U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-Brooklyn Heights, Boerum Hill, Bushwick, Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, Dumbo, East New York, East Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Gowanus, Red Hook, Sunset Park, Williamsburg, Queens, Lower Manhattan) hosted a “Know Your Rights Forum” to a mainly Latino audience in Sunset Park last week to discuss how to handle situations involving the Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“Immigrants make America, America,” Velazquez said. “It is alway our motto that, in New York, neighbors care for neighbors, especially those most vulnerable amongst us.”
The event, held in Trinity Lutheran Church, 411 46th Street, included a panel of members of immigrant rights organizations alongside Velazquez, who each spoke for a bit and answered any questions the audience had.
“It is very important for me to do the work of not only legislating in Washington but to do everything possible back here in my district to empower our people and empower our communities with information that you need to have in order to protect our families and protect ourselves,” Velazquez continued.
The discussion explained to the audience how to respond if an ICE agent approaches them on the street or knocks at their door, what to expect from an interaction with ICE and what to not do when confronted by an agent.
It was aimed mainly at undocumented members of the community or those who are residents but not naturalized citizens.
Panelists spoke mainly in Spanish, but also translated their statements into English for the members of the audience who were not Spanish speaking, although the attendees were largely Hispanic. They also showed PowerPoint slides to highlight their points.
According to Luba Cortes of the Make the Road New York, people who are confronted by ICE should cooperate and be courteous, but to not give them any information.
She said to always ask if you are being arrested or detained and if not, to say that you don’t want to answer their questions and that you’d like to speak to an immigration attorney. She also stressed to not run if confronted by ICE.
The congresswoman also mentioned legislation she put together that would make it illegal for ICE to refer to themselves as police when identifying themselves during confrontations.
They will also not be allowed to have the word “police” on their uniforms because it can be misleading to the people they are detaining, questioning or arresting.
Academy of Medical and Public Health Services Executive Vice President and Chief of Staff Mon Yuck Yu spoke at the forum and touched on the topic of the Census, a point of concern for many undocumented immigrants.
She explained that the census is designed to help the people who respond to it, whether or not they are citizens, not just because the Census determines funding and representation, but because it also demonstrates the strength of certain communities.
Sunset Park was severely undercounted last Census year, which community leaders would like to prevent from occurring again. Yu encouraged the audience to fill the form out in full and emphasized that it will not ask about citizenship, so undocumented people should not feel discouraged.
Another speaker, Ravi Ragbir of the New Sanctuary Coalition of NYC, gave a more personal perspective, having been personally confronted by ICE. He said that he has been fighting his deportation for years.
“I wasn’t deported because I had community around me, including Congresswoman Velazquez,” Ragbir said. “I had very little legal options and many of us have very little legal options, and even if we have legal options, this president wants to take them away from us. So, how do we fight that? We fight that by coming together.”