Immigrant rights advocates demand better treatment for refugees
BY PAULA KATINAS AND KEVIN LIMITI
Alarmed and disgusted by the Trump administration’s treatment of undocumented immigrants at the nation’s southern border, protesters on Tuesday held rallies targeting Brooklyn’s elected representatives to federal office — including outside the Bay Ridge office of U.S. Rep. Max Rose and the Park Slope home of Sen. Chuck Schumer.
The protests were part of “Close the Camps,” a series of rallies held in cities across the U.S. to demand more humane treatment of undocumented immigrants.
Hundreds gathered in front of Schumer’s Park Slope home to demand that he take action to shut down the detention facilities and make meaningful reforms.
Protesters there held up placards in the shape of human eyes with the promise that they are watching him, and chanted “Close the camps!” and “Step it up, Chuck!”
Activist Tom Gogan cited the humanitarian costs of the child separation as his reason for coming out.
“[Schumer] is supporting more money to the border, which we do not trust is going to be used for humanitarian purposes. The camps are an atrocity and an incredible, ongoing violation of human rights,” he said. “It’s a horrible blight on our whole country.”
Another demonstrator, Theresa Mayer, said that Schumer must leverage his power as minority leader to push change.
“It’s on [Schumer] to hold his caucus together and stop this from happening. He holds the power and he could do something about this; he needs to listen to his constituents,“ Mayer said.
“We are all here to tell [Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Schumer] to do their jobs; to fight against Trump’s racist fear mongering,” said another protester.
An organizer said the protest was put together within 48 hours.
Contacted for comment, a spokesperson told this paper that “Sen. Schumer is deeply concerned with the unacceptable conditions at the border caused by Trump’s callous policies and commends New Yorkers who are raising awareness about it.
According to spokesperson Angelo Roefaro, Schumer, “Is pushing to do away with the horrible for-profit detention centers and delivering the resources to improve the deplorable conditions at non-profit and government-run shelters.”
In addition, said Roefaro, Schumer has, “Helped secure desperately-needed humanitarian aid to HHS and additional funding to safely house all those who are being processed, while inserting guardrails to prevent the funds from being used for ICE beds or the wall. He believes this humanitarian crisis demands commonsense solutions, including allowing people to apply for asylum in their home country, increased security assistance to Central American countries, and an increased number of immigration judges to speed cases.”
Outside Rose’s office at 8203 Third Ave, protesters chanted, “No hate, no fear. Refugees are welcome here!” as they stood holding signs.
The Bay Ridge demonstrators, some with their children in tow, said they are shocked by the Trump administration’s policies of separating children from their parents and holding migrants in cages in prison-like detention centers, which many of the protesters likened to concentration camps.
“I am here because I am an immigrant myself. I am here to support immigrants. They are not criminals,” Mary Shehu told this paper. Shehu, who came to the U.S. from her native Albania years ago, took part in the protest with her children, Detion and Debora.
The New York Times reported that inspectors from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General discovered squalid conditions in five detention centers in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas during inspection visits they paid to the facilities in June.
The inspectors reported seeing overcrowded cells, children in dirty clothes who had not showered and no hot meals, according to the Times.
Members of Congress who visited a detention center were shocked by what they saw.
U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat representing parts of Queens and the Bronx, said desperate migrants had no access to running water and were drinking out of toilets.
Rose has not visited a detention center as of yet.
The Bay Ridge protesters demanded that Rose, a freshman Democrat who represents several neighborhoods in Southwest Brooklyn and Staten Island, visit a detention center and work with fellow members of Congress to cut off funding for detention centers and deportations.
Natalie DeVito, a member of Fight Back Bay Ridge, said Rose voted in favor of a bill to provide emergency funding for the crisis at the border, legislation that did not include oversight.
“I won’t sit idly by while child abuse is being enabled, and the people of this community will do everything possible to stop it,” DeVito said in an email.
Rose, she said “should champion getting the camps shut down, because detention serves no purpose for asylees except to traumatize already traumatized people and squander taxpayer money to private companies who are getting wealthy from locking people up.”
In a statement issued after the vote, Rose said he wanted to get emergency funding in place but would have preferred a stronger bill.
“[T]hat bill did not come to the floor and we were presented with a bipartisan Senate bill which possesses a large number of those protections, even if not all of the ones I wanted. But I’m here to make progress, which this bill does, and is why I voted in favor of it. I am disappointed, but I will not let the perfect be the enemy of the good, especially when the lives of children are on the line,” Rose stated.
Mary Hetteix, a Bay Ridge resident, said she is heartbroken that children have died in detention centers and wants the facilities shut down. Those who seek asylum should be allowed to stay with relatives or friends in the U.S. while their cases are adjudicated in court, she said.
The coalition of groups organizing the rally included the New York Immigration Coalition, Bay Ridge for Social Justice, Fight Back Bay Ridge, South Brooklyn Democratic Socialists of America, Yalla Brooklyn and South Brooklyn Progressive Resistance.
Rose announced that he would visit a detention center this summer.
Speaking at a press conference with fellow House members U.S. Reps. Hakeem Jeffries, Nydia Velázquez and Carolyn Maloney, Rose called the conditions at the border unacceptable.
“It is obvious that our system is broken right now and has been for a long time. Congress should confront this crisis with the urgency it deserves. Congress should cancel recess, and any future ones, because those suffering on the border cannot wait,” Rose stated.
The White House Communications Office did not return messages.