Liberty protester climbs into ICE debate


Immigrant rights activists are urging Nassau County Executive Laura Curran to remove U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency officials from the trailer where they are stationed at the Nassau County Correctional Center in East Meadow.

At an event hosted at the Long Island Progressive Coalition in Massapequa on Feb. 10, activists wrote letters to the county executive explaining their cause and requesting that the county phase out all cooperation with ICE.

Among the group was Patricia Okoumou, from Staten Island, who scaled the base of the Statue of Liberty last July Fourth to protest President Trump zero-tolerance immigration policy. Hosting her and the event were Prison Abolitionists of Nassau Inciting Change and Nassau County Democratic Socialists of America.

In addition to writing to Curran, participants created Valentine’s Day cards that Okoumou will deliver to migrant children at detention centers in El Paso “to remind people to be compassionate and protest in any way they find comfortable,” she said. The cards are printed with the Latino name for Valentine’s Day, “Dia de Amor y Amistad,” or “Day of Love and Friendship.”

Seventy people also joined Okoumou earlier that day for a rally at the corner of Route 110 and Jericho Turnpike in Huntington Station. The rally called for federal officials to search for the thousands of immigrant children who went missing after being separated from their families at the southern United States border.

Stephen Figurasmith, co-founder of PANIC, said that Curran was losing sight of her moral compass, and through their letters, the group was reminding her to follow it.

“The purpose of the letters to Laura Curran is to remind her that she got elected riding on a wave of anti-Trump sentiment,” Figurasmith said. “Now that she is in office, she needs to remain accountable on those values.”

On Jan. 15, Curran asked ICE to vacate the premises by Jan. 31, citing a decision by the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court in November that it was illegal for local police to hold inmates longer than their sentences based on civil immigration detainers.

She announced on Jan. 22 that ICE could relocate to NUMC, but faced backlash from activists and, six days later, agreed to let them stay at the jail, as long as they look for a new location away from the visitor’s center, where they are currently housed, she said.

Brian Sullivan, president of the Correction Officers Benevolent Association, said that he doubted ICE’s presence at the jail was ever an issue for the immigrant community. “They are not even visible on the visiting area on the jail property,” he said.

And Nassau County Police Benevolent Association President James McDermott said, “The county executive’s backtracking is an admission of the terrible error she made. Her decision jeopardized public safety and hindered the fight against MS-13 and other gangs.”

But the immigration activists said that ICE is not keeping the communities safe and should not have any presence in Nassau County.

Laura Divito, a Long Beach resident, said that alleging ICE helps combat MS-13 is a way of evoking fear in communities who think that without ICE, MS-13 will not be combated. “The police [union] is using ICE as an excuse to not do their own jobs,” she said, adding, “We didn’t vote in the police unions. We voted in Laura Curran — we can also vote her out.”

In a statement following the protests, Curran said, “I recognize the legitimate concern about this issue in the immigrant community, which I take seriously. I want to make sure that all our residents — including those who are undocumented — don’t have to live in fear and can feel safe reporting threats and criminal acts to our police.

Her final decision regarding the matter is still pending. “My first priority remains keeping all of our residents safe, and I’m proud that our community policing model has helped us achieved record low crime levels in Nassau County,” she said.