A passionate crowd of protestors ignited a conversation on the separation of immigrant families at a rally at the Piazza Ernesto Strada in Westbury on Saturday, June 30.
The peaceful protest was held in conjunction with a number of “Families Belong Together” marches and rallies throughout the United States, all demanding that the government reunite families separated at points of entry along the southern border. Many of the migrant families had fled violence in their homes in South and Central America and hoped to seek asylum in the United States.
Reports of migrant family separation and the conditions within child detention centers surfaced last month, documenting the mistreatment of roughly 2,000 detained children. President Donald Trump signed an executive order ending family separation on June 20, yet many of the children separated still have not been reunited with their families.
During the rally, speakers and organizers laid out a number of demands, calling for the end of family detention and urging the Nassau County government and police to stop cooperating with the U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE).
“A community where undocumented immigrants feel safe cooperating with police without fear of deportation is a safer community for us all,” said Deana Davoudiasl, the 25-year-old Princeton graduate from Rockville Center and cofounder of the Young Progressives of Long Island.
An estimated 400 people from all parts of Long Island attended the rally in Westbury. The village serves a diverse community with many first and second-generation immigrant families of Latino and African American descent.
Many of the passing drivers honked their horns in support as they passed the protestors, many of whom were lined up along Post Avenue with signs and white attire. White, according to the rally’s organizers, symbolizes unity between people—a concept many of the speakers present talked about.
The initial idea for the local protest came from Naiomi Rawlings, a recent Westbury High School grad and 17-year-old daughter of immigrants.
“Every single immigrant here is coming to have an education, have a life for themselves,” Rawlings said. “Every single one of us contributes to this country, no matter what Trump says.”
Rawlings reached out to her peers and posted the location of the rally to MoveOn.org, which hosted a directory of the more than 600 planned rallies nationwide. It was there that Davoudiasl found Rawlings and reached out to the teen about co-sponsoring with Young Progressives of Nassau County.
In just two weeks, 19 other community organizations signed on as co-sponsors, including Latinos Unidos de Long Island, Empowering Young Professionals of Long Island and Long Island Women’s Diversity Network.
Josephine Hall, a teacher at Powells Lane School, chose to attend the rally with the Women’s Diversity Network after seeing the effects of immigrant endangerment on her students, many of whom come from immigrant families.
“You have a student who’s not engaged because they’re worried about their parents, and now you have parents who are not engaged because they’re worried about their overall safety,” Hall said. “That impacts their functioning as a student. We have to be cognizant of what our students are going through when they go into the classroom.”
Many of the high school students in the area have taken the fight for immigrant rights upon themselves. Westbury High School seniors Jessica Ellis and Alahna Perez founded Time For Action, which promotes student activism. Ellis and Perez both come from immigrant families; Perez’s mother emigrated from the Dominican Republic with her two sisters, and Ellis’s mother came from Jamaica.
“This is hitting home,” Ellis said. “[These are] our parents, grandmothers, our family.”
Many of the speakers encouraged attendees to vote for candidates who value immigrant rights in the upcoming local and national elections. Elected representatives present at the rally included New York State Assemblyman Charles Lavine, Nassau County Legislator Arnold Drucker and Town of North Hempstead Councilwoman Anna Kaplan.
Kaplan, who is currently running for the New York State Senate, spoke about her own experience as an immigrant during the rally. She came to the U.S. as an Iranian refugee in the 1970s, leaving her family at just 13.
“I am a product of what’s great about America,” Kaplan said. “We are all in this, we are all immigrants.”
Additional “Families Belong Together” protests were held across the island in Huntington, East Meadow, Greenport and Rockville Center.