How will Trump win impact North Fork’s immigrant families?
It began with three sentences.
In a speech announcing his candidacy on June 16, 2015, Donald Trump made a bold promise to strengthen the Mexico-United States border.
“I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me, and I’ll build them very inexpensively, I will build a great, great wall on our southern border,” he said in his now infamous remarks at Trump Tower in New York City. “And I will have Mexico pay for that wall.
“Mark my words.”
Those three sentences have many in the East End’s Hispanic community concerned about what lies ahead after President-elect Trump takes office in two months.
In a “60 Minutes” segment that aired on CBS Sunday evening, the most prominent interview Mr. Trump has granted since Election Day, he reiterated that pledge in just one word.
“Yes,” he said when asked if he still plans to build a wall.
As that response played on television sets across the North Fork and the world, an overflow crowd of Latinos prayed together inside St. John the Evangelist R.C. Church in Riverhead. It was the church’s first Spanish-language Mass since Election Day and hundreds poured into the house of worship to practice their faith.
Among those in attendance was Ronald Zuniga, a Peruvian immigrant who lives and works as a handyman in Riverhead. The 47-year-old, who said he renews his work permit each year, saw the good and bad in both major party presidential candidates this year.
Even the president-elect’s call for sweeping immigration reform, including policies that could have significant impacts on his Hispanic community, has pros and cons in his mind.
“What I am in favor of is to deport everyone who has serious criminal offenses, like people who deal with contraband, like in Brentwood, the gangs,” Mr. Zuniga said in Spanish. “People who don’t come to this country to help.”
For Mr. Zuniga’s family and others interviewed for this story, concern really starts to set in when they think about the future of their children.
“We have two kids that are studying,” Mr. Zuniga said. “One is at [Stony Brook University] and they are both under [President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a 2012 executive order]. The worry about them is if the new president suddenly wants to cut the program that favors many students. They just renewed it and they will be fine, but it could still be cut.”
Rosendo Herrera of Hampton Bays arrived in the U.S. 16 years ago from Guatemala. A 37-year-old father of two, the local landscaper said he is currently working on becoming a legal resident.
“For us it has been hard because as immigrants with kids here and a family, it is hard to accept a president who goes against all the immigrants,” Mr. Herrera said in Spanish. “So we are against [a Trump presidency] because this is something that could break up families.”
Sister Margaret Smyth of the North Fork Spanish Apostolate said that during a recent meeting, the question was raised of whether there is fear in the immigrant community following the election. The answer, she said, is yes.
“They said it right there in front of me,” she said. “The biggest thing is that he said he wants to deport so many people, even though we know in reality that may not be able to take place. The seeds have been sown.”
While it remains to be seen what exactly will transpire with regard to deportation of immigrants or how future policies might affect the North Fork labor force, Sister Margaret and others have seen some immediate impacts since the election.
In the first five days after Mr. Trump’s victory, Sister Margaret said, four families sought her help in obtaining passports for their children. The expectation is that if they are deported to their native country, their children can come with them, she said.
Hispanic students in North Fork schools have also reported several incidents of alleged harassment since the election, administrators said.
At Mattituck High School, all students were called together for an assembly after what district Superintendent Anne Smith called an “unfortunate behavioral incident.” Led by principal Shawn Petretti, students were reminded of the school’s code of conduct and mission statement, which includes a sentence that the district is “dedicated to providing a welcoming and safe environment where diversity, interdependence and self-discovery are valued.”
“The response [to the assembly] was very positive,” Dr. Smith said.
Riverhead School District Superintendent Nancy Carney said there have been “a couple of incidents of inappropriate comments at the high school,” which she said were immediately addressed.
Ms. Carney said the election and campaign rhetoric have been topics of discussion among students and staff within Riverhead High School, and that faculty have been asked to follow specific guidelines to steer those conversations.
Principal Charles Regan wrote in an email to his staff, “… As the energy from the current election cycle dissipates, keep the following in mind: If political discussions occur in class, it is our professional responsibility to promote rational intelligent discussions. Discussions should be productive debates rather than hate talk. Our role in the classroom is to ensure that all voices are heard. More importantly, that all voices are welcome.”
Riverhead Charter School principal Raymond Ankrum said his staff, which oversees a student population that is 75 percent minority, planned a pair of events related to the election.
The school hosted a discussion with eighth-graders Monday morning to allow them to share feelings, opinions and questions about the election results. It will also host a family forum for parents on Thursday, Nov. 17, to address questions and concerns.
Mr. Ankrum said the school is also creating a Grief Wall “to allow students that are feeling some sort of way about the election to be able to put down how they’re feeling and use that as a way to decompress. These are things we should talk about because it affects all of us.”
The election could also have lasting impacts on local businesses, particularly those in the agriculture, food and wine, and landscaping industries.
Bob Nolan of Deer Run Farm in Brookhaven is a past president of the Long Island Farm Bureau. He believes a Trump administration could help farmers cut through red tape, particularly to H2A — the immigrant worker program currently in place — which he said is too complicated and costly.
“I’m optimistic that something will now get done with immigration,” he said. “We need a program that works without all the red tape.”
Chris Mohr, owner of Chris Mohr Landscaping in Cutchogue, described an immediate positive impact on his business, as customers who had estimates done earlier this year have called to have the work completed in the aftermath of the election — as uncertainty about future local labor costs sets in.
“I guess that was just people waiting to see who would be in office,” he said.
But Mr. Mohr and fellow landscaper Manuel Canel of Canel Landscaping in Jamesport agreed that nobody knows for sure what the future holds.
“The business owners and workers are going to have to hold on for the ride because we don’t know what’s going to happen,” Mr. Mohr said. “[Mr. Trump] knows just as well as a small business owner like myself that if they were to round everybody up and get rid of them then there would be nobody doing the work.”
Mr. Nolan said he doesn’t believe any sort of massive deportation will occur immediately.
“Farmers are always worried, but according to what the president-elect said he’s not going to round everybody up and send them home,” he said. “He’s going for the criminals first and that’s going to take a while and they want to secure the border, which will take a while. In between all of that I’m hopeful we can get a guest-worker program together.”
Mr. Canel said that while each of his employees is legally allowed to work in the country, he feels the rhetoric surrounding the election has been “disheartening” for local immigrant workers.
Rafael Boch said he came to Riverhead from Guatemala 15 years ago. The 35-year-old said he has seen many changes in town over the years, including an increase in Hispanic-owned businesses.
He said that while he and the majority of Latinos living locally wanted to see Hillary Clinton win the election, many Hispanic voters cast their ballots for Mr. Trump.
“I believe that many Hispanics did vote for Trump,” he said in Spanish. “But I think that gives us hope because when he makes a decision he has to think about the Latino vote, because they helped him become president.”
Photo: A woman holds a child during Sunday night’s Mass at St. John the Evangelist Church in Riverhead. She, as well as others in attendance, closed her eyes during the priest’s homily and during prayer. (Credit: Kevin Urgiles)