act as agents for ICE, the towns had not gone further to protect its immigrant population, as have the attorney generals of New York, California, the District of Columbia, Oregon, Rhode Island and Washington.
Kathryn Levy of Sag Harbor said ICE “is hounding our immigrant brothers and sisters” and urged the board to “enact legislation to limit local police cooperation with ICE.”
Aiden Macisaak said his father had emigrated to this country illegally, but he was “a white guy who spoke English. This country has such a racist tradition.”
Dianne Rulnick decried a “lack of progressive attitudes” and a fear of immigrants that “makes me feel fearful when I am canvassing.” She said many Latino people did not come to the meeting because they were afraid “ICE would be here.”
Sandra Dunn decried the “climate of fear” that she said had descended under the Donald J. Trump administration and likened to the anti-immigrant climate fomented by former Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy when he was in office but multiplied by a factor of one thousand. She said in the first 10 months of the Trump administration 695 Suffolk County residents had been “taken away by ICE.” That’s two to three people a day, she said, adding that deportations aren’t just happening at the border in California and Texas.
“This town board has an opportunity and an obligation to protect all members of our community,” she said, urging the board to “enact legislation prohibiting the police department from complicity with ICE.”
Johnathan Haines called the Trump crackdown on non-violent illegal immigrants “not the first horrible thing to happen in our country” and likened the times to the era of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which made people in non-slave states legally responsible for returning slaves who had escaped bondage by fleeing north. Local officials in those days faced “very heavy personal fines” if they did not cooperate. “You don’t need to be that brave,” he said.