Forum at Woodstock Jewish Congregation organizes information for immigrants

After the inauguration of President Donald Trump, who had declared his plans to deport as many undocumented immigrants as possible, Woodstock resident Laura Kaplan asked after a friend who is an immigrant. The reply was, “I’m documented, but my friends and family are terrified.” Kaplan reported, “I don’t want people in my community to be terrified. That’s not right.”

Those ripples of fear are coursing through Woodstock, Kingston, Phoenicia, Fleischmanns, Margaretville, and other towns where many Latin Americans are working in such fields as food service and construction. A forum organized by Kaplan, Laurie Osmond, and Linda Leeds was held at the Woodstock Jewish Congregation (WJC) on March 23 to inform immigrants of their rights and to tell community members how to support their immigrant neighbors.

The event was inspired by an earlier forum on sanctuary at Bard College, hosted by Mariel Fiori, editor of La Voz, a Spanish-language magazine with offices on the campus. The WJC gathering featured attorney Andrea Callan of the Workers Justice Center of New York and Daniel Green of Kingston, one of the few local immigration lawyers in private practice.

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“We were hearing from employers in town that workers were terrified about things they didn’t need to be afraid of,” said Kaplan. “There was an information gap.” The lawyers explained the rights of immigrants if confronted by agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in different scenarios — when walking down the street or when a knock comes at the door. Handouts were available in Spanish and in English, and there was a discussion of next steps for the community, such as organizing rapid response teams that can show up when ICE arrives. “If people show up,” said Kaplan, “the person is less likely to get deported.” Legal representation also decreases the chances of deportation, so the group has discussed starting a legal defense fund, raising money for bail and to retain a lawyer immediately if someone in the community is arrested.

The arrest of a Hispanic resident in New Paltz last month set off anxiety in neighboring towns. So far, Woodstock has not seen ICE activity, but Kaplan observed, “This new administration has made such a point of demonizing immigrants and especially undocumented immigrants. They do have to have a federal judicial warrant to arrest someone, but we’ve heard sometimes they don’t have that. They say they’re the police when they aren’t, when they’re just fishing, looking for people without a warrant.”

Kaplan addressed a meeting of the Woodstock Interfaith Council on April 5, seeking the support of local clergy. Sonja Tillberg Maclary, pastor of Christ’s Lutheran Church, agreed that religious institutions could play a role, remarking, “We have to educate people. How do we change the hearts of people who are not so welcoming or understanding of immigrants? Many of them are leaving desperate situations in their own countries.”

Latin American immigrants report fleeing poverty and hunger or gang violence and threats of murder.

To get involved with activities to help local immigrants, or to obtain an information packet on knowing your rights, email CatskillsIndivisible@gmail.com. Packets are also available through libraries, churches, and some employers.