Immigration Tensions Starting To Surface In the Toniest of Long Island Resorts

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The New York Sun

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y.- Hundreds of illegal immigrant day laborers have been congregating along a major Southampton intersection, attracting a smattering of protests in a part of Long Island better known as an expensive weekend getaway for Manhattanites than as a front line in the battle over the nation’s southern border.

The workers, who congregate across the street from a busy 7-Eleven and all along North Sea Road from as early as 6 a.m., have recently been joined by protesters wielding signs reading “No Amnesty” and other anti-illegal immigration slogans.

A building contractor, Tom Wedell, has been protesting nearby daily since April 28, attracting an array of honks from supportive drivers and many free cups of coffee, as well as obscene gestures and verbal abuse.

Mr. Wedell said he is just trying to look out for himself. “I have bills to pay and kids to feed.These guys have a head start on me,” Mr. Wedell said, referring to the taxes and worker compensation that he pays. “I lose nine out of 10 jobs because of the competition,” he added.

The mayor of the Village of Southampton, Mark Epley, said 70% of the workers have filed for, but not yet received, work papers, thus leaving them in a state of limbo where they cannot be deported but do not pay taxes.

Mr. Epley said he thinks the village’s residents recognize that the immigrants “play an important role in the community,” but the residents “want them to be here legally.”

Mr. Epley said that to settle the safety, legal, and aesthetic problems posed by the day laborers, the village has been looking for faith-based or nonprofit organizations willing to finance and operate a work-link center for the workers, which the town would support “morally” but not financially. Thus far, the village has done nothing to remove the workers, ordering the police to make sure the protesters and workers assemble in a safe, non-harassing manner.

Another protester, Chris Connors, said the issue is complex and not necessarily the workers’ faults. “I don’t blame these people. I would take advantage of it too,” Mr. Connors said. He want on to say the only branch of government he approves of presently is the House of Representatives, which has taken the hardest line, “enforcement first” approach on immigration.

The rise in immigrant workers has affected the 7-Eleven. Until two years ago, throngs of workers would stand on 7-Eleven’s premises and crowd the door, but the convenience store has kicked the workers off its property and hired the private New York Security Group to keep the workers on the street.

“The only reason we made them move is so the cars can get through,” a 7-Eleven employee, who was not authorized to disclose his name to the press, said.

“It’s not that attractive, but they’ve never attacked me, so I don’t care,” one 7-Eleven customer,Blanka Gierova,said.

A worker for Norton Brothers Dunn, an engineering and surveying company,Gregory Betz, said the move isn’t about race. “You don’t want a group of any people standing in front of your business.”

Mr. Wedell said that he has had knives and guns pointed at him, and recently was arrested on harassment charges. Still, he says he doesn’t mind the curses and gestures. “My main thing is to get people thinking. Everybody’s asleep right now. People need to wake up and look at the problem,” Mr. Wedell said.

Meanwhile, the workers, who stand and wait to be approached by potential employers – who, according to the workers, are usually women, not businesses, who need some work on their home – said that the work is sometimes hard to come by. Even in the summer when the most jobs are available, one worker, Eric Salazar, said he comes six days a week and usually only finds work three of those days, which is also partially a product of the increase in workers who flock to in the Southampton summer.

The New York Sun

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