Raids in New York City Neighborhoods Affecting Local Economy

Fifth Avenue in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, is an area with an important and growing Latino community including a large percentage of Mexican immigrants. During the last week of February, restaurants in the area had few customers. (Photo via Impacto)

[Below are excerpts from a story by Impacto Latino]

President Trump is keeping his promises on immigration and has reiterated that his priority is to deport approximately 3 million immigrants with a criminal record. The environment of uncertainty generated in the city ever since Donald Trump won worsened after Feb. 21, when the Department of Homeland Security divulged its strategies to apply the immigration measures, causing severe damage to a sector of the local economy comprised of small businesses and informal vendors.

Since the mid-1970s, the diverse immigrant population of New York City, who come from every corner of the world, has promoted local economies by establishing a number of services for their communities, including supermarkets, stores, schools, medical services, laundromats, churches, beauty salons, etc. In New York City, there are more than 3 million foreign-born residents who contribute to the diversity and cultural variety of the metropolis but, more importantly, create jobs, are consumers, and also generate rent, basic services, transportation and tax revenue. (…)

Teresa Mora, who has sold perfumes in the neighborhoods of Jackson Heights, Elmhurst and Corona for 15 years, knows the area very well. With sadness, she looks at the merchandise she is unable to sell because people are afraid to leave their house and spend money. (Photo via Impacto)

Informal vendors

Teresa Mora has worked in the Jackson Heights-Elmhurst-Corona area for 15 years selling perfumes. She has served as a chaplain at her evangelical church, and performs humanitarian work where help is needed, such as visiting ill people. “Now, nothing is the way it used to be. People are afraid to go out. I was on Junction Boulevard, and they warned me that ICE was snatching Mexican, Peruvian workers. That’s why people don’t go out and, if they do, they don’t want to spend money.”

She continued: “I pay my taxes as an independent contractor. I used to be able to sell up to $400 a week through honest work, rain or shine, but now I haven’t been able to make even $100 because people tell me – and it’s so sad – that they need to think before they buy. People are afraid of deportation and are trying to save as much as possible to pay for a lawyer or to take their money with them. Pastors at my church are telling us that we are called to bring peace, calm, trust, that we must pray for the president and not believe everything we hear or everything the media says, because they sometimes exaggerate.”

Restaurants

Juan Inga, owner of the Sabor Latino restaurant in Queens (Photo via Impacto)

Juan Inga, who has owned a restaurant on Junction Boulevard for 19 years, said: “These are immigrant neighborhoods, and just hearing that immigration is detaining people creates terror and badly affects businesses. I saw it myself: ICE was detaining immigrants on Steinway and here in our neighborhood last week on Sunday at noon, starting with workers in this area, many of whom are in the process of getting legalized and currently have no papers. On Tuesday, for the first time in 19 years, we had absolutely no customers in our restaurant after 9 p.m. We went out to look, and many of the businesses were closed; Roosevelt Avenue was completely deserted,” he said.

“The impact is real. You can feel that people don’t want to spend money because they don’t know what could happen to them. We have the lounge for young Latinos – the new generation, born here – and we have no problems with that group, so we can tell [the difference].”

He added: “Now more than ever, our small businesses need the support of the city authorities, because, in a way, we are the ones who move the economy and it is sad to see long-established businesses begin to falter because customers are afraid to come out and are abstaining from spending.”

Beauty salons

Maura Sánchez (Photo via Impacto)

Maura Sánchez, born in Puebla, has worked in this area for over 10 years. She knows it very well, which is why she was surprised to see how the number of people on the streets, both on weekdays and the weekend, has dropped in the last two weeks. She said: “Yes, our business has felt the impact. More people used to come by to get their hair done, and now the clientele has decreased because of fear. The other day, there were rumors that ICE was here at the corner. I didn’t see them, so I don’t know if it was true, but people hear that and they get scared and don’t go out. The media says that there is help, but we don’t feel that help because people are scared, the information coming on TV is scaring people, and they stop going out. I really don’t know what the authorities in our area could do to help us, but we do need help.”

The police is helping ICE

Oscar Garcia (Photo via Impacto)

Oscar García, born in Mexico, has a juice shop on Roosevelt Avenue in Corona. He said that he used to sell up to $400 per week, but now he is barely making $200. In a saddened tone, he told us: “It’s complicated, because we have many expenses – our home rent, food, the store’s rent – and, when people don’t go out, they don’t spend, don’t invest, and that affects us. We have fewer customers; there are fewer people in the streets because they are afraid that they will be sent back to their countries. Criminals don’t come out during the day to find work as day laborers. The people who come out during the day are the honest workers. The police are not helping the community because, when they arrest people, they hand over the reports of detained people who have no documents to ICE. I have the case of my uncle. It’s true that they don’t ask you for your papers when they arrest you, but they do forward the report to immigration. He was detained for a littering ticket that he did not pay, they kept him in the Brooklyn precinct for 15 days and, when he came out, immigration was already waiting for him and he was deported after living five years in this city that is supposed to be a “sanctuary” and where the authorities say they defend immigrant workers. The police is helping immigration, and we know that for a fact.”

Food vendors

Food vendors are also seeing a decline in customers which, in Doña María’s case, has resulted in a 40 percent drop in weekly sales. (Photo via Impacto)

Doña María also said she was worried about the situation. “I have seen that there are fewer people in the neighborhood, particularly on weekends, when we usually sell more and even have people coming in from other areas like New Jersey, Connecticut, Long Island, etc. These past few weeks, the number of people has gone down, my sales have dropped 40 percent, which is a lot, and I think that people are not coming because of their fear of immigration [authorities] and to save money. As a business owner, I have also started cutting down on my expenses. I have heard people, for instance, who need a new TV set or were thinking about buying new furniture who have decided not to do it because they don’t know what is going to happen to them. They’d rather stock up and save.”

Other businesses

Walter Izurieta has spent years in the area, where he has had and continues to have food and jewelry businesses. He told us: “I feel that people are more at ease regarding safety. Merchants see that they [ICE] are watching the criminals, and that means that crime will go down. Undocumented people work for a living. They are low-income people who work to survive and send whatever is left to their countries. They are not people who are able to make great investments buying jewelry. I think the most affected are the places where people go dancing or drinking, and both customers and business owners worry because they know that there is a chance that the authorities will show up. I think that, when you haven’t done anything wrong, you are not afraid. I have friends who are police officers, and I think that ICE is stealing information without the consent of the police department because we are talking about people who must have done something wrong if they are in custody and who were already in the authorities’ sights.”


[Below are excerpts from a story by El Diario’s Ana B. Nieto]

César Rodríguez, owner of Tamales Martita on Port Richmond Avenue on Staten Island, the only borough in NYC where the majority voted for Donald Trump. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

Tamales Martita is a dream come true for a Mexican woman and her son. Martita used to sell tamales on the street and, a year and a half ago, she and her son César Rodríguez were able to open a small, charming restaurant on Port Richmond Avenue on Staten Island. In the last two months of 2015, business was so good that they hired two more people for 2016 to help them through their second winter.

After the election, in which Staten Island was the only New York City county to vote for Donald Trump, business began to take a downturn. One by one, the employees quit.

The reversal has been so strong that, two months ago, Rodríguez and his mother began to consider closing shop.

They will hold on until September, hoping for some improvement. “We want to give ourselves the opportunity to make it to two years,” said Rodríguez, who is putting his bets on the Lent period and the warming temperatures to change the customers’ mood and ease their concerns.

(…)

After talking to business owners and everyday people across the city, it is clear that immigrants are choosing to spend less, save more and avoid public places. “That is something that the authorities are going to notice when they see the drop in sales tax revenue,” lamented Miguel López, from bakery Don Paco López, which has locations in Sunset Park and Harlem.

Tamales Martita on Port Richmond Avenue on Staten Island. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

Rodríguez said that the news that ICE is on Staten Island and that they are carrying out raids has badly hurt a population that usually moves around the island by car, although not everyone has a driver’s license.

Immigrants, many of them Mexicans living in this area, prefer not to leave their homes if they do not have to, and Rodríguez has started doing food deliveries. “We never used to do deliveries before because we didn’t have time, but now my wife and I find the time,” said Rodríguez, who renewed his DACA status shortly before the election.

(…)

Rev. Kevin Sweeney, from Sunset Park’s St. Michael’s Church – where masses in Spanish are the most popular – lamented perceiving this climate of fear for the first time in his seven years with the parish. The issue is addressed at mass and in meetings with the parishioners, and there is a brochure at the church entrance explaining what to do “in view of the recent arrests” which also offers guidelines for communicating with a lawyer in case of need and to prepare a family plan for an emergency.

Rev. Sweeney has mixed feelings. While he believes that the population needs to prepare, he also thinks that doing so creates a level of fear that may also carry danger. What he is sure about is that he is proud “to be fighting, but I feel bad for what my president is doing to working families. It is disrespectful.”

(…)

One person who has not seen a decline in his business is Javier de León, the manager of Hailey, a small Brooklyn store providing internet services and money transfers. “Immigrants have changed their plans. Thirty to 40 percent of my customers are undocumented,” said the Dominican-born merchant. “They are sending much more money to their countries of origin for their families to have it, to keep it there in their bank accounts or to build their homes there.”

Construction worker Matías Sosallas with Gonzalo Mercado of La Colmena on Staten Island. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

Staten Island is home to nearly 20,000 Mexicans and immigrants from West Africa, Russia and China. The island voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump in the election and, since then, as Gonzalo Mercado explains, “there’s been a lot of fuss.”

From his position of executive director of La Colmena, a community organization helping immigrant workers, Mercado said that he has never seen “such a sensitive and difficult moment due to the vulnerability it signifies for people.”

(…)

The nonprofit is trying to reduce the level of fear created by unfounded reports about raids or checkpoints. “If people want to provide information about raids, we want photographic proof,” said Mercado. “We cannot stop being concerned, but we cannot let fear motivate the decisions of the community.”

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