Immigration advocates and religious leaders, outraged at the transfer of immigrants held at the Mexico border from Texas to New York City, say they are preparing to help anyone who arrives on Long Island.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott has moved thousands of immigrants north in the past few weeks, arguing that they are overwhelming communities in his state. Its advocates describe it as an election year stunt to stir up anti-immigrant sentiment, and they are particularly angry about the Abbott government’s placing barcode bracelets on immigrants.
“I think it’s an abuse of humanity,” said Reverend Dwight Lee Walter, of Bachoge Church. “It’s a violation of human dignity, treating people like pawns in your political games.”
Immigrant aid groups on Long Island say they have not yet contacted any of the immigrants, but it is only a matter of time before some lands in Nassau and Suffolk counties ask for their help. The region has for decades been a major point of arrival for Latino immigrants, especially from Central America.
“New York has been a major recipient of people coming primarily from the border throughout the state’s history,” said Patrick Young, advocacy director for the New York Immigration Coalition.
“Long Island has definitely seen the entry of people fleeing persecution in their home countries from Latin America since the 1980s,” said Young, who lives in Hempstead. We “expect” that some of the immigrants the buses pick up have already made it to Long Island.
requesting political asylum
Abbott, a Republican, maintains that President Joe Biden, a Democrat, does not secure borders, and since cities like New York and Washington, D.C., say they welcome immigrants regardless of legal status, he sends them there — and those cities can foot the bill to help them.
The bracelets “are a standard protocol for voluntary transfer by the Texas Department of Emergency Management, and have been used in times of natural disasters such as hurricanes when people need to be transported to safety,” says Abbott press secretary Renee Eze. She said the migrants voluntarily board the buses.
Advocates say immigrants are fleeing violence, poverty, and sometimes political persecution back home, and that the American tradition is to welcome newcomers.
Young, who recently met with a bus at the Port Authority terminal in Manhattan, said most of them appeared to have applied for political asylum after crossing the border, asserting that they face persecution in their home countries. Young said that the Department of Homeland Security should determine whether immigrants have a reasonable fear of persecution so that they can be processed and released pending court hearings rather than detention and deportation.
They are free to travel to the country while their cases move to the immigration system.
“These are not people unknown to the federal government,” Young said.
Some immigrants end up in shelters run by the city government, which New York City Mayor Eric Adams says they are at risk of indulging in.
Migrants arriving at the port authority terminal are “shocked. They find there is no one here waiting for them,” said Elise de Castillo, executive director of the Hempstead-based Central American Refugee Center.
Services for immigrants
The bus is “heartbreaking. It is hard to see vulnerable migrants being exploited for political gain.” “Migration is a natural phenomenon, and it is the legal right of every individual to seek asylum.”
She and other advocates said many immigrants are from Latin American countries, including a growing number from Venezuela, along with countries in the Caribbean and Africa.
De Castillo said CARECEN provides legal services for immigrants, including asylum cases, along with English language lessons and work readiness programs. The group is ready to help any of the newcomers.
“We have the ability to provide services when they arrive,” she said. “It’s just a matter of when they arrive.”
Nassau County Executive Director Bruce Blackman has given mixed signals about what the county will do if any immigrants arrive there. “Nassau County is not a protected county,” he said in a statement, referring to areas that generally discourage local law enforcement from reporting the immigration status of individuals.
But he also said the county is “assessing the needs of any individual who may need emergency assistance on a case-by-case basis.”
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellon did not respond to a request for comment.
Mosque sends money
A mosque in Nassau County is already helping some immigrants arriving in New York City, and is preparing to help others if they make it to Long Island.
Dr. Esma Chowdhury, co-chair of the Board of Trustees at the Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury, said the work was “something so at odds with American values… to welcome the stranger.” “That’s not what America is about, basically shipping people from one country to another.”
Her mosque sends money, food, clothes, and other items to New York City to help the newcomers. The materials are channeled through ICNA Relief, an Islamic aid group with offices in New York City and on Long Island.
Choudary said her mosque and Humanity Support Group, a local interfaith group she belongs to that includes synagogues and churches, were willing to help immigrants directly if they came to Long Island.
“If there is a need, it is our responsibility to step up,” she said.
Walter says his church is willing to help, too. Food, clothing and portable shower unit can – soon – offer free grooming services.
Transportation, he said, is “like playing chess with living humans.” “I can’t imagine how we couldn’t help it.”