On Shelter Island there has long been a dependence on immigrant labor employed by landscapers, contractors, retail businesses and restaurants, and working in private homes.
Some entered illegally, others came to the United States on temporary work visas for a season but stayed to make a life here for themselves and their families. Some have children born here who are American citizens, and others were brought as small children and have never known a life in their parents’ home countries.
The workload for undocumented workers is such on the East End that throughout this past summer, prospective employers were calling the North Fork Spanish Apostolate in Riverhead looking for people to fill critical jobs. This says something about the demand for these people, but also the kinds of jobs local men and women who grew up here no longer do.
In Julie Lane’s and Carol Galligan’s multi-part series on immigration published earlier this year, one Shelter Island employer — who requested anonymity to speak with the Reporter — worried about losing workers. “I wouldn’t have a business without them,” she said. “We’ve tried using Americans, college kids who say they want to work. Those kids aren’t interested. They don’t want to do menial work.”
She and other employers won’t put money into building their businesses now, she said, without knowing if they’ll have a business by next year. “We think if they have to go, maybe we should go with them, take what money we’ve made and invest in their countries,” the employer said. “Without them, we don’t have a business.”
Donald Trump ran for president and was elected partly because he made immigration and its effect on the country the centerpiece of his campaign. The consequences of his election are attempts at mass travel bans, a drumbeat in certain quarters to build a wall on America’s southern border with Mexico, and arrests of undocumented immigrants by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents up 40 percent from January to May over the same period in 2016.
Another consequence of the election has been the fate of DACA – Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
DACA allowed people brought into the United States illegally as children to have amnesty from deportation, and to get Social Security cards, driver’s licenses and work permits — in other words, to have a secure future here.
President Trump announced recently he would rescind the DACA program in six months. But it’s anyone’s guess how the president really feels about DACA — or cares — or how he will act.
Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), addressing the issue of deportations, said, “I do believe that [the] priority should be on the individuals who are the worst offenders of our laws and way of life,” and not on law-abiding individuals.
With the debate on DACA heating up and legislation being crafted, we should all make sure our Congressman keeps his word on that.