A neighborhood grapples over immigration

Here’s a story from Harlem in the week before July Fourth — that celebration of patriotic pride and national unity.

It starts on the Hamilton Heights neighborhood Facebook page, that forum of modernity. On Friday, one of the group’s operators posted a warning about recent reports of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials allegedly in the area, urging residents to know their rights.

A Manhattan resident named Lovelynn Gwinn responded. She immediately cranked things up to the usual internet DEFCON 1: “By undocumented you mean ILLEGALS! They didn’t follow the laws in order to immigrate here legally. When a person breaks the law they are criminals. Yes! These are criminals who are breaking the law.”

Then Gwinn added the part that made this more than a story about social media: “Here [sic] the number to report them.” And she included an ICE tip number.

This did not go down well among left-leaning New Yorkers, in a Facebook group for a neighborhood that city planning maps say is close to 50 percent Hispanic. She posted this number at a moment when ICE operations in NYC are common. And Gwinn was happy to double down: “If you are here illegally you breaking the law. Illegals are criminals! Time to clean things up!”

Reached by phone on Monday, Gwinn, 51, said she is a supporter of President Donald Trump and is a member of the National Rifle Association. She says she supports legal immigration but is “very vocal” about illegal immigration. She thinks people should wait in line.

A real estate consultant, she says she is of Chinese and Filipino origin on her mother’s side, Syrian and Lebanese on her dad’s. She moved to New York decades ago from Hawaii and has lived in the Harlem area since the turn of the millennium — which she calls a “horrible” period for the neighborhood, citing a call she once received from the FBI about a body thrown or fallen from a nearby window. There is a 2006 New York Times article documenting her perseverance of sorts, noting that she bought a newly renovated house off Riverside Drive with help from a city program.

She is under the false impression that ICE is only arresting people who are “doing bad things,” though the increase in immigrants arrested without criminal records is well-documented.

In short, a voter who is lockstep with Trump on his immigration policies, but not exactly a typical caricature of that voter. Which just goes to show that constituency’s wide reach.

In an NYC Facebook group, however, Gwinn was clearly in the minority. Commenters came back at her. Was she trolling? Was she a gentrifier? Was she even real? It was suggested that she move to Iowa.

“We just found out one of our neighbors is actively reporting people to ICE,” wrote one of the moderators under the group name. “We just wanted to let you all know- there is a fox in the hen house.”

Posts like this got Gwinn angry. She says she has never reported anyone to ICE, and it’s true that her post didn’t directly mention it.

One of the moderators of the Facebook group, who did not want to be named, said Gwinn’s comment intimated an active role in calling ICE.

Gwinn says she wasn’t encouraging anyone to call the agency, but rather was just “providing info.” She compared it to putting a candy bar in front of someone. They could eat it, or they could avoid it, didn’t matter to her.

Gwinn says the online anger toward her led friends to call her while she was at the beach on Sunday, asking whether she was OK. She says she plans to sue for defamation against one of the posters.

Meanwhile, community board member Marti Gould Cummings had a more productive idea: launch a know-your-rights campaign in the neighborhood. So Cummings, 30, and about 30 others went door to door for an hour to local businesses and street corners on Sunday, handing out info from the advocacy network United We Dream about the rights of immigrants here illegally in case ICE knocks on their door.

“We don’t want to see families ripped apart,” says Cummings, referring to the ongoing immigration debate that continues to tear at the nation.

Happy Fourth.