Rallying cries of “No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here,” and “Immigrants are not to blame, no U.S. terror in our name,” resonated across Franklin Avenue in Mineola on Wednesday, Aug. 30, as activists gathered at Nassau County Police Headquarters to protest the arrest and subsequent deportation of Denis Guerra Guerra following a routine traffic stop.
“We are here today…to express our collective concern about the immigration enforcement role our local Nassau County police are being pressured to play not only by the Trump administration, but also by our local figures in the Nassau County government,” said Anita Halasz, executive director of Long Island Jobs with Justice, who led the demonstration. “We demand an end to the participation of Nassau County police in federal immigration enforcement and actions.”
Guerra Guerra, 30, of Hempstead, was stopped by Nassau County Police Department (NCPD) officers on Aug. 7 in Roosevelt for allegedly failing to signal. Because of his lack of a driver’s license, officers ran his name through the eJusticeNY criminal database system, which indicated that he had no prior criminal history, only an order of removal from 11 years ago due to his inability to attend a prior immigration appointment.
Shortly after, Guerra Guerra pleaded guilty to unlicensed operation of a vehicle and was transferred to ICE custody to be held in their detention center in Hudson County, NJ, ultimately resulting in his deportation.
The Wednesday afternoon demonstration in support of Guerra Guerra was attended by representatives from the Central American Refugee Center, Empire Justice Center, New York Civil Liberties Union and more, featuring a range of speakers, inclusive of Guerra Guerra’s attorney Elise Damas, who described her client, a church youth leader, soon-to-be husband and Nassau County resident for more than 11 years, as a peaceful, law abiding member of the community.
“When I received the call that Denis had been arrested, I was convinced that somebody somewhere had gotten the facts wrong,” said Damas with Guerra Guerra’s sister, Arely Guerra Guerra, by her side. “Because I have been in the meetings with Nassau County PD, where their officials publicly and repeatedly assure us that in the case of traffic stops, undocumented immigrants do not need to fear contact with Nassau County police officials, but unfortunately for Denis, that was a lie.”
According to NCPD policy, federal agents are not to be involved following a minor infraction, and are permitted to inquire into a person’s legal status only if they are arrested for a crime, not a traffic violation.
However, according to police, Guerra Guerra was in possession of razor blade knife and was driving an unregistered car.
Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder defended the department’s actions, issuing a statement saying, “The Nassau County Police Department will not inquire into any person’s immigration status unless they are arrested for a crime. In Mr. Denis Guerra Guerra’s case, he was operating an unregistered vehicle from the state of Illinois when he was stopped for a traffic infraction. Mr. Guerra Guerra could not produce a valid driver’s license and presented a passport from El Salvador for identification. It was discovered through DMV that an ‘Outstanding Administrative Warrant of Removal from the United States’ was in effect. Additionally, defendant Guerra Guerra was in possession of a razor blade knife. However, this charge was voided at the precinct since it did not meet the criteria of the penal law offense.”
But demonstrators say they simply want to foster a better relationship and rebuild trust between the police and Nassau’s immigrant community, where undocumented citizens need not fear the repercussions of contact with local officials.
In an attempt to gain the attention of Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, whom advocates blame for the procedural contradiction resulting in Guerra Guerra’s deportation, participants marched from police headquarters toward the Theodore Roosevelt Executive and Legislative Building, where Mangano’s office is located.
Bearing signs reading “Take ICE out of the police” and “Respect our rights, say no to ICE,” advocates arrived at the steps of the building with a letter, supported by Congressman Tom Suozzi and Representative Kathleen Rice, addressed to Mangano, detailing their grievances, in hand.
Halasz, responsible for entering the building to personally hand-deliver the letter, was met by an anonymous special advisor to the county executive, who indicated that she would give the letter to Mangano.
The story is ongoing; event organizers await a response from the county executive.