Lost Businesses and Empty Churches after ICE Raid Upstate

Father Tom Babiuch, from St. Joseph’s Church in Fort Edward, at mass, which used to be frequented by more than 50 Hispanic parishioners. (Photos via El Diario)

The benches in St. Joseph’s Church in Fort Edward in upstate New York are empty. Parishioners from over a dozen families who once steadily attended communion, even during storms or heavy snowfall, stopped going to church. “La Migra” made them flee after the raids conducted between May and June, in which 28 immigrants were detained. All of them were farm workers or cooks at the well-known El Mexicano Restaurant, located on state route 4 in Hudson Falls. The eatery was forced to close due to lack of personnel. Immigrants living in the area’s counties have had to make changes to their daily routines – some of them resorting to hiding during the day – and stay inside their homes for fear of being captured by ICE agents.

St. Joseph’s parish priest Tom Babiuch said that, in a few short weeks, the town changed drastically due to the impact of the presence of immigration agents. He added that they have forced Latinos living there to stay away, depriving them of their right to coexist as a church community.

“There have been a number of raids against Mexicans and Guatemalans who were working here in the farms and had deportation notices. The impact of this on the community has been so great that I noticed most people stopped coming to church,” said the priest. “Only one Guatemalan family still attends. The rest hide out and don’t come because they are scared that ICE will take them. We used to have about 50 people here, many of them children, parents, grandparents… But they vanished.”

Babiuch called on the federal government and politicians in Washington to promote comprehensive immigration reform, and asked President Trump to get educated on immigration and meet Hispanic families up close to see that they are not criminals.

“He should not influence the way immigrants live or affect their religious practices by preventing them from going to church. That goes against the Constitution. They need to understand that migration is a part of life, whether they like it or not,” he said. “The way ICE is treating them is inhumane. This is something that I and other people do not approve of, because they are good people, they teach their children the value of respect, they are the most hardworking people there can ever be, they contribute to our economy and are part of our church.”

‘They want to take us away from God’

One immigrant who lives in the area affected by the presence of ICE who chose to remain anonymous said that the raids in upstate New York make him feel like the days when Christians were forced to hide.

“It is very painful for us that they want to take us away from God the way they did in the old times. It hurts not only to see my family and my children in fear of even stepping out into the street to buy groceries, but also to know that we can’t even go to church,” said the Mexico native. “Even though there are many people helping us and on our side, one cannot help but feel like an orphan. I’m afraid that this is not going to stop any time soon and that it will get worse around here. That’s why we’re looking into moving somewhere else.”

Julie Leonelli, director of religious education at St. Joseph’s Church, who used to work with the immigrant families who stopped attending, said that it was the ICE raid at Hudson Falls’ El Mexicano Restaurant that caused the most fear. The formerly crowded eatery, famous in the area for its great tacos, closed its doors a few weeks ago, and now looks like a haunted house. A “for sale” sign has been posted on the wall.

After the raid in May, El Mexicano Restaurant in Hudson Falls closed its doors and is now for sale. (Photo via El Diario)

“They went [into the restaurant] asking for the papers and information about the employees. That is how they found out where they lived and went there to take them. In Saratoga, the kitchen staff was on their break and they caught them outside,” said the immigrant rights advocate. “We thought that some of them had fled because they were scared, but the truth is that there are now children without their parents, traumatized. There is a single mother of a 12-year old and a 17-year-old who has a pending deportation order. She may be the first one to leave. Like herself, many are wondering: ‘Should I take my children with me?’”

Restaurants change their hours

Leonelli added that, since the raid, the families of workers try to stay in their homes and only shop at night, thinking that ICE will not be nearby. Restaurants have even changed their hours of operation, opening at 4:30 p.m. instead of 11:00 a.m. for lunch.

“Everyone knows by now what ICE agents look like, where they stood and how they walk… It’s very sad to see how things changed so suddenly for families who have lived here for 20 years. Everything became really lousy for some 1,000 people in our counties who are undocumented,” she added.

Asked about the arrests, New York’s ICE office confirmed that it carried out operations in the Saratoga Springs area between May 30 and June 14, in which 27 immigrants between the ages of 19 and 49 were detained. Of them, 24 are Mexican and 2 are from Guatemala.

An ICE official added that an unaccompanied minor was also detained in the raid and received a summons to appear in immigration court. “The minor was transferred to a Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement to be resettled, as per ICE’s policy on minors,” said the spokesman, adding that the other detainees are in a correctional facility in Albany.

“Nine of these individuals are facing potential federal criminal charges for reentry after a deportation or visa fraud,” he said about the people arrested in May. “The arrests were carried out without incident in multiple areas near their residencies,” said the agency official. He added that, of the people detained in the June raids, 3 men may face charges for reentry after deportation.

‘Moral and economic problem’

State Senator Marisol Alcántara condemned ICE’s spike in operations in upstate localities, saying that it has spread fear and affected the daily lives of undocumented people living there as well as the economy of those who depend on immigrant workers.

“We continue to see that the anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies promoted by the administration of President Donald Trump continue to be extremely damaging. The danger is so great that immigrant farm workers in New York do not even feel comfortable enough to go to their churches for fear of encountering ICE waiting for them after mass,” said the political leader. “This is a moral and economic problem. Our farm workers are human beings who do not deserve to live a life of terror. They do the jobs that the rest of the people in our great state do not want to do. They are living a nightmare.”

Assemblywoman Carmen De la Rosa, who has advocated for the state’s farm workers, is worried about the level of fear and frustration that immigrants in upstate New York are enduring due to “attack policies” coming from the White House. She added that it is crucial to continue supporting the sanctuary movement at this time in order to protect them.

“The State of New York recognizes the immigrant community, and must continue to be a sanctuary state by making sure that it will not coordinate or cooperate with federal immigration agencies aiming to detain undocumented people who have no criminal record or violent background,” said the Dominican-born legislator. “We need to continue supporting the sanctuary movement across the nation to ensure that sacred places such as schools, hospitals and religious institutions are respected.”

Fear in the area is plain to see. A former employee of El Mexicano in Saratoga made it clear by saying that he would rather not talk about the effect of the raids. He added that ICE’s presence seems to have decreased in the last few weeks. “It was ugly… It looks quiet now. But you never know.”

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