City agencies, organizations come together in Bay Ridge for pro-immigration ‘Day of Action’

February 8, 2017 Meaghan McGoldrick
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One New York.

That was the message at a Wednesday, February 8 press conference outside a busy Bay Ridge subway station to kick off an official “Day of Action” geared towards ensuring the protection of the city’s Muslim-American communities.

The presser, hosted by a handful of city agencies — including the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, the City Commission on Human Rights (CCHR), the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) and the Community Affairs Unit  — and leading Muslim-American organizations, in conjunction with local politicians, took place at 9:30 a.m. near the corner of Bay Ridge and Fourth Avenues in an effort to remind immigrant New Yorkers, “especially those hailing from Muslim communities” like Bay Ridge, that the city is still behind them.

“We are all New Yorkers, regardless of what you believe, what country you come from or who you love,” said Dana Sussman, deputy commissioner of policy and intergovernmental affairs at CCHR. “It’s been a very rough few months – that goes without saying. Tensions are high. People are scared. But we are united as one city and we speak with one voice.”

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Sussman was just one of many present at the presser to preach the importance of inclusion.

“The one message today is that, yes, we’re all in this together,” said Councilmember Vincent Gentile, whose district office in Bay Ridge has long been providing immigrant services to local residents, “but, if you don’t know where to go, pick up the phone and call 311. That is the gateway to all the agencies and all the services that you can access.”

Councilmember Carlos Menchaca, chair of the council’s Committee on Immigration, agreed.

“[Gentile] said it best. This is stuff that we’ve been doing [at our offices and across the city] for a long time, and now the test is here,” he said. “What we are seeing today is a groundswell for so many parts of our neighborhood, where [people] are coming out and taking this information and collecting it for their neighbors. That is something that should be applauded.”

Starting earlier that morning, participating agencies and organizations teamed up with volunteers citywide to distribute information on crucial immigration services in multiple languages outside 12 subway stations in populous neighborhoods like Astoria, Jackson Heights and Union Square during the morning rush hour.

Flyers included information on IDNYC, public safety, education, health care, immigration legal help and more.

“As Americans of all stripes face anxiety about our country’s stance on immigration, there are unfortunately those who will look to prey on that fear,” stressed DCA Commissioner Lorelei Salas, who led the press conference and opened with a warning to local residents about potential “safety” scams that the city has already seen conning immigrants out of thousands of dollars.

Salas encouraged those living in fear not to be “lured by false promises,” and to reach out to the city – which, she assured, will never ask about immigration status – with any and all questions and concerns, and for access to free, trustworthy services.

“As an ActionNYC immigration site, we saw the ramifications of the Trump administration’s executive order firsthand,” noted Aber Kawas, lead advocacy organizer for the Arab American Association of New York, based in Bay Ridge. “Our clients immediately streamed to us for counsel on these absurd policies of exclusion that left them both in fear and confusion.”

Kawas commended the city for its abundance of resources, and the multiple parties that helped make Wednesday’s outreach efforts possible.

“We hope to continue engaging with the city to further implement protections to extend the security and sanctuary in New York,” she said.

Other participating organizations included the Council on American-Islamic Relations for New York, the Muslim Community Network, the Council of Peoples Organization, Make The Road New York, and the New York Immigration Coalition, among others.

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