NEW YORK – Immigrant rights activists protested Thursday against a federal program known as Secure Communities that requires police to pass finger prints of those it arrests to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), in order to identity and deport undocumented immigrants.
The protesters met in front of the Manhattan office of Governor Donald Patterson, where they dropped off a poster containing a manifesto outlining their opposition, which sympathizers signed at the rally.
“Secure Communities is a program that, despite its name, will undermine trust between immigrants and the police,” said Michelle Fei, a director at the Immigrant Defense Project.
Fei said that the federal program came to New York “without a public debate” and added that the purpose of the protest was to demonstrate to Governor Patterson that the program has generated popular opposition.
The protesters’ message has already noted by several politicians. Congressman José Serrano (D-NY) sent a representative to the demonstration to express his opposition to Secure Communities.
A resolution submitted last month by Manhattan Councilwoman Ydanis Rodriguez, among others, would pull New York City from the program, although the measure would not affect the rest of the state.
“The detention and deportation system lacks accountability or transparency, and often send NY immigrant residents thousands of miles away to immigration detention centers,” Rodriguez said in a letter to Patterson dated Nov. 16. “Beyond the individual suffering, each one of these New Yorkers leaves behind a broken family.”
Sandra Pierre, one of the protesters, lived such a story. Pierre, who was born in Grenada, said in an interview that one of her children was detained by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for four months, when his greencard expired. Pierre said that DHS sent a letter to inform the family of the decision, but since they had moved, they did not receive it.
DHS took Pierre’s 18-year-old son first to a detention center in Pennsylvania, then one in Texas and one in Louisiana, before returning him to New York, Pierre said.
Pierre’s son’s deportation proceeding continues, and has caused emotional pain for her and her family. “My son, the younger one, started lashing out at school,” Pierre said.
Not everyone at the rally was moved by such stories, however. A handful of counterprotesters yelled “Illegals, go home!” and other, similar slogans from just outside the demonstration.
Jim Behan, one of the counterdemonstrators, said in an interview that he opposed the protersters because undocumented immigrants “broke the law and now they want to be compensated for it.”
Behan held a sign that said “Yes, Deport them all immediately!”
But protesters insisted that government deportation efforts should focus on hardened criminals, rather than targeting undocumented immigrants indiscriminately.
“Immigrants are not terrorists,” said Fabián Arias, a priest at Sion Lutheran Church. “We came here to work and to be constructive.”