Long Island immigrant advocates rallied a day ahead of President Donald Trump’s planned visit to Bethpage to say they do not welcome him and that local officials should reject his rhetoric.
About 25 leaders of groups working for immigrant and civil rights, representing such communities as Salvadorans, Haitians, Jews and Pakistanis, joined Tuesday outside the Nassau County Executive Building in Mineola to denounce Trump before his appearance Wednesday afternoon at the Morrelly Homeland Security Center.
They chanted “No more hate!” and “No, Trump no!” and held signs that said to “tell Trump we don’t want his kind here.”
The president is expected at a forum on the MS-13 gang, which has been linked to multiple brutal slayings on Long Island and across the country.
Trump has been criticized for referring to members of the transnational gang as “animals” in recent days.
Walter Barrientos, Long Island organizer with Make The Road New York, said that Trump’s presence would sow divisions “to score political points off a local tragedy” in which “more than a dozen young people have lost their lives” in recent years.
“We are here to say no . . . He has constantly attacked immigrant communities, first calling them criminals and rapists, and then in the past week repeatedly referring to them as animals,” Barrientos said. “That is what we’re here rejecting today.”
Trump’s use of that word at a White House discussion on immigration reform Friday and since has drawn objections, including from the Mexican foreign ministry, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and immigrant advocates.
Trump and members of the administration have consistently spoken bluntly about the gang and its members, often youths from Central America recruited in immigrant communities.
The White House, in a statement Monday, said, “Too many innocent Americans have fallen victim to the unthinkable violence of MS-13’s animals.”
Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), who has been helping to coordinate the Bethpage forum, said in a statement that the critics were the ones politicizing the event.
“All people of good will should thank President Trump for his dedicated efforts to fighting MS-13 and save innocent lives,” King said. “This is no time for cheap political attacks against the president.”
Advocates called on local elected and law enforcement officials to stand in solidarity with immigrants, and not with Trump.
“Standing with him legitimizes his agenda of criminalizing youth, of dividing families, of lending hate and fear, instead of support and hope,” said Susan Gottehrer, director of the Nassau chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “Standing with him creates complicity and association with every word that will come out of his mouth tomorrow.”
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, a Democrat, said she would attend, describing the event as “a unique opportunity to directly seek more federal funds and assistance for law enforcement to combat gangs and gain resources for community groups to keep our youth from joining gangs.”
Suffolk Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart also is slated to participate.
Advocates said they were not defending the gang, but countering a deportation policy and rhetoric that made it harder to cut the reach of MS-13.
“When you criminalize communities,” said Sergio Argueta, board chairman of the anti-gang group STRONG Youth, “you create the perfect environment for death and destruction.”