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Immigration orders prompt local protests

By Kris DiLorenzo

Marchers gather at Patriots Park, on the border of Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow, on Jan. 29.


REGION — Sleepy Hollow was anything but sleepy last Sunday, Jan. 29, as nearly 800 people gathered in front of St. Teresa of Avila Roman Catholic Church on Beekman Avenue to begin their march to Patriots Park on Broadway (Route 9).

The demonstrators, some toting signs that read “We are all immigrants” and “Todos somos immigrantes,” protested President Donald Trump’s recent executive orders regarding immigrants and refugees. Similar protests sprang up at airports and other public venues nationwide.

On Jan. 27, Trump suspended the entry of immigrants and nonimmigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries for 90 days. He also suspended the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days and the admission of Syrian refugees indefinitely. The order was titled “Protecting the nation from foreign terrorist entry into the United States.”

Two days earlier, Trump ordered a range of border security initiatives, including building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. In addition, he signed an order to remove undocumented immigrants for assorted reasons, such as committing crimes, abusing public benefit programs, and posing a risk to public safety or national security. The order also threatened to withhold federal funds from “sanctuary cities” that shield such immigrants from removal.

The Sleepy Hollow march was organized by two residents of that village — Sarah Stern, who teaches global history and geography at Dobbs Ferry High School, and Krista Madsen, a journalist. Stern is married to René León, a native of Ecuador who became a U.S. citizen in 2010. He had entered the U.S. as an undocumented immigrant. He now owns a catering business.

“When I heard about the executive order,” Stern told the Enterprise, “my first concern was for my community. I wanted to make sure that everybody felt safe — documented or undocumented — and knew they had the support of the whole community.” 

The organizers worried that their initial Facebook announcement about the event, which was posted four days earlier, would not attract enough attendees. Last Friday, they told the village police chief that they expected 50 people. The hundreds who assembled on Sunday were a surprise. “Be careful what you post on Facebook!” Stern joked. More than half of Sleepy Hollow’s population is Hispanic, according to Village Administrator Anthony Giaccio.

At Patriots Park, marchers heard from several speakers, including Léon; Anthony Chimbo, a student at Washington Irving Intermediate School in Tarrytown; Sleepy Hollow Mayor Ken Wray, a Democrat; Gail Vidales, co-executive director of Community Resource Center (CRC) in Mamaroneck, a nonprofit that aids immigrants; Rabbi Aaron Brusso of Bet Torah Synagogue in Mount Kisco; and Haleh Tavakol, an Iranian immigrant who is director of alumni relations and alumni giving at Hackley School in Tarrytown.

Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner, a Democrat, also addressed the crowd, and administered a “civic activist oath” he composed before the march.

“I thought we should do an oath of office for citizen activists because it empowers more people to get involved. That’s what democracy is all about,” he told the Enterprise. The oath reads: “I swear to uphold the Constitution of the United States, and pledge to speak out on issues of importance to me at the local, county, state, and national levels. I will not be intimidated and will speak my mind as a civic activist. I will attend meetings of appropriate legislative bodies and will not be silenced.”

Irvington Mayor Brian Smith, a Republican, attended the march “because there’ve been so many ridiculous things that have happed in the first week of Donald Trump’s presidency,” he told the Enterprise. “When I have people coming out of the back of restaurants asking me if they’re going to be deported, and how soon — they think it’s happening already — I get very nervous about it. I feel bad for them, because we’re a country of immigrants, and the fact that we’re turning on certain groups now is a not a good sign.”

Smith told of three Hispanic restaurant workers who had approached him. “They’re legitimately scared about it,” he said. “I never thought we’d have something like that in our country. They don’t feel safe in their own homes. We have to come out and support our neighbors and let them know we have their backs. We’re not going to ask our local police departments to start deporting people who have been here for years, have families and roots here, and have been working on their legal situation.”

Last Saturday, Jan. 28, Concerned Families of Westchester (CFOW) held a noontime rally in front of Hastings’ VFW Park, on Warburton Avenue at the top of Spring Street. “CFOW had anticipated that Trump’s first outrage would be on immigrants and refugees,” said Frank Brodhead of Hastings, one of the organizers.

Among the speakers were Feiner; Hastings Mayor Peter Swiderski, a Democrat; Ellen Hendrickx, representing Westchester County Legislator MaryJane Shimsky, a Hastings resident and a Democrat; U.S. Congressman Elliot Engel, a Democrat; Janet Rolon, the deputy executive director of CRC; and attorney Vanessa Merton, a Hastings resident and director of the Immigration Justice Clinic at the Elizabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University.

Among the rally participants were representatives of Cabrini Immigrant Services in Dobbs Ferry: director Lorraine Campanelli, coordinator of adult education Marianne McGowan, and nine tutors with their spouses. Campanelli told the Enterprise after the rally that her office was receiving calls from Syrian, Pakistani, Mexican, Guatemalan, and other immigrants worried about their status.

Feiner pledged that the Town of Greenburgh would not use its police force to round up immigrants, and would do what it could to protect them. Swiderski, a Democrat, told a story about his parents, who fled Poland during World War II. Merton explained some of the complexities of immigration law.

“For example,” she said in an in interview on Jan. 31, “one of the things that came up during the rally was the use of the term ‘illegal.’ In many cases, the only thing standing between that person and perfectly lawful status is a decent, competent lawyer who knows what to do.”

According to Merton, a major problem is that competing bureaucracies independently issue regulations and decisions, some of which are contradictory, and different agencies use computers that don’t communicate with one another.

“Cruelly tearing people away from their families, businesses, and homes causes tremendous pain and injustice, and is not doing our society any good,” Merton said. “We lose a lot of good people who ought to be here contributing, helping to keep their families strong, independent, and not needing government assistance; being entrepreneurs. This doesn’t have to do with masses of scurrilous people sneaking across the border.”

Read more local coverage of your hometown in this week’s issue of the Rivertowns Enterprise. Newsstand copies are available at several locations listed above, or subscribe today for convenient home delivery.


February 3, 2017

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