Community advocates, religious leaders and concerned citizens responded Wednesday to a call to assist immigrants in the region, ahead of expected enforcement that could put many in deportation danger under President Donald Trump.
What they are seeking, advocates said, is nothing short of building a sanctuary movement on Long Island — meaning they want to identify “safe spaces” and people who can assist those fearing detention and removal over immigration violations.
Their concerns stem largely from Trump’s issuance of executive orders that target illegal immigration and curtail immigration overall. In his first days in office, he’s authorized work on a border wall, expanded the definition of criminal immigrants who are sought and placed entry restrictions on immigrants, refugees and visitors from a list of Muslim-majority countries.
“We need to be prepared. We need to be able to mobilize and we need to be able to help those targeted by these executive orders,” said Anita Halasz, executive director of Long Island Jobs With Justice, a workers’ rights group in Hauppauge.
More than 150 people joined the five-hour conference, held at the Sisters of St. Joseph, a convent in Brentwood, to discuss steps to assist unauthorized immigrants.
One initiative seeks to enroll citizens as volunteers for an “accompaniment project” to pair them with immigrants due in local courts as they navigate the process. Volunteers would document what happens and offer moral support, advocates said.
“We want to make sure that we are witnesses” and “are there to make sure that due process exists,” Halasz said.
Lucian Chalfen, spokesman with the New York State Unified Court System, said in a statement that the courts “would be happy to review any specific suggestions regarding easing concerns that recent immigrants may have in their interactions with the court system.” A similar program is in place in some New York City courts, he said.
Advocates floated an open invitation for churches and institutions to become “sanctuaries” before pastors from various denominations. It would involve designating places of worship as refuges for immigrants fearing deportation.
Speakers acknowledged that was “a tough ask” in the current political climate.