At a Suffolk County legislative meeting in Riverhead, more than 30 Long Island immigrants, advocates, and faith leaders rallied to ask the legislators to support and welcome the newly arrived children from Central America seeking safety in the U.S. At a press conference outside the legislative building, the coalition asked the legislators to support the work of members of the coalition in their efforts to help the children transition to life here. They also asked that legislators act as advocates for the children.
Suffolk Legislator Monica Martinez attended the rally and spoke to members of the coalition. “It’s not an easy trek to come here,” she said. “And it’s unfortunate that now they are faced with a government that unfortunately is not accepting them. It’s not their fault. These are young children. All they want is a better life.”
Addressing legislators during the public portion of the legislative meeting, members of the coalition called for compassion and offered to work with legislators in providing guidance and information where possible.
“This is a serious situation,” said Rev. Charles Coverdale, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Riverhead. “What I’d like to petition our county legislature to do is not only individually become advocates themselves in the various districts they represent, but as a body speak to and address this situation and the overall state of Long Island.”
Patrick Young, program director for the Central American Refugee Center (CARECEN), reminded the legislature that most of the children have come to be reunited with family members who are already living in the county. “We ask that Suffolk legislators become advocates for the children because these are the children of your constituents,” he said.
“The children are young, scared, and need a trusted adult looking out for their interests, whether as a interpreter, legal advocate, or care provider,” said Maryann Sinclair Slutsky, executive director of Long Island Wins. “Advocates and volunteers across Long Island are already stepping up to provide this help. We ask that Suffolk County legislators do their part to support these efforts, as well as those of faith communities who are leading the call to help these children, and commit to treating the children with compassion and dignity.”
She offered suggestions for how the county could contribute:
- Work with the legal community to set up a hotline for legal services.
- Work with non-profits in the health care, education, and mental health fields.
- Hold their own meetings to determine solutions that work for all residents in their various communities.
The coalition also asked the legislators to speak out against hatred directed toward the children.
“Lashing out against these children violates our integrity as a nation and as people of faith,” said Slutsky. “The solution does not lie in punishing the children but ensuring they receive the proper screening, protection, and legal counsel that our laws demand.”