Mexican Immigrants on Staten Island Prepare for a Trump Presidency

Email a Friend
Gonzalo Mercado encourages Mexican immigrants on Staten Island to
 be unified as they face the uncertainty of a Trump Presidency.

The modest office of La Colmena Community Job Center was overflowing with people Thursday night. Above the Ali-Baba Turkish restaurant on Port Richmond Avenue on Staten Island, small kids played in one room, while their parents vented nearby.

Maribel Torres from Puebla sat in the far corner.  She was feeling upset at the idea that her bosses, the people who hired her and whose homes she cleans, voted for Donald Trump.

"They tell me ... 'don't worry, nothing's going to happen to you'," Torres said in Spanish. "But they're not informed and don't understand the repercussions this can have." 

Torres’s biggest fear is that something could happen to her 20-year-old son, who she brought to the United States when he was 8-years-old. He applied for and received temporary legal status under what’s known as DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program.  Donald Trump has promised to repeal all President Obama’s executive actions, including this one.

At the meeting, one woman asked whether Trump would not only end DACA, but deport the current recipients of it. Carlos Vargas, a 31-year-old community organizer and Dreamer himself, didn’t have a definitive answer.

"He hasn’t said that if he cancels the program, he’s also going to deport the people who have permission to work," Vargas said. "He simply said he would end DACA but we don’t know what that means."

The bottom line — no one was sure what to expect. The group asked questions and listened calmly even when Vargas described what to do if an immigration officer pounds on the door at 3 a.m.  Vargas's advice was to not open the door and demand a search warrant. He also told the group to videotape encounters, to take notes of what was happening, to keep passports and other important papers in a special box and to know who to call.

"And if the person gets deported," he said. "Where are they going to leave the kids? All of this we have to start planning for now."

The advice was dire, but it’s a reality immigrants like these have been living with for years. Deportations rose dramatically under the Obama administration. Mexicans in Staten Island understand the risks. It is the only borough in New York City that voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump. But not everyone was convinced he would follow through with his campaign promises including one worker who said he had just returned from cleaning one of Donald Trumps’ properties in Manhattan. He didn't want to be identified out of fear of losing his job.

"I don’t  know why Mr. Trump talks so much about immigrants.  The company where I work, he says, services the house of his daughter, his building in New Jersey, and in fact it was my turn to work at his building in Manhattan," he said. "It just doesn’t make sense."

Gonzalo Mercado is Director of La Colmena Community Job Center. Mercado says Colmena means hive and the name is an analogy between the immigrant worker and worker bees.  He organized the Thursday night meeting, which went on for nearly two hours.  He says he’s encouraging people to take pictures of where they work in order to make hypocrisy more visible.

"At the end of the day if you are going to benefit from the fruit of their labor you at least have to accept their humanity," Mercado said.

Mercado believes that workers also need to make themselves more visible in order to show they are the ones that help make Staten Island run.  But he also knows that even before Donald Trump won on Tuesday, his members faced discrimination and hatred on the streets so he’s organizing neighborhood watch groups and reminding people to report harassment and to stick up for each other. He sees this as a moment for the Latino community to organize and come together.

"I think it’s a great opportunity," he said. "And if it’s not now. It’s when."

The meeting ended with a defiant chant in Spanish that translates to "Without papers and without fear!" or "Undocumented and unafraid!"

The group filed out of the small office to face the streets and the new reality of a Donald Trump presidency.