Councilwoman Nydia Velázquez held an immigration rights forum last Sunday at the Saint Brigid’s Catholic academy in Bushwick.
The auditorium seats were filled with immigrants and family members of all ages to hear about their rights and the resources available to them. Velázquez assured them that she was dedicated to the safety of all immigrants in the community, regardless of their status.
“This is who were are– we are a nation founded by immigrants,” said Velázquez. “One of the values that we honor is to take care of our neighbors and it doesn’t matter if you are legally [here] or undocumented or not…here in New York we always take care of our neighbors.”
She also reminded the audience that immigrants own about half of the city’s small businesses. On either side of Velázquez there were other immigrant supporters including a representative of District Attorney Eric Gonzalez‘s office and Assemblywoman Maritza Davila who like Velázquez has publicaly denounced anti-immigrant sentiment in the country.
The forum was moderated by Saint Brigid’s RC priest Father Jorge Ortiz and included Velázquez, representatives from The Legal Aid Society, The Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, and Hugo Dominguez of local the 83rd precinct. Father James Kelly, the former monsignor at Saint Brigid’s who is now a full-time immigration lawyer in Bushwick also attended.
Speakers discussed where Bushwick’s immigrants could find resources in both English and Spanish.
Sonia Lin of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs reminded the crowd that of NYCID, the country’s largest municipal ID service that would give immigrants and citizens a picture ID for entering cultural sites like museums.
“Want want to give immigrants the opportunity to access local government,” she said.
But the majority of the forum was reserved on teaching immigrants how to protect themselves from things like notary fraud, finding legal help for becoming citizens and how to deal with ICE.
Anthony Posada from the Legal Aid Society reminded immigrants that ICe agents are not NYPD police officers.
“They have to have a deportation order to take you away,” he said in Spanish. “It has to have the [undocumented] person’s name, their address and a signature from a judge.”
He also told everyone that in the case that ICE did show up to their door, there is a 24 hour emergency ICE deportation hotline if they call (844-955-3425).
“They have to identify themselves– they can do that through the window… you don’t have to open the door,” she said. “But if you open the door you have a right to remain silent and you have a right to a request a lawyer.”
She also said that ICE agents had to have a warrant to come inside and that residents could ask for the warrant to be slid under a door before they decide to open the door for an agent.
As Bushwick Daily recently reported, New York has not been immune to raids despite it’s status as a sanctuary city. It has put community organizers, local officials and other immigrant advocates on edge– especially under the current administration’s policies.
A map that was released last month by the Immigrant Defense Project and the Center for Constitutional Rights highlights the number of raids in and round Bushwick. Some of the anecdotal information on the map also showed how ICE officers posed as regular NYPD officers who would detain several people that they suspected to be undocumented.
“It’s dangerous to open the door because it will put other people in danger,” Velázquez said.
Neighborhoods like Ridgewood and Bushwick are particularly at risk due to the high concentration of foreign born residents from Latin America.
Monsignor Kelly summed up what a lot of advocates were trying to get across– that there is no singular fix for anyone who is currently undocumented or in the process of becoming documented, especially under the current administration.
“We can’t always fix everything, but we will tell you the truth,” he said in Spanish. “We won’t lie to you about anything…we’re here to help.”
Speakers were however hopeful and Velázquez assured the crowd that she would do her best to continue helping immigrants arm themselves with tools to defend themselves from ICE agents and anti-immigrant policy.
“The best defense you have is information– it’s to know your rights,” she said.
All photos courtesy of Alec Meeker