“No hate! No fear!” chants rang out in front of Rockville Centre’s Long Island Rail Road station last Saturday morning as the crowd began growing. “Immigrants are welcome here!”
The march, one of several on Long Island and hundreds that took place nationwide in response to President Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, focused on ending the separation of families trying to enter the country.
Over the past few months, about 2,000 minors crossing the U.S.-Mexico border were separated from their parents or guardians, according to Department of Homeland Security officials. Unlike previous administrations, the current one opted to charge every adult caught crossing the border illegally with a federal crime, instead of referring those with children to immigration courts.
“So many of us here in Rockville Centre are the descendants of people who had to come to this country because they were persecuted where they were,” said Patrick Young, program director of the Hempstead-based Central American Refugee Center, or CARACEN.
On June 20, Trump signed an executive order to detain families together. U.S. District Judge Dana M. Sabraw ordered on June 26 that migrant children who had been separated from their parents must be returned to their families within 30 days, and that those under age 5 must be returned within 14 days.
“Shame on us,” Liz Stack bellowed into a megaphone last Saturday. “There’s no plans to reunite them and no guarantee they will be reunited. As a mother, it is hard to imagine such cruelty, yet it is the reality of this brutal policy. The harm done to these children is and will be devastating, and it must stop.”
A group called Indivisible of RVC organized the rally, with help from sister organizations in Garden City and North Woodmere, Together We Will Long Island, the Young Progressives of Nassau County and the Rockville Centre-based Raising Voices USA, which focuses on encouraging civic engagement. The protest preceded similar ones in East Meadow, Westbury and Huntington.
The crowd of several hundred congregated in front of the entrance to the Long Island Rail Road station before marching on Front Street with signs. Chants of “Vote!” “Us united will never be defeated!” and “No justice, no peace!” filled the hot morning air as some cars honked in support as they passed the protesters. Some called for the abolition of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, while most protesters simply rallied for what they called humane immigration reform and encouraged those in attendance to raise their voices and vote.
“If I had to flee this country, I wouldn’t want to be separated from my children,” Rockville Centre Mayor Francis X. Murray, a father of five, told the Herald, adding that the protesters were orderly and listened to village police. “. . . This is a wonderful thing.”
Emma Travers, co-founder of Raising Voices, told the crowd that as a green card holder for 15 years, she had been afraid of being sent back to Scotland. She called the separation of families a “brutal and barbaric practice.”
Travers added that she recently became a citizen. “My first act as an American will be to register to vote,” she yelled as the protesters erupted in applause.
The Trump administration has said that families could be held together for more than 20 days — as long as their immigration court cases take — which goes against a 1997 court order requiring the Department of Homeland Security to release undocumented minors caught crossing the border after 20 days.
In preparation of detaining families together, construction of tent encampments was expected to begin after July Fourth on two military bases in Texas.
Lynn Hoch, of Woodmere, a former speech and language pathologist in the Lynbrook School District, and Rockville Centre resident Hellen Tai, a former Lynbrook teacher, said they attended the rally together to advocate for the families.
“Our hearts are breaking every single day,” Hoch said, noting that this would not be her last rally. “We cry every day for the children and the parents who are separated, and we can’t sit still. We must act, and this was an act.”