MORE Citizens are COMPLAINING.........No effect yet, I hope they all keep trying
Neighbors: Monitor day laborers
Councilman, legislator call on federal agents to help patrol worker gatherings
February 02, 2006
A group of St. Catherine of Sienna Catholic School parents filed into County Legislator John Ciotti's office recently, tired of the catcalls, insults and the aura of insecurity they face daily as they make their way through pockets of day laborers to drop off or pick up their children at the Franklin Square school.
There have also been reports of workers defecating on private property and urinating in the street outside OTB on Hempstead Turnpike in Elmont.
Instances such as these are on the rise, while the quality of life in these areas is suffering, residents and local officials say. On Jan. 26 at the Elmont Public Library, civic leaders, school superintendents and members of the Elmont Fire Department met with Councilman Ed Ambrosino and Ciotti to discuss concerns facing residents and avenues to pursue to curtail a growing problem.
With representatives of U.S. Rep. Carolyn McCarthy in attendance, Ambrosino appealed to her to contact the Internal Revenue Service and the Immigration and Naturalization Service about policing the various hot spots - the Hess station on Hempstead Turnpike, the OTB, the area around St. Catherine's - where employers seek to put men to work, uninsured, for the going rate of about $100 a day. Scott Cushing, Assemblyman Tom Alfano's chief of staff, said it is more a public safety issue than an immigration issue, since many of the laborers are in the country legally. Cushing told the Herald that a designated area, such as has been created in Suffolk County for documented laborers, may be worth looking into.
The safety issue is twofold. Women and girls have said they feel intimidated walking through groups of men, and the men themselves usually get picked up to do landscaping and construction jobs without health insurance, Cushing said. Ciotti said recently that a day laborer pruning a tree fell 30 feet and broke his back. The employers are the ones that should be targeted, he said.
"If we put two IRS agents on the corner for one week, taking down license plates, that would be much more effective," Ciotti said. "Put the taxing authority out there, let it be known they're watching them. It would cut [the activity] in half immediately."
Outside St. Catherine's the morning after the meeting, parents said they welcome the involvement of federal agencies. One mother said that on the walk to school with her daughter one day last month, the hissing and gesturing by a group of laborers was so fierce that her third grader burst into tears once they passed the crowd. A father said he has been going to work later in the morning so his wife doesn't have to take their two children. "I'm glad to see there's talk of taking action," he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "Now let's see if it's carried out."
Outside the Hess station last week, a 29-year-old day laborer told the Herald that he has seen men waiting for work whistle and remark to women walking by, but it's only a few. He also said the workers have been the targets of racist remarks by drivers passing in their cars.
"It's not all of us," he said about reports if harassment, giving only his first name, Mario. "I'm sorry when that happens. But I have had bottles thrown out of cars that almost hit me, and I have been cursed. I'm just trying to make money."
Mario, who is undocumented, goes to one of three spots in Franklin Square and Elmont seven days a week looking for work, and usually gets picked up for construction jobs most days, he said. He normally works for the same five men, and has developed good relationships with all of them. He has learned masonry, roofing and other facets of the construction business, and hopes to one day save enough to start his own. For now, he'll take the $100, and he worries little about health insurance.
"One hundred dollars is a lot to make at any job," he said. "Insurance? I just have to be careful."
As of press time, McCarthy's office had yet to contact the councilman, Ambrosino said.
The drain of illegal apartments
Ambrosino called on Sewanhaka Central High School District Superintendent Dr. John Williams and Elmont School District Superintendent Al Harper to help identify students who are attending the schools while living in illegal apartments.
If students with five or six different surnames live at the same address, that should indicate that at least a few of them are living there illegally, Ambrosino said, asking that school district officials contact the Town of Hempstead Building Department inspectors in such instances. But Cushing said that raises the issue of privacy.
"With local government asking school districts to assist in governance, each Board of Education is going to have to take a look at that," Cushing said. "And it would have to be uniform throughout the Town of Hempstead. The attorneys will have to take a look at that."
Cushing said that even if a child is living in an illegal apartment, No Child Left Behind federal legislation and other mandates require schools to continue to educate the child. "A kid can pull up in a station wagon in front of Gotham Avenue School, and if that's his home, we have to educate him," he said.
Ambrosino said that town attorneys would be in touch with the school districts' legal counsel.