Workers rally against anti-immigrant assault
Defend rights against cops, racist thugs in Long Island
|Hundreds demonstrated in Union Square (above) and El Barrio in Manhattan September 26 against racist assault on immigrant workers in Long Island, New York.|
BY OLGA RODRÍGUEZ
NEW YORK--Demanding the arrest and prosecution of those who committed the savage beating of two Mexican workers in Long Island nine days earlier, hundreds of immigrant workers, mostly Mexican, held two demonstrations in Manhattan September 26, one in Union Square and another in El Barrio in East Harlem, home of a large Mexican community.
Israel Pérez and Magdaleno Escamilla are among the dozens of day laborers who gather every morning on street corners in the Long Island town of Farmingville hoping to be offered work by landscaping and construction contractors. On Sunday morning, September 17, the two youths were picked up by two white men pretending to hire them, taken to a deserted building, and then viciously assaulted with a shovel, knife, and crowbar. Both escaped and were hospitalized with serious injuries.
Over three nights, protests in Farmingville against the attempted murders drew more than 500 people, most of them esquineros, or corner men, as they are often called.
Oropeza González, a 27-year-old worker at the protest, commented, "The motive for this assault was clearly racist. What we want--and we are here to show it--is justice for our compañeros."
Capitalist politicians, rightists, cops
The assault on the Mexican workers and the protests against it are the latest development in a polarized situation that has sharpened over the past several months. Local Republican and Democratic politicians in the Suffolk County legislature have been waging an anti-immigrant campaign. Last year county legislator Joseph Caracappa proposed a measure to prohibit contractors from stopping their trucks to hire workers, which was defeated, and an ordinance to limit the number of people who may occupy a rental house, which was passed. He and his supporters branded the immigrants as "illegal aliens, criminals who are responsible for an increase of crime in the county."
In August, Caracappa sought to get the county legislature to sue the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) for supposedly failing to do its job of arresting and deporting workers. The proposal was narrowly defeated 9-8 at a hearing attended by an overflow crowd, both dozens of immigrant workers and their supporters opposing the reactionary measure, and supporters of the bill, including members of an ultrarightist outfit called Sachem Quality of Life.
Sachem Quality of Life thugs have organized weekly picket lines to try to intimidate the esquineros. They have picketed the home of a county legislator who voted against suing the INS. Among the signs they carried was one accusing him of being a "papist." Some of them were present at the three nights of immigrant rights protests, attempting to provoke demonstrators with racist taunts and getting directly in the faces of Mexican workers. The outfit's web site has links to a number of other ultraright groups, from supporters of Patrick Buchanan to American Patrol.
Meanwhile, local cops harass the esquineros and contractors who stop to pick them up daily. One worker, Rogelio Sánchez, told the Militant that "the biggest problem we have is with the cops. They harass the contractors, ticketing them for supposed traffic violations. This is taking away our right to work, since the contractors won't stop here as much." Juan Carlos, a worker in his early twenties, added, "Sometimes they have as many as six patrol cars around the corner."
On September 19, the night of the first protest, the fire station across from the empty lot where the demonstration assembled let loose its siren, and later, as the march stepped off, a fire truck pulled out to cut off one section of the march from the rest. Nadia Marín-Molina from the Workplace Project, an immigrant advocacy group in Hempstead, Long Island, noted that the firehouse serves as a meeting hall for Sachem Quality of Life.
Workers win broader support
Many of the workers have not let themselves be intimidated, however, organizing a range of protests to assert their rights. Some have also picketed the homes of unscrupulous contractors who try to get away with not paying them.
By standing up to these attacks and harassment, the esquineros have won respect and support from some other residents in Farmingville and other nearby communities. At a September 21 protest, people came from all over Long Island to join with the immigrant workers.
A new organization, Brookhaven Citizens for a Peaceful Solution, is sponsoring, along with a number of Long Island immigrant rights groups, a March for Tolerance and Peaceful Solutions on Sunday, October 15, at noon.
The September 26 demonstration at Union Square was called by the church-linked Tepeyac Association. It drew Mexican workers, young and old, waving the Mexican flag and portraits of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico. They chanted "We're here and we're not leaving! And if we're thrown out, we'll be back!" "No Justice, no peace!" and "The workers' struggle has no border."
Among the speakers was a representative of the Mexican consulate. When he attempted to speak, many began to chant, "We want deeds, not promises!" Several workers present told the press that the Mexican government has not done much to back Mexican immigrants under attack here.
Guillermo, a young Mexican who helped lead the chanting, said many in his community had wanted to attend the protests in Long Island but were unable to do so because of the distance. "There's a lot of Mexicans here," he said, "and if we unite, we have a great deal of power."
Speakers urged a big turnout for the October 14 immigrant rights march in New York. For information on the demonstration, call Tepeyac Association at (212) 633-7108.