NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. -- Hundreds of local residents packed New Rochelle High School and Columbus Elementary School last month to attend immigration rights workshops held just days after the Trump administration announced measures that would greatly expand the deportation of illegal immigrants.
The workshops were planned in response to anxiety expressed by residents who were hearing rumors about immigration raids, according to a release from the City School District of New Rochelle.
At New Rochelle High, three student groups - Hispanic Culture Club, United Cultures Club and Newcomer Ambassadors - asked the school to host a workshop.
Columbus Elementary opened its doors after Councilman Louis Trangucci reached out to Principal Michael Galland and voiced the need to come together to squash rumors and reassure residents that New Rochelle is a welcoming and caring community that values all law-abiding people and families, the release said.
"Many families are terrified," said Galland. "There is uncertainty, fear and confusion about what the authorities will or will not do, and that stress is being absorbed by children. As educators, our duty is to nurture children emotionally, socially and intellectually."
More than 500 people attended the Feb. 16 immigration forum at Columbus Elementary, which included a presentation by the Westchester Hispanic Coalition that addressed issues related to immigration laws. Graciela Heyman, the executive director, spoke about the rights of immigrants and offered advice on how to respond when face-to-face with immigration officials.
Commissioner Patrick Carroll and Captain Adrian Navarrete of the New Rochelle Police Department were present to reassure residents that police officers would continue to focus on the safety of the community.
More than 200 people attended the workshop at NRHS on Feb. 15. The workshop included a presentation on scholarship opportunities for undocumented students, including those who were brought to the United States as children, currently covered under the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
The discussion was led by representatives of the CUNY Becas scholarship program and the Guidance Center of Westchester. The Hudson Valley Community Coalition also provided information on DACA and undocumented immigrants.
Officer Edward Martinez of the New Rochelle Police Department addressed the gathered families and told them that officers would not pursue immigrants or ask them to produce documents. Rather, he said, the focus would continue to be on fighting crime.
Gustavo Barbosa, house principal at NRHS, said the evening was successful because of the support by Superintendent Dr. Brian Osborne and other district officials.
"Not many school districts are willing to provide this level of support to immigrant families," said Barbosa. "In New Rochelle, we really understand that what happens in our community has a direct impact on our students' academic performance and how they feel when they come to school. That's why it was important to reach out."