In Queens, Immigrants Are Fearful

Latinos send money to their countries at the Roosevelt Avenue and 76th Street Western Union branch (Photo by Javier Castaño via Queens Latino)

The Trump effect is being felt in Queens. Immigrant workers, many of them undocumented, have increased their remittances to their countries of origin in light of the uncertainty surrounding President Trump’s immigration policy. Fear is latent in the streets of this multicultural New York borough, where more than 600,000 Latinos live.

 “We have seen a slight boost in remittances and shipping services that has increased gradually during the month of February. It started to be noticeable in November,” said María Fernanda Mejía, manager at Servientrega, located on 37th Avenue and 81st Street. “What is really perceivable in the air is that people are very nervous.”

The restrictions banning Muslim people from seven countries from entering the United States, which generated nationwide chaos, and the promise to build a wall, which could end up being financed by the remittances sent by Mexicans, are driving people to send more money abroad.

Many Mexican immigrants said that the high value of the U.S. dollar in their country and the uncertainty caused by the possibility of deportation have led them to send more money to their families. According to the census, nearly 100,000 Mexicans live in Queens.

Remittances sent by Mexican immigrants living in the United States are Mexico’s second source of income, after automotive exports. Mexico received over $27 billion in remittances in 2016, almost 25 percent more than in 2015 and the largest increase seen in one year. The figure has continued to move upward since Trump won the election in November.

Carlos Ramírez, a Puebla native living in New York, said that “there is fear to come out on the street. They are doing raids in Queens. I go straight home from work, and send money to my country whenever I can.”

Diógenes Zamora, an Ecuadorean resident of Corona, said that “fear is collective, especially among those who have no papers, and that’s many of us” in the Ecuadorean enclave.

Fear is widespread, but there is no evidence of raids or deportations.

Honduras-born Saúl Rodríguez, who has lived undocumented in the U.S. for 17 years and works handing out flyers on Roosevelt Avenue, said: “I imagine that only people who own something are scared. I have nothing left here. I sent home everything I had. I have my house there, my business and my savings. Deport me; I don’t care.”

“The people who need to be afraid are those living off the government. They should have a plan B, because things are going to change with Trump,” said Ricardo Gómez, a Salvadoran construction worker who has legal status. “People with a criminal background will be the first ones to be deported.”

Entrepreneurs complain

“Things are changing, but we need to move forward; we cannot stop.” Those are the words of Mexican-born Miguel Rodríguez, the owner of Venus & Dalila Pet Spa. “Revenue has dropped in half. I was forced to lay off two people because things are too tough. People right now would rather save [their money], in case anything happens.”

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Quique Fernández, who has owned Kike Barber Shop for 17 years, said: “Our customers are coming less often. Sales have decreased 20 percent since Trump arrived. This is similar to when the Twin Towers attack happened. They are carrying out raids around Northern Boulevard and this area. People are scared. Customers say that it’s time to save and send money home to invest in their countries.”

David Martínez has had a clothing and computer repair shop for four years, and says that things have been worse since Trump took office. “I have never been through a situation like this. Sales have dropped 40 percent.”

“February of last year was normal, but this year it’s really bad.”

According to Francisco Villegas, who has sold goods on Queens’ streets for 15 years, “entrepreneurs are complaining a lot about the low sales they have seen so far this year.”

Another sector greatly affected by slow business is gastronomy. People go out to eat less frequently, which is particularly evident in restaurants catering to new immigrants. “Our sales have decreased since Trump’s arrival,” said Rafael Upaya, owner of Upaya’s Restaurant. (…)

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