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Sep 5, 2017 4:44 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

East Hampton Committee, Formed To Open Town To Latino Community, Abandons Town Hall

Zach Cohen, left, Diana Walker, Minerva Perez, Angela Quintero, Maritza Aucapina, and Juan Guichay discussing tenants' rights at the East Hampton Town Hall on November 21, 2016.  PRESS FILE
Sep 5, 2017 5:10 PM

In February 2016, East Hampton Town created a new advisory committee that was touted as the most proactive move yet by the town to connect with members of the large Spanish-speaking immigrant population.

In the first months of the Latino Advisory Committee’s work, it hosted several public meetings on key topics, such as explaining new town laws and the rights of rental tenants. The meetings drew large numbers of Latino residents, at the urging of the committee members, to Town Hall.

But as last year’s presidential campaign took a decidedly negative tone toward immigration, tension grew among even members of the committee who are not full-fledged American citizens. And in the seven months since the Trump administration took over the White House, the Latino Advisory Committee, which was intended to be a new connection between the town and the Latino community, has itself had to stop holding meetings in Town Hall because of heightened fears among attendees about deportation.

“The idea for this committee was to open a dialogue portal for the Latino residents of East Hampton to discuss the issues that affected them, and they would be talked about by the Town Board,” said Diana Walker, one of the organizers of the committee. “We had some great meetings … everyone felt very comfortable. Then Trump got elected, and suddenly the fear came back—it was palpable—and things went into stasis.”

Early in the year, the committee turned to holding meetings in local churches rather than Town Hall. But its members soon discovered that even those gathering places did not help some people in the community to feel safe when it came to gatherings.

The committee continued to work, discussing a host of ways to assist the Latino community in large and small ways, sometimes meeting in the homes of members or other residents.

“We are planning to do a meeting as soon as possible to discuss the teenagers and college students, the ‘dreamers,’” said Angela Quintero, co-chairwoman of the committee. “The committee will come back to work at Town Hall, but, for the people to come and talk with us, we will hold them at homes or the churches. The people are afraid. They think, at the Town Hall, the police are going to do something if they don’t have documents.”

Ms. Quintero said that much of the committee’s efforts have been spent trying to explain that interacting with town officials is important, and that the employees of Town Hall are not police and do not care if someone has proper immigration documents or not.

Such explanations often fall on deaf ears—or on ears of people who do not understand the levels of American government administration.

“You have undocumented people who don’t want to see authorities, no matter what the situation,” said Oswaldo Palomo, a committee member. “The level of education of many is very low. They don’t make a difference between a police officer and the fire department. They don’t feel safe around the government people, whether it’s Mr. Cantwell or Donald Trump.”

Supervisor Larry Cantwell, who is the Town Board liaison to the Latino Advisory Committee, said it’s been frustrating to see the Latino community struggle to embrace the town, and now to pull even further away.

Mr. Cantwell himself made a dramatic public announcement just hours after President Donald Trump issued edicts calling on municipal police forces to take on immigration law enforcement, saying that East Hampton Town’s police force would do no such thing. He said the town has labored, through public statements and actions, to make clear that it has not changed its stance toward immigrant residents since the ascendancy of Mr. Trump.

“It’s disappointing, because we’re trying to open a dialogue in the community and bring people together, and Washington is doing the exact opposite and scaring people away,” the supervisor said. “The town has extended an invitation to everyone who lives in the East Hampton community to be part of the community, and we want everyone to participate.”

Members of the committee said they do not know how—or if—they will be able to restore faith in some Latino residents who are not full-fledged citizens that the town and local police are not deportation agents.

Ms. Quintero said that the committee remains dedicated to its role and will continue working on the issues it set out to address early on, in whatever forum it has to in order to reach the right audience.

“I don’t know what the answer is,” said Ms. Walker, an Amagansett resident who helped start a nonprofit legal aid group that helps immigrants with wills, various immigration forms and health care proxy documents. “We make available a welcoming hand, and if people are not comfortable going to a certain place for it, then let’s find a place where they are comfortable.”

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"But as last year’s presidential campaign took a decidedly negative tone toward immigration..." correction: "But as last year's presidential campaign took a decidely negative tone toward ILLEGAL immigration."
By Babyboo (293), Hampton Bays on Sep 5, 17 6:28 PM
1 member liked this comment
I understand these people are afraid to get deported. But, why haven't they, in all these years, tried to become american citizens ???
I know of a nice family here that took the time and became a part of The Dream, they became citizens... They pay taxes, buy insurance and learning to speak English our language. No freebies...
By knitter (1941), Southampton on Sep 5, 17 6:47 PM
1 member liked this comment
What if i told you there is no way for them to become legal? Too many people believe illegals are staying in the country illegally so they don't have to pay taxes and live off the system. This is not the case, most people would welcome a path to citizenship even if it involved waiting, paying fees, fines, back owed taxes as long as they were given the opportunity. The law simply doesn't allow illegal immigrants to become citizens.
By DonQuixote (4), Southampton on Sep 5, 17 8:03 PM
They're here illegally, period. I believe in a path to citizenship but you can't break the law, say sorry and then think awww c'mon.. I didn't mean to. Make me a citizen! Rental rights for tenants. You know how many overcrowded houses occur because 4 people are on the lease and as soon as the paper is signed they are subletting to everyone they know who needs a bed? That's why they can pay the high rents, there are 12 of them giving 200 a piece, three or four to a room. I've been to Central ...more
By lirider (288), Hampton Bays on Sep 5, 17 10:28 PM
Tell that to someone who was brought here when they were 4 years old.
By adlkjd923ilifmac.aladfksdurwp (747), southampton on Sep 6, 17 7:55 AM
I think everyone needs a reminder that Mexicans are only being asked to return to Mexico. They seem unusually upset.
By even flow (1023), East Hampton on Sep 6, 17 8:01 AM
How did that 4 year old get here ?
By Sturgis (611), Southampton on Sep 6, 17 9:37 AM
it doesnt really matter how they got here.
they did not choose to or have any way to control where they were taken and they are not responsible for the actions of others.

their 'home' country is not (mexico) it is the united states

By adlkjd923ilifmac.aladfksdurwp (747), southampton on Sep 6, 17 1:35 PM
What an outrageous article! What Trump is doing is getting rapist, murders and M16 gang members out of the country. Unfortunately, this pious article makes it sound as though we're back in Nazi Germany with people being stopped in broad daylight and their papers demanded. Give me a break! Maybe if Trump had been President the Nun who was run over in Water Mill by an illegal alien with a criminal record then fled back to Central America and was never caught, or the young woman in Southampton who ...more
By BillWillConn3 (180), Southampton on Sep 5, 17 9:19 PM
2 members liked this comment
You're certainly entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts. Trump deportations lag well behind Obama's, but arrests are way up via a ramp-up of simple stopping with demands for papers. This has created a huge backlog in the courts and partially accounts for the slowdown in deportation. Another is that immigration itself has slowed considerably in the last couple of years.
By June Bug (2680), SOUTHAMPTON on Sep 5, 17 10:02 PM
So how do you reconcile being a big fan of the deporter in chief, obama, who allegedly deported more illegal aliens than any other President and your anger about Trump ending daca?
By even flow (1023), East Hampton on Sep 6, 17 8:02 AM
1 member liked this comment
Because he is a democrat and therefore everything he does is good while everything a republican does is bad. At least that's how Turkey Bridge's lecture went.
By Gillnetter (105), Hampton Bays on Sep 6, 17 8:45 AM
Totally different situations, my man.
And following your logic, why, if you are such a proponent of deportation, do you not sing the praises of President Obama?
By June Bug (2680), SOUTHAMPTON on Sep 6, 17 10:56 AM
What you described is literally what Joe Arpaio was doing in AZ. Selective reasoning much?
By johnj (1024), Westhampton on Sep 6, 17 2:06 PM
The hypocrisy of the left knows no bounds.
By bigfresh (4666), north sea on Sep 6, 17 9:51 AM
Immigrants are either legal or illegal and there is no grey area because if they entered the country illegally and without documentation, with children without documentation, their status does not change no matter how long they remain in country. Many in the illegal community were en-powered by community activists’ to get out and speak out, and as a result they’ve lived quite comfortably, meaning they were not afraid to make demands in the same manner that legal citizens do. Everyone ...more
By pigroast (100), East Quogue on Sep 6, 17 5:35 PM
Sounds like a great opportunity to call in ICE. If they call a meeting it would be worth it to contact the proper authorities. I've posted the contact information for ICE below.

New York Field Office
26 Federal Plaza 9th Floor, Suite 9-110
New York, NY, 10278
Phone: (212) 264-4213
Area of Responsibility: The five boroughs (counties of NYC) and the following counties: Duchess, Nassau, Putnam, Suffolk, Sullivan, Orange, Rockland, Ulster, and Westchester

Email: NewYork.Outreach@ice.dhs.gov
By TrueHamptons (33), Sag Harbor on Sep 7, 17 11:17 AM