Posted on October 26, 2004

Mamaroneck Less Attractive For Laborers

Hema Easley, The Journal News (Westchester, NY), Oct. 24

MAMARONECK — Newly arrived in the United States, Domingo DeLosantos was expecting nothing more than a home-cooked meal and some friendly advice on how to survive in America when he visited a fellow Dominican’s apartment in Manhattan.

But his host’s nephew, himself a recent immigrant, let him on to the secret of his own success: Work as a day laborer in a little suburban community called Mamaroneck, just north of the city. Work was so good in Mamaroneck, his host’s nephew said, that he was able to save money, give up construction work and get a regular job.

DeLosantos took his advice. In a year, DeLosantos has been able to buy a plot of land in his hometown of Santo Domingo, and is hoping to build a four-bedroom, two-bathroom house on the property.

In the Dominican Republic, “I worked and worked and worked for so many years, but I couldn’t accomplish anything,” said DeLosantos, 34, who now lives with two other men in a Bronx apartment and takes the train to Mamaroneck every day. “I’ve been in America for one year-plus, and I have bought many things. What I make in a day here, I would make in a month there.”

He is among 100 to 200 men who had been gathering at Columbus Park, the traditional hiring site in Mamaroneck, creating a reputation in the area that the village offers good employment for migrant workers.

But DeLosantos is exactly the kind of man Mamaroneck is trying to discourage — men who reside outside the village but use Columbus Park as an employment base. As more and more workers travel to Mamaroneck, they stretch the village’s resources and often bring complaints from residents, says Mayor Phil Trifiletti, something he cannot afford to encourage.

“There are people from Fordham, White Plains, New Rochelle, the Bronx, Port Chester coming here by bus or train. We can’t handle 200 people. We don’t have the resources,” Trifiletti said. “We want to make sure village-resident laborers all get jobs.”

However, the village can’t take responsibility for people from outside Mamaroneck, who comprise 90 to 95 percent of the workers, Trifiletti said. Other communities need to pitch in and bear the burden, he argues.

Mamaroneck isn’t the only municipality that has struggled to deal with the issue of migrant workers in the community. Port Chester, Mount Kisco and Ossining have opened permanent sites for day laborers, and Yonkers is looking into finding a permanent hiring site. Mamaroneck had considered a permanent hiring site in an industrial part of the village, but the idea seems to have petered out.

Beginning Aug. 23, the village posted police at the park and began ticketing contractors for traffic violations, including double and triple parking while picking up workers and running stop signs. In the first couple of weeks, police issued an estimated 104 summonses. One man was arrested for smoking marijuana.

The enforcement frightened off the contractors. During that time, the number of workers who gathered dropped from a high of 200 to fewer than 30, and many workers were unable to find work for several days.

“Employers don’t come to look for us. It’s not the same anymore,” said Jose Luis Suarez, 32, who came to Mamaroneck five years ago from Mexico and has done financially well, so far. “Now, I have trouble paying the rent, sending money home and buying food.”

Trifiletti said the village has acted in response to complaints from residents, including concerns about urinating in public, defecation, catcalls, fighting, drinking, blocking sidewalks, littering, smoking marijuana and sleeping overnight in the park.

“My concern is for the residents of the village and their safety,” Trifiletti said.

The Hispanic Resource Center, a White Plains group that helps South American immigrants find housing and employment, says it is not aware of such occurrences, and day laborers often get blamed for the actions of others who frequent the park. The center said a small group of residents from Mamaroneck’s Washingtonville area were behind the complaints.

“There is a well-organized anti-immigrant group in the Washingtonville area that has been making such complaints for several years. They have put pressure on the mayor and the trustees to take action against the Hispanic community,” said Harold Lasso, chair of the center. “The mayor is listening to his constituency, those who voted for him. It is political.”

The work slowdown has affected not just the laborers but also area businesses that day laborers patronized. At least two restaurants in the Columbus Park area said they were disturbed that the laborers were losing work as a result of the village’s policies.

“They want to work; they have families to support,” said Roxana Caceres, 36, who helps her husband run Vera Cruz Mexican restaurant on Mamaroneck Avenue, which was frequented by day laborers before the crackdown. “I think it is unfair. The village should find a permanent place so that they don’t wander around. It will be best for all.”

Mamaroneck does not have immediate plans to assign a permanent hiring site for the workers. Trifiletti said that if an adequate site was found, he would be in favor of making it permanent. Meanwhile, the temporary site at Columbus Park will have to suffice.