Sweltering midday sun didn’t stop hundreds of community members from coming together on Saturday, June 30, in Greenport in support of the “Families Belong Together” day of action to condemn the Trump Administration’s U.S.-Mexico border policy of separating immigrant families.
The rally was one of over 700 that thousands participated in across the U.S. on the same day and was hosted by the North Fork Spanish Apostolate, an organization that serves as a catalyst for social change on Long Island’s East End. Sister Margaret Smythe, who established the apostolate in 1996, and Dr. Carolyn Peabody of Orient, organized the event.
Attendees wore white in solidarity and gathered by the water in Mitchell Park. Adults and children held an array of hand-made signs that shared messages aiming to put an end to the family separation policy, which has separated more than 2000 children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Social worker Tehmina Tirmizi was one of many who spoke to the crowd from a microphone under a tent behind the carousel, which continued business as usual during the rally.
“People don’t leave their home country unless violence or turmoil is too great for them to bear. No one looks forward to a harsh journey that leaves many of our immigrant friends vulnerable to discrimination, low wages, and distress,” she said. “We all need to raise our voices and stand together for those families.”
Margaret Cowden, a retired Baptist minister, spoke of the current administration’s failure to separate church and state. She referred to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s mid-June defense of the Trump Administration’s family separation policy, where he cited a passage from the Apostle Paul’s epistle to the Romans: “…and his clear and wise command . . . to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order.”
“I was dismayed by the attorney general smugly quoting scripture in defense of the utterly indefensible policy of zero-tolerance and the deplorable practice of separating families seeking asylum,” she said. “I was outraged as both as a citizen and as a Christian.”
Cowden said that while it’s appropriate for people of all faiths to turn to their own scriptures for guidance, using religion in defense of political action is not.
“When holy scriptures of one tradition are used in a multicultural, multi-ethnic, multi-faith nation as a weapon to justify inhumane actions and policies, the wall of separation between church and state has been breached. I would suggest that that is the only wall we need to protect our national safety,” she said.
When Sister Margaret took the microphone, she mentioned a North Fork family that was ripped apart when a mother and child were detained together. They were then sent away on a plane and the husband/father had no hint as to where his family had gone.
“This is happening on the North Fork. People are coming to our office saying that their child is in a detention center. They’re asking how to find out where they are. We’re here to say this shouldn’t be happening in the first place,” Sister Margaret said. “It’s very important that each of us have a voice and that our voices together make a big, loud sound.”
She said the family was eventually reunited, but that the traumatic experience has had a lasting effect on them.
Val Shelby, a co-chair of the Southold Town Anti-Bias Task Force, spoke before leading the crowd in a pledge for humanity.
“We’re all immigrants. Everyone here is an immigrant. America is the land of plenty. You can’t think that people are coming here and taking your jobs and your houses. America has an abundance of everything,” said Shelby.
She then led the pledge, and together the crowd pledged to treat people with “kindness, with love, with respect, and to not turn away from injustice.”
Several tables were set up by community outreach organizations, including the Apostolate, a voter registration group, and Vote Like a Mother, a local organization aiming to rally people for change.
The crowd sang “We Shall Overcome” and “God Bless America” as the event came to an end.