Joselo Lucero, the younger brother of slain Ecuadorian immigrant Marcelo Lucero, who was fatally stabbed during an attack by seven teenage boys in Patchogue in 2008. Photo: Denise Civiletti

There was a full program at the Riverhead Anti-Bias Task Force “Social Justice Diversity Summit” Saturday morning, with more than a dozen panelists and presenters speaking about topics such as immigration policy, fair housing, hate crimes, bullying, gangs and criminal justice.

But there wasn’t nearly a full-house in the Riverhead High School auditorium. Only a handful of people attended who were not members of the anti-bias task force — or ABTFs in neighboring towns.

“It’s disappointing,” Riverhead ABTF chairperson Connie Lassandro said. “These are real issues, real problems in our community and we need to come together as a community to talk about them.”

Lassandro assembled a distinguished panel of more than a dozen people from a broad spectrum of the wider community.

L.I. Jobs for Justice Richard Koubek speaks at the Social Justice Diversity Summit May 6 at Riverhead High School. Photo: Denise Civiletti

Much of the morning’s discussion centered on the topic of Latino immigrants: federal deportation actions, the prevailing climate of fear, “sanctuary city” policies and preventing gangs from expanding their foothold among Latino youth in Suffolk County.

Among the panelists were the dynamic deputy commissioner of the Suffolk County Police Department, Risco Menton-Lewis as well as the younger brother of Marcelo Lucero, a 37-year-old Ecuadorian immigrant slain during an attack by a gang of teenagers in a notorious hate crime in November 2008.

Joselo Lucero described himself as a simple man, a welder who was “working, minding my own business,” until his brother was attacked and fatally stabbed near the Patchogue train station on Nov. 8, 2008.

“Now I have to talk about this, to fight for what is right,” said Lucero, who now works as the outreach coordinator for the Hagedorn Foundation, a Rosyln-based organization that funds, among other things initiatives aimed at diminishing tensions between established residents and newly arrived immigrants.

Marcelo’s assailants were a group of seven teenaged boys who prosecutors said sought out and beat up Latino men “for sport.” One of the teens accused of stabbing Lucero, Jeffrey Conroy, who was 17 at the time of the attack, was convicted of first-degree manslaughter as a hate crime and sentenced to 25 years in prison.

“So many people in my community suffer” because of their ethnicity, Joselo Lucero said Saturday. “I fight for justice for my brother. I fight for justice for my friends. I take this role to go to schools and talk to kids,” he said.

“I can be a doctor or an engineer,” Lucero said. “When I wear a T-shirt, I’m a day laborer.”

Lucero said his life’s work now is to try to educate people in the community that “it’s OK to be different. This country was built on different values, different cultures,” he said.

“The immigrant community is trying to lead a peaceful life. They live day by day, trying to help their families. Kids from Central America, they’re running for their lives,” Lucero said. “They are victims of their own country. Then they come here and they are victims here too.”

Suffolk County Police Deputy Commissioner Risco Menton-Lewis. Photo: Denise Civiletti

Menton-Lewis, Suffolk’s deputy police commissioner, said the Suffolk County Police Department wants all residents to feel safe. “We never ask victims their [immigration] status,” she said, adding: “We cannot disobey the law. We are the police.”

If police encounter someone with an outstanding judicial warrant, that person is arrested, Menton-Lewis. But police have “very little to do with administrative warrants,” she said.

Administrative warrants are the kind Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers — rather than judges — are empowered to sign. They are at the center of the controversy over so-called sanctuary cities. Administrative warrants require a lesser standard of evidence.

“Administrative warrants usually go to the jail, not police,” Menton-Lewis said.

From September 2014 until late last year, the Suffolk County jail did not honor administrative warrants signed by ICE officers. In December, Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco announced he had reversed course and will no longer require a judge’s order to detain immigrant inmates jailed in Suffolk. If there is an ICE administrative warrant for an inmate, the sheriff will hold the inmate for up to 48 hours.

“People are hurting,” Menton-Lewis said. She spoke of speaking to members of mosques who told her they are “afraid when they bend down and pray people will come behind them and kill them.” She said undocumented immigrants are living in fear. “They aren’t going to food pantries. They aren’t going to libraries. We want you to know, we are here to protect you. Anything we can do to protect you, we will do so.”

Law enforcement officers, including representatives from the Suffolk County Sheriff’s gang unit and the Suffolk Police Department’s hate crime unit, said they are concerned about eroding trust between the immigrant community and police. That makes young immigrants susceptible to gang recruitment, they said.

“When people don’t feel safe, they turn to gangs,” Menton-Lewis said.

About 20 percent of the 1,400 inmates self-admit to gang membership, according to the Suffolk County Sheriff’s gang unit.

“The rhetoric of today is harming people,” she said. “It’s hurting people in the mosques and on the streets.”

Long Island Jobs for Justice outreach coordinator Dick Koubek said immigrants in America today are living in “a moment of terror.”

The Obama administration deported record numbers of undocumented immigrants, but the former president said “We deport felons, not families,” Koubek told the audience.

The Department of Homeland Security has “created a new, expanded definition of what is a criminal,” Koubek said. “You can be deported now if you are charged with criminal offense, even if there’s no conviction, or if any ICE officer judges you to be a risk to public safety, or if they believe you’ve committed any act that constitutes a chargeable offense. In short, some immigration experts are saying all 11 million undocumented immigrants can now be deported,” Koubek said.

Immigration attorney Olivier Roche. Photo: Denise Civiletti

Immigration attorney Olivier Roche said people accused of minor crimes are being held by ICE for months.

In immigration proceedings, the defendant is not entitled to the assistance of legal counsel. If he or she can’t afford a lawyer, the proceedings go on without one, Roche said.

“You’re not innocent until proven guilty. Instead, you have to prove to the immigration judge that you’re eligible to stay here,” he said.

“I am the child of immigrants,” Roche said. “My parents came here from Haiti. They worked hard to try to achieve the American dream. It’s our obligation to preserve that and try to hand it down to the next generation.”

Koubek said L.I. Jobs for Justice is now working to develop a network of church congregations willing to provide physical sanctuary to undocumented immigrants. Church sanctuaries — actual worship spaces — are deemed “sensitive sites” along with hospitals and schools, he said. “ICE is instructed not to go there.”

It’s a heavy lift, he acknowledges, because church leaders worry about being arrested for violating federal law making it a crime to shield or harbor an undocumented immigrant.

“If a congregation announces in advance that it will provide physical sanctuary,
it’s a public thing, so that can’t be construed as harboring, right?” Koubek said. It’s an untested legal theory, he acknowledged, and churches he’s spoken with have been reluctant, consulting with lawyers and insurance agents and then deciding against participating.

“Imagine if the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King had consulted with an insurance agent and a lawyer before Selma? He might be living today – he’d be 89 — but he might be riding in the back of the bus.”

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.