Greenport Trustee Douglas Roberts’ resolution proclaiming the village a welcoming community passed unanimously Thursday evening, after more than two hours of public testimony about the role immigrants have played in making the village one of the most diverse communities on the East End.
The resolution, a series of statements about the village’s history of welcoming immigrants, says that “by recognizing and applauding the contributions that we all make to sustain and enhance our already vibrant culture and growing economy, we continue to make our community more prosperous and more inclusive to all who call it home.”
The full text of the resolution is online here.
About 100 people from Greenport and throughout the North Fork showed up to discuss the measure, with most speaking in favor of it, and about a half-dozen speaking against it, either because they wanted increased immigration enforcement or because they believe Greenport is already a welcoming community.
Mr. Roberts suggested the symbolic resolution as an alternative to Greenport becoming a ‘Sanctuary City,’ where police officers do not honor Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainers for undocumented immigrants, because Greenport does not have a police force.
The idea of a Sanctuary City was the primary focus of a recent well-attended ‘Synergy Greenport‘ conversation between Southold Town Police, who police the village, and residents, at which the Southold Town Board members in attendance, Councilmen Jim Dinizio and Bill Ruland, didn’t want to consider and didn’t take a stance, respectively, on whether to make the town a Sanctuary City.
Former Greenport Mayor David Kapell was the first to express his support for the resolution, saying that he believes about 20 percent of village residents are at risk of deportation.
“Without them, the village will tank and the school will be forced to close,” he said. “This is the leadership challenge of our time for our village board.”
Frequent village board critic William Swiskey said “I don’t say this in a mean way, but the federal government sets the law. They are going to enforce it. We can holler and we can scream and it’s not going to do anything about it.”
Kathryn Casey Quigley of Greenport disagreed, saying the board had a rare chance to take a stand on something happening at a federal level that directly affects village residents.
“It is symbolic, but symbols have a lot of power,” she said. “Let it be just the beginning of what we do to support the Latino community here in Greenport.”
Robert Kehl couldn’t disagree more. He held up a sign with phone number to report ICE violations, and told attendees they could use the number to “report obstruction of justice in our immigration laws,” adding that people could report the clergy for helping undocumented immigrants.
His comments drew an angry response from the crowd.
East Quogue immigration attorney Christopher Worth also riled up the audience. Visibly angry because he’d had visitors in his office the previous day who had asked how to report immigrants to authorities, he pointed to the American flag in the corner of the room and said he had begun to see the flag as a symbol of hate, something he’d never imagined he would see.
He referenced a man he’d seen running with the flag on his way to Greenport who he assumed was a nationalist, but who was in fact a Marine known to many in the room, who loudly shamed Mr. Worth for his comments.
Mr. Worth later apologized.
“I didn’t know that man was a veteran,” he said.
Minerva Perez of Sag Harbor, the Executive Director of Organización Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island, urged the board to approve the resolution.
“The bravery I see here in this room, I would like to take back to the South Fork as a model,” she said.
Ms. Perez shared a story of a mock job interview day she’d taken part in at East Hampton High School, where a Latino student looked her in the eye and said he wanted to be a Navy Seal and then come home and be an East Hampton Town police officer.
“I thought, my god this is our future. This boy is going to be that for us and we are too tired to raise our hands,” she said. “These children want to serve their country and will die for their country whether their parents are immigrants or not.”
She later found out about a current East Hampton Town police officer who had been a Navy Seal and set up a meeting between the student and the police officer.
The boy was star-struck, she said, and the police officer was also moved by the experience.
“It turns out, this boy’s not documented, and that didn’t even stop him from saying that,” she said. “I have to share this story over and over and over again. This is our future.”
Joann McEntee of Greenport told the crowd that most of them “are not members of the Village of Greenport,” and said she was skeptical of the resolution’s wording in the form of “whereas, blah blah blah.”
“There are criminals here. We have MS-13,” she said, then asked how many illegal immigrants Mr. Kapell was harboring.
“Years ago, this was a dumping ground. We don’t want it to be a dumping ground,” she said. “If you’re here illegally, you committed a crime and you need to leave. These people don’t care where they live. Come down Fifth Avenue and you’ll see. I live right next to one.”
Robin Goodman of Orient, who pointed out that even resolutions extolling the virtue of smoke detectors on the walls of the firehouse meeting room were in the form of several ‘whereas’ statements, said she knows first-hand what it is to be an undocumented person.
She lived for 13 years in France, and tried throughout that time to get her working papers.
“It was a really upsetting, horrible thing,” she said, adding that most undocumented workers in the United States pay federal taxes and never receive the benefits of paying into that system.
Former Southold Town Highway Superintendent Pete Harris said that two of his grandparents immigrated to the United States from Poland, and “they were looked down upon back in their day so much that they had to change their names.”
He said that citizens in the village were being hypocritical when they say they are welcoming but then offer overcrowded housing to immigrants.
“We have upstanding citizens putting two, three and four families in single family homes and they’re lining their pockets,” he said. “Welcoming for what? To make a buck?”
Bill Wright of Greenport said he thinks people should give the Trump administration a chance.
“We need to give the administration an opportunity to deal with this. Listen, I have no hatred for anybody. Welcome to America,” he said, but added that border security has failed the country in recent years. “Now we have this big old boondoggle and everybody is divided. We need to give the administration in Washington the ability to deal with this.”
Art Tillman of Mattituck, who serves as the chairman of the Southold Democratic Committee, pointed out that there are many undocumented Polish immigrants on the North Fork.
“They didn’t cross the Rio Grande. They came here on a visa and they didn’t go,” he said.
“They’re really worried. They don’t know when they’re going to be yanked from their homes,” he said. “If you’ve always been welcome, I guess what you’re doing here is just saying you’re welcoming. If you’ve got a candle — this goes back to the days seamen from all over the world came here — you’ve got a candle. Don’t hide it under a bushel. Let the world see.”
Arthur Tasker of Greenport said he was “surprised by the posture of the board” at last week’s work session, at which some members questioned whether they needed to affirm that Greenport is a welcoming village.
“The need for reassurance is even greater at this time than it ever was,” he said.
He then read these words of Holocaust survivor Martin Niemöller, a pastor who was put in a concentration camp after opposing Adolf Hitler:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
“It’s beyond my comprehension that we could fail to reassure our immigrant community,” he said.
Several members of the board made statements before the unanimous vote.
“I strongly believe that we have always been an inclusive community… I do practice what I preach,” said Trustee Mary Bess Phillips, who added that she was upset by Mr. Worth’s comments about the flag.
“Our forefathers fought for the stripes on that flag,” she said.
“It’s a symbol of who we are and where we’re going and what we’ve been,” she said of the resolution. “We are Greenport. We are all in it together.”
Mr. Roberts thanked the crowd for welcoming him to Greenport when he moved to the village from Northport 10 years ago.
“There’s no doubt that we have an immigration challenge in our country. That’s going to be dealt with by federal immigration authorities, not us,” he said. “One thing that I’m going to stand up for is that any law enforcement that happens anywhere is going to be within the scope of the Constitution, the writ of habeas corpus, and folks need to be given due process.”
“We hear a lot of talk at these meetings about these people and those people and them. My goal in putting this out is so our local government can make a bold statement in the form of ‘we,'” he said. “Not we and they but us. Not us and them but us, my neighbors, not these people or those people. That can be on the most mundane variance before the ZBA. Let’s just try to do that.”
“I am honored to be able to vote yes tonight,” said Trustee Julia Robins. “Someone said ‘do the right thing.’ This is what’s in my heart. This is what I believe in…. I pray for this community to heal. I pray for this country to heal.”