Immigrants at Center of School Safety Battle in Brewster

Leah Rae and Diana Bellettieri, Journal News (White Plains, NY), Dec. 11, 2005

Recent trespassing incidents in Brewster have opened a new torrent of complaints about illegal immigration in the suburbs—this time from parents of elementary schoolchildren.

“There isn’t a parent I’ve spoken to who isn’t absolutely outraged at what’s going on—and scared,” said Kara Garecht, who has a daughter at Garden Street School in Brewster and lives in Southeast.

A drunken man was found unconscious behind the hilltop school during the day Oct. 31, prompting the assignment of a sheriff’s deputy to begin standing guard there. Although police haven’t specified the man’s immigration status, the incident has been a focal point for anger about illegal immigrants. Garden Street School, with children in kindergarten through third grade, is next to woods where immigrant day laborers have been found living outdoors.

“You don’t know who they are, what they are,” Garecht said, referring to undocumented immigrants. “You give them a ticket, a summons . . . they give a phony name, and there’s absolutely no way to track these people.”

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Brewster is among many communities—Danbury, Conn.; Herndon, Va., and Brookhaven in Suffolk County, for example—where an outcry over local problems has overlapped immigration complaints. Hundreds of Hispanic day laborers gather along Brewster’s Main Street each morning to look for work.

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In public comments, residents of Brewster and Southeast portrayed the village’s downtown as a place where shoppers felt intimidated by the crowds of day laborers, where public drunkenness was common, and where longtime residents were still hoping for changes such as a reopening of the Cameo theater.

When someone in the crowd asserted that everyone, in some way, had used immigrant day labor, he was answered with shouts of “No!”

Brewster resident Dwight Yee, who runs a jewelry shop on Main Street, called for a greater police presence downtown but warned against prejudice underlying the safety debate. Speakers at a Southeast Town Board meeting Dec. 1 argued that day laborers should be deported to their native countries, he said.

“These guys are looking for work. If they’re here, what are you going to do? Chase them out and send them to Danbury? Then on Saturday morning all the Brewster people have to run over to Danbury to pick them up to go fix their lawns,” he said.

“So they want it, but not in their backyard. If it were a bunch of white guys, there would be no problem. But if it’s a bunch of Guatemalans, all of a sudden everybody’s up in arms.”

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