Long Island Latinos raise voices at panel discussion


“We need to get to know immigrants,” said Osman Canales, a Salvadorian activist from Suffolk County. “It may be difficult because of the areas we live in, and because [Long Island] is so segregated. My advice is to engage with organizations that cater to immigrants.”

Canales spoke at a panel discussion titled, “Latinos on Long Island,” which was held at Central Synagogue-Beth Emeth on Oct. 24. The event was hosted by Raising Voices, a Rockville Centre-based civic group, and the Hispanic Brotherhood of RVC, and aimed to share the experiences of the area’s Latinos with people who, as Canales noted, might not have the opportunity to “get to know” them.

About 70 people turned out for the event, according to Raising Voices activist Brett Sanford-Chung, who organized the event.

Canales, who works with undocumented youth, said that many of them don’t know their status. “Usually it happens when it’s time to apply for college,” he explained. “They come home and ask their parents for their social security number, which they need for the applications. When their parents tell them, ‘You don’t have one,’” Canales added, undocumented students have to face an uncertain future.

Margarita Grasing, director of the Hispanic Brotherhood, joined Canales on the panel. She talked about her experience of immigrating to the United States from Cuba when she was 18. “It’s very hard,” she said, “for an immigrant to change countries, to change language.”

She also talked about the work that the Brotherhood has done to serve the local Hispanic population. “In Rockville Centre, there are about 3,000 Hispanic immigrants,” she said, “mostly from the Dominican Republic and mostly legal.” After working with them over the years, she said, “I started to see the abuse of that group of people.”

People would come to her with notes from their landlords, saying with little warning that they had to vacate their homes by the end of the week. “They didn’t know that they had rights,” Grasing said. In some cases, she added, landlords of rent-controlled apartments were raising their rents above what was allowed. The Brotherhood teamed up with Rockville Centre lawyer Bill Gomes who agreed to work pro bono on such cases.

“We sued a lot of landlords in this village,” Grasing said, referring to lawsuits, some of which were resolved decades ago. “We even sued the [Rockville Centre] Housing Authority,” she added, citing a case in the mid-1980s. Many of Gomes’ clients won their suits, she added, and landlords were forced to pay back the extra rent that they had charged to tenants.

Patrick Young, a lawyer for CARECEN, an organization that provides legal services for immigrants and refugees, talked about his concerns with the Trump administration’s approach to immigration. “It’s not an attack on illegal immigration,” he said, “it’s an attack on people who are here legally.” This includes, he said, young people who are registered under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, and people who have Temporary Protected Status.

Young said that there are up to 25,000 Long Islanders who are in the country legally under DACA or TPS. He added that if these programs are allowed to expire, many of the people who benefit from them could lose their jobs and become unable to pay their mortgages, which would increase zombie homes that plague many Long Island communities.

Young added that he’s frustrated by the lack of discussion about these issues. “There’s a tendency by both those on the left and right to focus on undocumented immigration,” he said. “[Trump’s] opponents are fixated on the wall as much as his supporters are.”