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For one Ecuadorian migrant relocated to Capital Region through NYC, urge to work is tempered by fear

 Joan Diaz, Javier Párraga and Francisco Olivares, three migrants who recently arrived at the Sure-Stay Hotel in Colonie, speak with WAMC’s Alexander Babbie on July 27, 2023.
Dave Lucas
Joan Diaz, Javier Párraga and Francisco Olivares, three migrants who recently arrived at the Sure-Stay Hotel in Colonie, speak with WAMC’s Alexander Babbie on July 27, 2023.

The arrival of migrants in the Capital Region has led to protests from residents and local officials alike, but also humanitarian efforts to provide supplies. In the meantime, migrants are eager to get to work. Javier Parraga of Ecuador, who has been staying in Colonie, spoke with WAMC in Spanish and says he hasn’t had any luck getting hired.

-Alguno que si, uno que otro si tienen. Pero tiene suerte, me entiende, todo no tenemos, corremos, con la misma suerte. Son diferentes, pero ya ellos ya consigue. Pero yo igual voy a seguir buscando hasta que me salga un trabajo, pero eso estoy tratando de buscarme un trabajo.-

"A few, yes, here and there. But they’re lucky, and not all of us have jobs. We don’t all have the same luck, but they’re different. They’ve got work. But like them I’m going to keep looking for work until I get it, I’m trying to find a job," Parraga said.

Parraga spoke with WAMC while sitting in the shade, as far out of view as possible near a parking lot on Central Avenue in Albany. He says he’s afraid of being out in public, and was keeping an eye on cars passing by. WAMC’s Ian Pickus reads Parraga’s translations.

-Yo si tengo miedo. No quisiera meterme con la ley. Me tiene, me preso, no vino por eso.-

"Yes, I’m afraid. I don’t want to have a run-in with the law. They’d take me and charge me, I didn’t come here for that," Parraga said.

He says he’s been keeping to himself.

-Yo no converso con nadie, aqui me ve solito alli.-

"I don't speak with anyone, you can see me all alone out here," Parraga said.

WAMC caught up Parraga on a recent afternoon after a morning spent approaching businesses. He says he’ll take anything he can get.  

-A veces me da ganas de vender agua por la calle, pero yo veo que aquí es difícil porque aquí tiene su reglamento, sus leyes y tengo miedo que me lleve preso por eso, me metan multa o cualquier cosa me entiende? Ese es el temor mío. Pues yo no me estoy así buscando hasta que que sea de lavaplato de algo así, me entiende, el asunto que si tiene que salir por ahí. Hay personas que tiene buen corazón y lo ayudan.-

"Sometimes I think about selling water on the street, but I see that that’s hard here because of the rules, the laws, and I’m afraid of breaking them, because if they do, they could arrest me, fine me or something like that. That’s my fear. But I’m not here looking for that. I’d be a dishwasher, anything. You have to get out there. There are people with good hearts who will help you," Parraga said.

The first group of migrants arrived in Colonie over Memorial Day weekend, with local officials saying they were caught off guard and quickly pursuing legal action. Since then, more busloads have arrived at the SureStay hotel. Additional buses have also arrived in the Schenectady County town of Rotterdam.

Javier says he’s being asked for paperwork he doesn’t have, and that nobody’s explained how to get it.

-La gente no, no le quiere dar porque no contamos con todos los requisitos. Ese es el problema. Si nosotros le diera la oportunidad de de trabajar o ayudarlo para sacar ese papel fuera fácil. Pero lo más rápido me entiende, porque ahorita yo estoy queriendo mi el seguro social a ver si qué me lo dice para yo poder sacar ese papel.-

"People don’t want to give us papers because we don’t meet all the requirements. That’s the problem. If they would just give us the opportunity to work or to get that paperwork it would be easy. But the faster we get the opportunity to work the better, because right now I want an SSN, so that way I can see if they’ll tell me I can get working papers."

DocGo is a medical transport company contracted by New York City to transport and house asylum-seekers. The city has said it can’t keep up with tens of thousands of arrivals. DocGo got a $432 million dollar contract to facilitate the relocations, but has faced criticism for problems with treatment of the migrants, communication and more. The company declined to speak with WAMC.

Lacking papers hasn’t stopped Parraga from trying to get work, but he says people disregard him.

-Aquí, lo quiere humillar en el precio, porque la realidad nosotros aquí le quiere pagar nomás poquito, que dice ya porque somos migrantes, quiere ponerlo bien abajo, porque no tenemos los papeles, este en regla y todo y ellos prefiere pagar alguno diez la hora, 13, 14 la hora y imagínese y nosotros queriendo un cuarto y todo eso y eso no alcanza.-

"They want to humiliate you, the reality is that they want to pay those of us that are here very little, and they say that’s because we’re migrants, we don’t have papers, all that in order, they want to pay us way below minimum wage, those are the rules and those of us that can follow the rules, they’ll pay 10, 13, 14 an hour, and imagine that, here we are just wanting a quarter of that and it doesn’t happen," Parraga said.

He says he doesn’t want to depend on government support.

-Quiero trabajar por yo mismo y pagar mi arriendo.-

"I want to work for myself and pay my way," Parraga said.

Parraga hopes to send money to his family.

-Mis hijos están en Ecuador, ahí yo tengo que mandarle porque ellos están solo y yo tengo que mandarle ahí, que me lo cuide, que me dé algo ahí mis mis hijos, que no me le falte nada. Y uno viene para darle algo mejor para ellos luchar. Y yo no vengo por mucho tiempo. Si me diera yo, si me da la oportunidad trabajar y irme en mi país, nada más. Si me da la oportunidad, si me da la oportunidad de quedarme aquí. Claro que yo vengo con problema de mi país, pero si me da la oportunidad de quedarme, bienvenido sea. Yo trato de hacer lo mejor.-

"My children are in Ecuador. I have to send money to them because they’re alone and I have to send it there. I give everything to them, I keep nothing for myself. And someone comes here to give themselves something better to fight for. And I won’t be here long. I just want to be here to work and then go back to my country, nothing more. If they gave me the opportunity to stay here, well of course there are problems back home, but if they gave me the opportunity to say, great. I try to do my best," Parraga said.

After all, he adds, he’s searching for a better life.

-Yo quiero trabajar por legalmente, me entiende? Por algo me dice el sueño americano, pero ni a trabajar honradamente, ni robarle a nadie ni nada.-

"I want to work legally, you get me? For something they tell me is the American dream, but I want work honorably, not steal anything from anyone or anything like that," Parraga said.

A spokesperson for New York City Mayor Adams declined to be interviewed.

A 2022 Siena College graduate, Alexander began his journalism career as a sports writer for Siena College's student paper The Promethean, and as a host for Siena's school radio station, WVCR-FM "The Saint." A Cubs fan, Alexander hosts the morning Sports Report in addition to producing Morning Edition. You can hear the sports reports over-the-air at 6:19 and 7:19 AM, and online on WAMC.org. He also speaks Spanish as a second language. To reach him, email ababbie@wamc.org, or call (518)-465-5233 x 190. You can also find him on Twitter/X: @ABabbieWAMC.