Immigration is on the minds of Saratoga Springs residents after U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement raids resulted in the arrests of more than two dozen individuals. WAMC’s Southern Adirondack Bureau Chief Lucas Willard reports a discussion about immigration and its effects on the local community was held Monday night at Skidmore College.
Heavy rain and a brief power outage didn’t stop Saratogians from asking questions about immigration.
The town hall-style forum was hosted by Mayor Joanne Yepsen’s Human Rights Task Force and Skidmore College’s Departments of Latin American Studies and World Languages and Literatures.
Mayor Yepsen, a Democrat, says the topic has become a hot topic in the city.
“Because a lot of people kept asking a lot of questions throughout the community about the immigration process, about the ICE roundups, about how this is affecting our community and how they can help,” said Yepsen.
A slideshow detailing the basics of the U.S. immigration system was shown. Panel members represented the immigrant, legal, and business communities.
Panelist Pat Pipino, an owner of a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream shop and an individual familiar with the city’s numerous downtown restaurants, said the recent arrests of more than two dozen undocumented immigrants is having an effect on the local workforce.
“What it’s doing right now, as I talk to my fellow restaurateurs, it’s bidding up labor because there’s not enough talented cooks and back-of-the-house help to go around. So they’re moving from place to place to place and it’s really creating chaos in the food and beverage industry,” said Pipino.
Pipino said during the panel discussion that he believed the ICE raids were conducted in Saratoga Springs, a city about to boom with summer tourists for the thoroughbred racing season, in order to send a message.
Panelist Byron Cortez, an immigrant from Ecuador who devotes much of his time assisting backstretch workers at Saratoga Race Course, said there is a misconception that most track workers are undocumented.
“They are documented and they work six dollars per day back in their countries as farmers. So here, despite the living conditions, despite any struggles of the long day of works that they have, they actually are very grateful to be a part of this community, one way or another, and to be able to provide to their families back home,” said Cortez.
Cortez said he also wanted to deliver a message about race, explaining that backstretch workers come from a number of countries, not just Latin America.
Many of the audience questions centered on what people can do to help.
Audience members were warned not to interfere with law enforcement, but if they happen to witness an arrest they believe involves immigration status, to call an attorney or record the incident.
Contact information for related organizations was also given, including the New York Civil Liberties Union, National Lawyers Guild, Saratoga County Economic Opportunity Council, and the newly created New York State Office For New Americans.
New York State Office For New Americans Hotline: 1-800-566-7636
Saratoga County Economic Opportunity Council: 518-288-3206
National Lawyers Guild: 212-679-5100
New York Civil Liberties Union: 518-436-8594