By Jenna Bagcal
Dozens gathered in Bayside Saturday to call for the release of 13,000 detained Central American refugee children by the U.S. government.
The group Queens United for Immigrant Rights was joined by elected officials, advocates and religious leaders Oct. 20 on the front lawn of the Bayside United Methodist Church to advocate for children to receive legal representation so that they made be reunited with their families.
Speakers at the vigil included a spokesperson for U.S. Rep. Grace Meng, state Senate candidate John Liu, immigration lawyer Josh Bardavid and author David R. Yale, a founding member of Queens United, which was formed by northeast Queens residents in August.
“There are 13,000 Central American children being detained by the U.S. government right now,” Yale said. “Some of these children were separated from their parents. Thousands of others had the courage to seek asylum on their own, despite the dangerous, difficult journey. Sometimes by truck, often just walking, it took them weeks, months.”
Yale said that details concerning the status of the children are widely unknown as they are kept secret from the public, but shared that refugees are brought to tent camps in the Arizona desert with little to no opportunity for an education and legal aid.
In the past, Yale said that unaccompanied minors would usually be sent to a “sponsor” who was either a volunteer or a member of the child’s family. But now, the president has made it more difficult ordering lookups into the sponsor’s citizenship and deporting them.
“Kids should be sent to sponsors and should be treated as valuable human beings,” Yale said.
In his speech, the grandson of immigrants detailed the arduous journey his grandparents endured when coming from Russia and Romania.
“When I read about the thousands of refugees fleeing Central America, I think of my grandparents. How are Central Americans any different from them?” Yale asked.
Liu described the family separations as “absolutely shocking and utterly despicable.”
“As a parent myself, it’s really unimaginable and unspeakable,” he said. “And the more people speak about this — whether it be in New York City or all across the country —the more our so-called representatives in Washington, specifically the Republicans who currently lead both houses, that they will understand what the American people truly want. And what the American people truly want is not what’s happening right now.”
Though northeast Queens is not usually the hotbed for immigration advocacy when compared to other Queens neighborhoods such as Jackson Heights, Elmhurst and Corona, Bayside resident and event co-organizer Rory Schnurr said that most residents in his area and other northeast Queens neighborhoods are “kind and welcoming.”
“I wanted to bring together the community I’ve been part of for decades to show that a number of us do support their [immigrants] being here,” said Schnurr, who added that the Trump administration’s policies “do not reflect the values of most of our country.”
Yale said that he hopes these events incite sympathetic individuals to take action and think about what they can do for the cause, but he also hopes that he can reach friends and neighbors who are unsympathetic in the hopes to strike up constructive dialogues.
Queens United for Immigrant Rights will hold two additional Bayside vigils in November.
The first will be held Nov. 17 from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the corner of Bell Boulevard and 41st Street. There is also a candlelight vigil scheduled for Nov. 28 from 5:20 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on the Bell Boulevard LIRR overpass on the west side.
Reach reporter Jenna Bagcal at jbagc