WHITE PLAINS – “We need America to be America again,” MaryJane Shimsky said.
That was the message the Hastings-on-Hudson Democrat and Westchester County legislator passed on to more than 100 people who gathered in White Plains today to show their support for immigrants and the issues with which the United States is wrestling.
Speaking from the steps of the Westchester County government building, White Plains Mayor Tom Roach told the supporters that they need to make sure their will is heard. Their voices were heard loud and clear on the issue of immigration and separating children from their families at the border: they have had enough.
“Families are the bedrock of our society, any society,” Westchester County Legislator Virginia Perez, a Yonkers Democrat and a native of the Dominican Republic, said during a speech at the rally, in which local and state lawmakers and immigration advocates expressed their support for keeping families together and ending immigration policies that have sparked debate throughout the country recently.
The rally was organized amid increasing outcry over the federal government’s practice of separating children from their parents as they cross the border, a policy that President Donald Trump ended on Wednesday.
More than 2,300 children remain separated from their parents, though, as part of the federal Unaccompanied Alien Children program.
Andrew Cuomo said this week that as many as 700 of those children have been brought to New York, including to four facilities in Westchester — Lincoln Hall in Somers, Children’s Village in Dobbs Ferry, Abbott House in Irvington, and Rising Ground, formerly Leake & Watts, in Somers. The fate of those children remains unclear in the wake of Trump’s decision to end the separation practice.
“We’ve had enough,” White Plains Democrat Ben Boykin, chairman of the Westchester Board of Legislators, told the crowd at the rally. “It’s time to bring those families back together.”
“This is a moral test for our nation,” said Noelle Damico, co-chair of the Westchester Women’s Agenda, which organized the rally.
At times the crowd broke out into chants of “keep families together!” Lawmakers and advocates spoke about the importance of that mantra.
“These families are some of the most vulnerable members of our society, many escaping violence and human trafficking,” said Joana Kaso, an immigration and human trafficking attorney for My Sisters’ Place, a White Plains-based organization that combats domestic violence and human trafficking.
Kaso said she immigrated to the United States 12 years ago after seeking asylum, and that many families dream of the same opportunity she had.
“They have already endued so much before they arrived at our borders, seeking asylum, hoping for safety, justice and, just like me, the possibility of a second chance at life.”
With Trump’s zero-tolerance policy of prosecuting people criminally for crossing the border, Kaso said, those families “are finding that door slammed shut and worse, having their children pulled from their arms.”
Desiree Berger, a Yonkers family law attorney for My Sisters’ Place, said the group had representatives at the rally because many of their clients are from immigrant populations.
“It’s an important issue that hits home for us,” said Chantall Sanchez, a paralegal for My Sisters’ Place.