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It was one in the morning in late March when Luis, a 43-year-old Mexican man, tiptoed across the floor in his socks. He had just been startled from sleep by the sound of violent knocking on the door of the double-wide trailer where he and a few other farmworkers live. He was terrified; he leaned against the wall and listened. He was afraid that agents from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement might be outside. He locked the door to his bedroom and waited. Eventually, the knocking stopped, but Luis barely slept that night.
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Luis had good cause to be afraid. About a week prior to the late-night knocking, ICE had picked up an undocumented farmworker on this same farm because he’d been convicted of two DUIs. And a few days after that, on a different apple farm just a few miles away, ICE had come before sunup for a 23-year-old man, Diego, who is from Guatemala. According to his attorney at a local nonprofit public-defense firm, Diego has a less than 5 percent chance of getting bail, much less staying in the United States.
Since Donald Trump took office in January, ICE has been newly empowered and encouraged to target undocumented immigrants with criminal records for deportation—a practice that winds up capturing a huge number of undocumented immigrants without criminal records, too. But, while the Trump administration may be more zealous about enforcement than previous administrations, they have not actually changed any laws.
Existing immigration legislation has long been at odds with the U.S. economy and with farming communities across the country.
Trump’s aggressive rhetoric is only having an impact because of the legal framework buttressing it. Which is why, after a string of ICE arrests cut through the local Hudson Valley farm community, word quickly spread among Hispanic farmworkers there that nobody is safe.
As in the rest of the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as much as half of the farm workforce in New York is undocumented. The fear of deportation looming over Hudson Valley farmworkers is also impacting farmers—what they’re willing to plant and what they think they’ll be able to harvest.