Donald J. Trump is the President of the United States, and of all the people living in this country who have cause for concern about what comes next, perhaps no one has more reason to worry than immigrants, both documented and undocumented.
For the past two years, Trump has offered various statements about deporting millions of hard-working immigrants, closing our borders to individuals from countries deemed to harbor terrorists, and banning Muslims from entering America. Additionally, the new President has talked about ending the popular DACA program shortly after taking over the presidency.
Trump rarely offers any details of his plans to curtail immigration, making concern and confusion prevalent. With that as a backdrop, aid and social service organizations on Long Island, along with educators, are being forced to grapple with the unknown as immigrant parents and children search for answers.
But there’s far from a consensus on how much more concerned the immigrant population on Long Island has been since November 8th.
“The feedback we’re getting is significant fear, sadness, and concern,” said Gwen O’Shea of the Health and Welfare Council of Long Island, based in Melville. “It’s not just fear of what [Trump’s] rhetoric means from an immigration perspective, but from a safety perspective in their own communities,” O’Shea said her staff hears anecdotal stories from families and children being harassed at school and around their towns as well as being the targets of derogatory comments.
Donna Teichner, the Assistant Vice-President of the Family and Children’s Association’s Preventative Services in Hempstead, said that while the “fear factor” has always been there for immigrant families, the lack of specifics on Trump’s plans really hampers her ability to calm nerves.
“The kids are asking what policy changes are going to happen. These are very smart kids, and honestly, there’s so much unknown that we can’t give them concrete answers,” Teichner said.
Teichner added that while there is concern, many of the children who’ve arrived on Long Island in the past few years have seen much, much worse in their lives. “They have fled horrible things in their homeland, so they are pretty resilient,” Teichner said. “They ask questions, but they don’t seem overly afraid. They feel safe here.”
Indeed, the biggest concern post-election has been the same as it was before, Teichner explained, and that’s that families want to be able to get their final, legal papers that allow them to stay in the U.S.
Other aid organizations say that there hasn’t been an appreciable change since November 8. Sister Margaret Smyth of the Spanish Apostolate of the North Fork in Riverhead said the families she deals with haven’t expressed more concern than usual.
“Maybe in the beginning for a few days after [the election], we saw a little more fear, but now it’s been back to normal,” Smyth said. “People are coming in for the usual reasons, like unpaid wages and concerns about healthcare.”
Smyth also said that a bit of humor is also helping people cope: “They hear Trump talk about building that wall and they’ll say ‘Who’s going to build that wall if he gets rid of all the Mexicans?’ They don’t know how it’ll get built.”
Teachers and principals are most in touch with immigrant children’s concerns, but three principals and three school district superintendents contacted by Long Island Wins either could not discuss the matter or did not return calls and emails seeking comment.
One high school teacher in Suffolk County who wished to remain anonymous said he’s hearing from other educators in his school that students are “very worried.”
“An Earth Science teacher told me that a lot of her students who’ve been here for a few years are worried they’ll get deported,” the teacher said. “These kids work after school and help support their families, so the threat of not being able to keep doing that worries them.”
What all of the aid organizations agree on is that families are grateful and aware of the many social services on Long Island.
“This is where the strength of our network comes in, that there are partners and organizations like the New York Civil Liberties Association (NYCLU), Make the Road, and the Long Island Civic Engagement Table, who can all offer guidance and help,” Teichner said. “We tell them that New York State has so much that can be beneficial.”