By Will Depoo
Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM)
On May 30, 2017 Hardat Sampat, the 35 year-old father of 5, was picked up by Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) in front of his home in Richmond Hill, Queens.
ICE pulled up in unmarked vehicles, blocking the vehicle Hardat was in. They did not identify themselves, nor did they have a warrant. As the family questioned ICE, neighbors came out to question them. When this happened, ICE called the NYPD for back up. They lied to the police and told them Hardat was trying to escape with his wife. When really, Hardat was on his way to court to clear his background and get charges dismissed. When the NYPD came, they pushed the crowd back and threatened to tow his wife’s car if they did not move it. With the NYPD’s help, ICE was able to detain Hardat as his family and neighbors watched in horror. Savita, Hardat’s wife, still has nightmares from the day he was detained: “His arrest affected me in such a way I was in shock, and still am in shock…My family was torn apart from the day ICE took him away.”
Hardat is still in detention. He was the main source of income for his family. His three children include his 2-year old son. Hardat took care of his ailing mother. He has a huge heart, and is an easygoing person. When ICE picked him up, Hardat did not resist because he believed the system would clear his name.
Sadly, Hardat’s case is not uncommon. Immigration enforcement is increasing. We are seeing an increase throughout the country of ICE picking up community members. Trump is working to add 10,000 more ICE officers, and cut funding to cities that are trying to protect immigrants. Under former President Obama, we saw 3 million people deported, the most in U.S. history. Trump has publicly committed to breaking that record in 4 years. One of the most potent ways to accomplish Trump’s goal for massive deportations is the collaboration between police departments and immigration. And, communities of color have always been the target of police. In New York City, we saw the racial disparities under the stop-and-frisk policy, and we continue to see it under Broken Windows policing.
Broken Windows policing, plays an integral role in our community members being detained by ICE. Under Broken Windows, minor things, such as turnstile-jumping and loitering, can put immigrants in danger of being picked up by ICE. Once someone is arrested and fingerprinted, their information goes into a national database that is run by the FBI who then shares this information with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which ICE is part of. So, if you are an undocumented person, any interaction with the police can have a serious impact.
Hardat, his family, and other families going through this difficult situation are suffering. We need to come together as a community to support the most impacted families. Their experiences and stories need to be uplifted, and their leadership should be followed. We have to rely on each other for support and protection. While there are great elected officials, they will not be there if ICE knocks on your door. In addition, as we see above, we cannot trust the police. We need to create our own community defense system to fight against all forms of hate (which include Islamophobia, xenophobia, and homophobia), mass criminalization, and mass deportations. We all need to understand what our rights are, and share it with each other. Our houses of worship should not just be a refuge for our religion, but a refuge for community members who need a safe space. We need our local businesses to guarantee they will not turn over their employees if the police or ICE should come knocking.
It pains me we have not come together as a community for Hardat and other impacted community members. As a community, we cannot continue to stay silent as families continue to be ripped apart. We need to stop stigmatizing undocumented community members. We need to support and protect each other.
Real power comes from the people. That happens through organizations of people working and being organized together. DRUM (Desis Rising Up & Moving) is one of those organizations that believes in and builds the power of everyday people. DRUM has worked with its nearly 4000 Indo-Caribbean and South Asian members to train people, to change laws, to know their rights, and to prevent ICE from coming into their homes and communities. The day after Hardat was detained, myself and another DRUM organizer were on the street where Hardat was picked up, trying to connect with the family and neighbors that protested. We were not successful that day, but we eventually connected to the family, and they signed up as DRUM members. Since then, the family has been telling their story to build support for Hardat’s case. Their strength and leadership has shown in the amount of work they have done for Hardat’s case. However, we as a community need to support Hardat’s family and many others during these rough times. We need to let ICE and other agencies know they we will not let them tear apart our communities as stand by silently.
As Sherry, Hardat’s sister, says, “There is strength in numbers. We need to stand together and fight for what is right. My brother loves his family and is very hard-working it’s not right that ICE just took him away. His family needs him.”
Note: DRUM’s work is critical to community empowerment. This organization does not just talk the talk. It is action-oriented and results-driven. DRUM is fearless when it comes to protecting the rights of all immigrants, and creates safe spaces for those who are most vulnerable to talk through situations of crisis.
To learn more about DRUM, visit www.drumnyc.org
The author, Will Depoo, is a leader at Desis Rising Up and Moving.
Photo Credit: Communities United for Police Reform (CPR).