By Rita J. Egan
Two grassroots activist groups have become staples on the corners of Route 25A and Bennetts Road in Setauket every Saturday, but this past weekend residents out and about likely noticed something different on the south side.
While a dozen or two members of the North Country Peace Group meet every Saturday at 11 a.m. with signs in tow on the southeast corner of the intersection, and a similar number of conservatives, members of the North Country Patriots, gather on the other side, June 30 the south side drew approximately 300 activists as the NCPG hosted a Families Belong Together rally. The protest was organized to stand in unison with hundreds of thousands of Americans across the nation who participated in similar events in several cities including Washington, D.C., New York City and Miami.
The rallies were held to protest the separation of immigrant children from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border that occurred as a result of President Donald Trump’s (R) newly instituted zero-tolerance policy for prosecuting illegal immigration, which has resulted in the detention of thousands. Trump recently signed an executive order meant to end the policy, though many families remain separated as officials work to undo the effects of the policy.
Attendees held signs that read, “11,869 children held captive”; “Yes, Melania, we do care”; and “Put ICE on ice.” NCPG members said many children are still separated from their families and there are fears that many may never find their parents.
“This is not what our country is about,” said Myrna Gordon, of Port Jefferson. “Detaining children — separating families — is a crime, and this is the time that we now all have to come together and resist the policies of the Trump administration. Detaining families is not a solution. It’s a jail sentence that some of our immigrant brothers and sisters are facing.”
Many on hand at the rally said they felt the current situation is reminiscent of the Holocaust.
“We need to remind all Americans of the horrors that preceded the Holocaust,” said Marci Lobel of Setauket. “This is reminiscent of what occurred in Europe in the lead up to the Third Reich, and we have to stand up for what is right, what is humane, what is civil and what is lawful. These people are coming to our country seeking asylum. All human decency dictates that we stand up to protect them. If we don’t stand up for them, who will?”
Setauket’s Susan Perretti said she sees the separation of families along with cuts to Medicare and ineffective gun laws as moral issues.
“It’s almost like we have forgotten about the common good,” Perretti said. “So, my big cry is, ‘Whatever happened to the common good?’”
While the North Country Patriots didn’t organize a counter-rally, about two dozen members stood on the corner like they do every Saturday, except this week a handful remained until around 3 p.m. just like a few on the other side did.
Jim Soviero, of East Setauket, said the peace group’s rally reminded him of his nephew who was a solider in Iraq 14 years ago and separated from his young children, and the Angel Families in this country whose loved ones were killed by undocumented immigrants.
“You have over two dozen Angel Families that were separated, and they will never be united,” he said. “When my nephew went overseas, he was separated, and he never knew if he was going to be reunited.”
Setauket’s Howard Ross, who held a pro-life sign, said he and others were upset by a sign across the street that read, “God is Watching.”
“How can they stand there and say protect immigrant children and not protect our own children,” Ross said. “There are 1,000 babies being murdered every day due to abortions.”
Setauket resident George Altemose said the stance of conservatives is misunderstood.
“Nobody wants to see families broken up,” Altemose said. “Nobody wants to see kids in jail. I think what we would like to see — we would like to see everybody obey the law as it stands.”
Altemose said he feels obeying the laws applies to everyone, from immigrants to the president, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and those who don’t like a law, need to follow it until it is changed.
“I think that the other side implies that this side likes to see children taken away and put in custody and families broken up, and it’s just not true,” Altemose said. “I don’t think anybody likes that.”
Back over on the Families Belong Together rally side, NCPG member Bill McNulty said one day a woman asked him about his stance on immigration and families being separated. He said he told her that many Central American countries’ social orders have been disrupted by American policies leading to violence. McNulty said the woman told him that people still should not cross the U.S. border illegally.
“I said, ‘Madam, if you were involved in the violence that these people are facing in these disrupted countries, you would take steps to protect yourself too,’” McNulty said.