It was a tale of two rallies outside Community Board 7 in Sunset Park as a large group of protesters stood outside the building in frigid temperatures on Thursday, February 16 to decry State Senator Jesse Hamilton’s decision to caucus with Republicans through the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) and President Donald Trump’s stance on deporting immigrants.
Hamilton was holding a Know Your Rights event on broken windows policing inside CB 7, and protesters let their voices be heard on the issue on the IDC, which shares power with the Republican Party in a majority coalition. If not for the IDC’s eight Democratic members, Democrats would hold a bare majority in the chamber (though a ninth nominal Democrat, Simcha Felder, of Boro Park, caucuses with the Republicans).
“I’m protesting Hamilton’s involvement with the IDC because we elected a Democrat and I want him to caucus with the other Democrats in Albany,” said attendee Elizabeth Norman. “There are a lot of bills important to Democrats that aren’t getting out of committee” because of the IDC’s power-sharing arrangement.
“Jesse Hamilton refuses to hear our voices,” said President of Sunset Park Latino Democrats Claudia Galicia, “the voices of immigrant mothers who fear deportations. He also refuses to hear the voices of sons and daughters of these mothers who are voters from the district.”
“The Republican-aligned Independent Democratic Conference and our centrist governor can’t fool voters any longer,’ said co-organizer of the rally Rodrigo Camarena. “New Yorkers are awake and need our state Democrats to reflect our progressive values through bold and defensive legislation like the New York Liberty Act.”
However, Hamilton did address his stance outside CB 7 with reporters. “I’ve voted for everything progressive that is in the State Senate,” he said. “When it came to the Dream Act, I voted for it. When it came for the ‘Big Ugly Bill,’ I voted for it. I’m still a Democrat. We don’t have the majority. If I just stick with Democrats, we get no legislation passed. We get none.”
“Personally, I don’t know why there’s an argument when we want the same,” agreed Delvis Valdes, an attorney and a member of Village of Sunset Park. “Hamilton is saying he wants a sanctuary district. They [the protesters] want sanctuary too. He’s the son of Barbadian immigrants and they came to this country for what everyone that comes here wants, which is a fair chance to work and get ahead. We are all on the same page.”
Former Assemblymember Javier Nieves also chimed in on the conflict. “It’s sad because it’s putting people of color against one another and I would imagine the only person winning here is Trump. If you asked both sides, we would all agree on the topic of immigration,” he said. “Hopefully, people with more sober heads will prevail and realize we’re in the same boat here. We all agree that the immigrant population of Sunset Park should be given refuge and protected, and issues should not be used to divide us.”
Immigration fears and recent raids by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) were also a main topic during the rally. “I’m fortunate to be a citizen but I’m concerned about a lot of our neighbors feeling unsafe right now with Trump’s policies,” said Norman. “I think it says a lot that on the way here, I saw about five local restaurants closed for ‘A Day Without Immigrants,’ so anything I can do to protest and be an ally with people that are feeling unsafe right now means a lot.”
“I’m an immigrant and I’m not afraid,” added Juan Escalante. “I went to Standing Rock a month ago and I think the country is coming united and no matter what they do at the higher levels of government, people are starting to recognize what is going on and are starting to push back.”
Valdes said he is offering aid for those afraid of deportation.
“I’ve contacted the Brooklyn DA’s office and he’s going to announce there’s going to be a warrant day, a day for people who are immigrants who have warrants to go down and settle up those warrants,” he said, adding that it will take place in April at a church. “We can all agree we are not advocating to keep murderers, rapists and robbers here in this country, but the idea of deporting people that might have gotten a summons for riding a bike on a sidewalk or an open container or something like that is ridiculous.”