Immigration Raids Cause Fear on New York Farms

US - A cold December rain gusted across fields of cabbage destined for New York City egg rolls, cole slaw and Christmas goose. Ankle-deep in mud, six immigrant farmworkers raced to harvest 120,000 pounds before nightfall, knowing that at dawn they could find immigration agents at their door.
calendar icon 26 December 2006
clock icon 2 minute read
The farmer who stopped to check their progress had lost 28 other workers in a raid in October, all illegal Mexican immigrants with false work permits at another farm here in western New York. Throughout the region, farm hands have simply disappeared by twos and threes, picked up on a Sunday as they went to church or to the laundry. Whole families have gone into hiding, like the couple who spent the night with their child in a plastic calf hutch.

As record-setting enforcement of immigration laws upends old, unspoken arrangements, a new climate of fear is sweeping through the rural communities of western and central New York.

“The farmers are just petrified at what’s happening to their workers,” said Maureen Torrey, an 11th-generation grower and a director of the Federal Reserve Bank’s Buffalo branch whose family owns this field and more than 10,000 acres of vegetable and dairy farms.

And for the first time in years, farmers are also frightened for themselves. In small towns divided over immigration, they fear that speaking out — or a disgruntled neighbor’s call to the authorities — could make them targets of the next raid and raise the threat of criminal prosecution.

Here where agriculture is the mainstay of a depressed economy, the mainstay of agriculture is largely illegal immigrant labor from Mexico. Now, more aggressive enforcement has disrupted a system of official winks, nods and paperwork that for years protected farmers from “knowingly” hiring the illegal immigrants who make up most of their work force.

Source: The New York Times
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