A sense of unease is taking over local businesses as fear and anxiety grow among their immigrant customers, particularly undocumented ones, who no longer want to come out of their homes for fear that, outside, on the street, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents will arrest, incarcerate and deport them.
Hispanic business owners are noticing the absence of customers, who are not turning up in the same numbers to buy their products and services. Noticia went out onto the streets of Long Island to talk to barbershop, beauty salon, deli, and nightclub owners, among others, to learn firsthand the extent of the impact that the White House’s anti-immigrant policies and much-feared deportations are having on the Latino community in these hard times.
Although it is a low-income area, the residents of Roosevelt, New York, are good consumers. Dominican-born stylist Marisol Genao, 45, who works at the Stefany Hair and Nail Salon, spoke about the current situation.
“Business is down. The clientele, particularly Central Americans, are very scared, and they don’t come by to get their hair done. It is very important for the new president to understand that we immigrants actually contribute to this country’s economy,” said Marisol, adding that she would recommend the new administration to grant amnesty to undocumented people.
Similarly, Steven Peralta, 38, the owner of Universal Latino’s Barbershop, said: “Trump is calling on America to be ‘great again’ but, Mr. President, we Hispanics are the ones who make America great!… We pay our taxes.”
He added that, while he understands the deportation of criminals, families working hard to support their loved ones must be given a chance.
“I am a working man. Ever since I came to this country, I understood [that you need] two things: a driver’s license and good credit. I know there are people in the United States who are honest and are struggling to survive. I am heartbroken about many of the stories I hear here in the barber shop. Men come here desperate because they don’t know what to do about this problem of the deportations.” Peralta confirmed that his clientele has decreased.
They do not go to lunch or send money anymore
After walking down Roosevelt’s Nassau Road, I stepped into Midway Deli and was surprised to see one of the owners shelving items and saying out loud in a worried tone: “This is unbelievable. At this time, we would be full.” Indeed, it was 1:00 p.m., lunch time, and his deli was empty. Not because their food is not good but because people are terrified to go out to make purchases and risk being detained and deported.
Meanwhile, the other owner, Rafael Parache, an energetic 40-year-old, wondered in a mildly powerless manner: “Tell us how you got rich, Trump,” to which he answered himself: “Thanks to the sweat and sacrifice of Latinos.” He immediately went on to encourage his undocumented customers: “Don’t be afraid. Everyone will be served here regardless of race. Raise your voice and defend your interests.”
In Hempstead, Main Street looks deserted. People seem defensive. I walked into a Moneygram service location and there were no customers there either; empty. Remittances are feeling the impact, as immigrants no longer want to send money to their countries of origin.
“The issue of deportations has affected us greatly. People don’t want to send money anymore, fearing that they will go out [in the street] and bump into a raid,” said Carmelita Martínez, 50, the owner of Latina ServiExpress. “If I had the president in front of me, I would tell him that not all immigrants are here illegally. In fact, most of us are hardworking people who are moving this country forward.”
The biggest sign of the impact of Donald Trump’s first month as president can be seen in Long Island night clubs. Yes, bars, which, after 7:00 p.m., look as if there was a curfew. The fact is that no one (or very few brave ones) ventures out in the street at that time to buy a gallon of milk, let alone dance.
The young owner of a bar located on Fulton Street in Hempstead told us: “The bar is slow. The women themselves would rather not come to work,” referring to the undocumented employees who work there, which is why the owner chose not to give his name.