Posted on February 6, 2009

Bad Economy Forces Some Migrant Workers Home

Carolyn Kormann, East Hampton Press, February 3, 2009

Some local immigrants have returned to their native countries or are planning to leave because of the lack of work. While most people in the immigrant community are staying, the flow of their money, which usually travels from East Hampton to Latin America via money wires, has reversed.

In the communications hub called Latin Express, a hair salon, Elsa Crespo, who works behind the counter and hails from Ecuador, said on Thursday she thinks that about 70 percent of the immigrant community in the area is without work and that people are starting to leave.

But the main change she has noticed is that people are receiving money wires, when “before they were always sending money to their home countries,” she said in Spanish.

“It used to be that, at most, there would be one person in a month who was receiving money. Now what I’m seeing is 10 people per day who are receiving money from their home countries. No one is sending money home.”


Ms. Crespo agreed. “Look how many rooms are available,” she said, pointing at the bulletin board near the door full of ads offering rooms. “It’s much more than normal. Every day people are coming in with rooms for rent–there have never been this many. It’s a signal that people have left.”


But some people have simply decided that it’s not worth it to stay here any longer, according to Isabel Sepúlveda de Scanlon, the president of the Organización Latino Americana (OLA) of Eastern Long Island. “Many friends have said they know someone who has left or is leaving to go back to their home country,” Ms. Sepúlveda said. “Business owners are cutting pay. Cabaña Latina has laid people off.”

For some immigrants, while the bad economy has left them without work, they also see it as a blessing in disguise because it means that going home is their best option. Marcelo Guevara, of Southampton, recently lost his job and decided to go home because he could find no other work. But he said he’s thrilled that he will finally get to see his family after too many years,


Farther west, the situation seems even more dire. Sister Margaret Smyth of the North Fork Hispanic Apostolate, based in Riverhead, said that since October, she has bought return tickets for 17 immigrants to four different locations–Ecuador, Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico.

“They can’t work and they are getting depressed,” Sister Smyth said. “It’s becoming overwhelming, so they’re going home. Some people have come in, sat down and cried because they haven’t worked in three or four months, so they’re broken down.”

Immigrant families are more stable here, as opposed to single men, who seem to be the main demographic that is leaving or considering leaving. “It’s the single guys, the migrant workers, who might be starting to go,” said Dan Hartnett, a social worker in the East Hampton School District.

Evidence that families are not leaving comes from school enrollment statistics. There have not been more withdrawals in the East Hampton School District in the last couple months than normal, Superintendant Ray Gaultieri said. “Enrollment has been pretty steady for the last couple years. I think if there aren’t jobs for families when spring comes, then people might start to leave,” he said.

In the Montauk School, there has not been a decrease in enrollment and Superintendant Jack Perna said, “We’re all in the same boat out here in the winter. This fall was a little off, businesswise, but in the winter, you do nothing anyway.”

The Springs School has actually seen a slight increase in enrollment.


But in order to stay here and try to get by, several families will crowd into one house, which has been a source of contention with the town’s Ordinance Enforcement Department for years.

Dominic Schirrippa, the Ordinance Enforcement director, said that the winter is always quiet in terms of housing violations and that he hasn’t necessarily seen a change in the Latino population.

“The number of housing violation tickets we give out is declining because we’ve stepped up enforcement in the last few years,” he said. Since the beginning of 2009, the department has ticketed two houses, which he said is about the same as last year at this time.