Local lawmakers on Sunday took to the streets of Sunset Park to combat the panic in immigrant communities in the wake of ongoing raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
U.S. Rep. Nydia Velázquez and Councilmember Carlos Menchaca, who represent the area on the federal and local levels, respectively, went into the heart of the largely immigrant neighborhood to check in on families and reassure non-U.S. citizen residents of their rights.
Sunset Park has been the most-targeted areaacross the city in the past week for ICE, accounting for half of the eight so-far confirmed raids across the city.
More than 47 percent of residents are foreign-born in Community District 7, which encompasses Sunset Park and Windsor Terrace, according to data from the New York City Planning Department.
“Today is just ‘Know Your Rights,’ and part of what were trying to do is show that there are government officials who are in support with them [immigrants] — but this isn’t just happening in one part of the neighborhood, it’s happening everywhere,” Menchaca told the Eagle. “If one person is attacked, everyone is attacked.”
The pair started at the Eighth Avenue subway station at the center of the area’s Chinatown, where they passed out “Know Your Rights” information to straphangers. The Chinese-American population in the area has been growing in recent years, with city data showing that 32.4 percent of individuals identify as Asian.
“People need to know their rights,” said Nicole Huang, president of the Parent and Child Relationship organization, which caters to the Asian immigrant community in the area. “We’re giving them the flyer so that they can keep it at home, maybe for a child, sibling or neighbor to use.”
At the next stop of the day’s tour, a local recreation center, Velázquez made sure to reiterate that undocumented immigrants shouldn’t fear leaving their homes or public spaces, referencing a recent subway notice that appeared warning immigrants of possible ICE detention.
“I saw one that they brought to the recent forum, but also they have been letting my office know that there is one that was posted on the 7 train saying that you should not use the subway because ICE is coming. That is not the case, someone is doing this. And it just plays into the fear … It’s just shameful,” Velázquez said.
The last destination on the three-stop tour was St. Michael’s R.C. Church, which was packed for Sunday morning mass with a congregation of Latinx immigrants and families.
The lawmakers addressed the parishioners, many of whom are undocumented themselves or have undocumented neighbors, with words of advice when confronted with ICE officials.
“We understand that there is fear because ICE has been in Sunset Park and we are here to support you guys … the most important thing is if someone has the potential to get detained by ICE, that you have a plan. That you have the phone number of a lawyer, or my office, or that of [Councilmember] Carlos Menchaca, if you have a problem…we want to prevent disinformation and for people to know their rights,” said Velazquez to the congregation.
The address was met with a round of applause and gratitude as churchgoers took the literature with them as they left.
One of the church’s ushers, a longtime resident of the area, told the Eagle he hasn’t been too panicked by the raids.
“I heard that they are around here — but I myself haven’t seen them, but that’s what my wife tells me,” said Amador, a Mexican national. “You know, I actually feel good right now. I have been here nearly 34 years and I still haven’t gotten my paperwork together. I figure if they send me and my wife back, I guess it’s time and we had a good run.”
Menchaca and Velázquez will host a press conference on Monday at 2 p.m. at New Fulin Kwok (4619 Eighth Ave.) in Sunset Park to again remind undocumented immigrants of their rights and reassure them of their safety to access city and federal resources.