by Robert Kimmel
At a recent meeting described as a “Rivertown Gathering for Future Social Action,” community leaders spoke out in opposition to a range of Trump administration policies and particularly those dealing with immigration.
Those policies came under fire from Congresswoman Nita Lowey who highlighted the session, held at a private Tarrytown residence. She described what she and her Democratic colleagues in Washington were doing to counter recently introduced legislation dealing with immigration, the Affordable Care Act, education, labor, foreign aid, and pro-choice, among other issues.
Lowey thanked the approximately 70 attendees for their activism, and described as “extraordinary… the local and national protest marches, and those that have taken place all over the world.” The congresswoman noted that the Democratic legislators were “speaking out and fighting” in regard to both pursuing certain legislation and halting other bills, but that “…given the numbers we don’t know how much legislation we’ll be able to win.”
Lowey spoke of the value of, “Getting the message out locally, nationally and internationally,…that we are fighting back, and speaking out. It is important that we send a message,” she said of both her fellow members of Congress and activists. She also stressed the need for getting more people involved and registered to vote.
Enforcing federal immigration laws is not the task of the police departments of Irvington, Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow, according to the mayors of each of those villages. That became clear at the gathering.
The village mayors, Irvington’s Brian Smith, Tarrytown’s Drew Fixell, and Sleepy Hollow’s Ken Wray, spoke almost in unison in reaction to the federal government’s tightening restrictions on immigrants and enforcing deportations.
In support of being “a welcoming community,” Smith asserted, “We have to do everything we can. We are instructing our police department not to be an arm of the federal government that is going to be rounding up immigrants. That is not their role and it never should be.” “I echo his thoughts,” said Deputy Mayor Connie Kehoe. “Irvington might be one of the smallest villages in Westchester, but we will be among the most welcoming to everyone.”
Kehoe, and residents Peter Bernstein, Tamir Rosenblum and Thom Thacker, conceived the idea of a statement of policy on immigration enforcement and discrimination before the November election. And, former Democratic Committee Chair, David Imamura, still active in the village’s Democratic Committee and a practicing layer in Manhattan, crafted the village’s legislation which will be voted on at the March 6 Board of Trustees meeting.
“Right now, our police do not enforce immigration laws,” said Fixell. A message from Fixell and Tarrytown’s trustees on the village’s website reinforces that position: “The Village Board and the Tarrytown Police Department will always be committed to protecting innocent, law-abiding residents regardless of immigration status.”
Wray was in accord; “Our Police Department does not enforce immigration laws,” he declared. “They have not in the past and they have been told not to do it in the future. Sleepy Hollow is a proud immigrant village. More than half of the people…speak Spanish at home. We have no intention of finding out if the people in our village are undocumented. What we need to do in our community is to make people feel safe and welcomed.”
Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner called on the attending groups to “…urge the County Executive and legislature to direct the county police to have the same policy as the local communities…and say we are not going to turn in people for deportation.”
There was concern among some Hispanic residents in Sleepy Hollow about participating in a recent unity march in the village “because they might be identified as undocumented immigrants,” according to Rene Leon, who along with his wife, Sarah Stern, were leaders in organizing the march. However, Leon said the turnout of some 800 persons, “blew our minds,” and “what we saw was amazing for the community.” A co-organizer, Krista Madsen, lauded Stern for her energetic pursuit of participants. Leon praised Wray for his support.
“The rallies are getting a turnout,” said Laurie Feinstein, a leader of Indivisible Westchester-Rivertowns, a local group that is part of a national movement devoted to resisting the Trump administration’s agenda. Feinstein stressed the need to get the word to those people who “don’t realize what’s happening…people who are going to feel the pain real soon.”
The leader of a new Facebook group, Social Action for 10591, Seth Dellon, spoke of “galvanizing” support for the immigrant community. Formed on the web, mainly to oppose the Trump administration agenda, the group now has more than 600 members signed-in.
Vince Russell, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Hudson Peconic, Inc., talked of the need for the organization’s services, which are reimbursed similar to other Medicaid health providers. “Our Medicaid funding,” Russell explained, “is there to protect the vulnerable communities of those rural and inner-city minority patients that we do serve, which for many is the only health care they receive. So without being a Medicaid provider for them, many of those patients will go without care. We also see those undocumented individuals who have no other place to go,” he said.
Russell urged those attending, “to get in touch with your state senators to push forward the Reproductive Health Act, which will essentially protect the Roe V. Wade Amendment…in New York State to make sure safe, legal abortion is available to those in the state.” The law, which has passed the State Assembly, also “provides a fundamental right to choose contraception.”
Seemingly energized by the meeting, the consensus among attendees representing the various protest groups was to increase their activism.