May 24, 2006
Southampton Village Immigration Protests Continue
"Wake up America!" George Overbeck hollered to passing motorists, who honked back. Lining both sides of North Sea Road and in front of the 7-Eleven convenience store on County Road 39 in Southampton Village, protesters held picket signs on Saturday calling for more stringent laws against illegal immigration.
They were not alone. Accompanying them were advocates for immigration reform and a small contingent of picketers from the Shinnecock Indian Reservation opposed to what they called "hate mongering" messages from the protesters.
The main rally was organized by the Eastern Suffolk Minutemen Civil Defense Corps, a local chapter of a nationwide group of volunteers looking to curb illegal immigration. Also present were independent construction workers and contractors as well as members of the Greater Farmingville Community Association, representing an upIsland area that has experienced an influx of undocumented workers and their rising tensions with Farmingville residents. It was one of a growing number of demonstrations about immigration that have taken place in the same location, an informal meeting place for day laborers looking for work.
Regardless of which side the protesters took, many of those The Independent spoke with were unwilling to give their full names.
Marty, who drove out from Nassau County for the protest, said, "It's a slap in the face to those legal immigrants that actually come to this country and try to become American," he said. "They are taking jobs that Americans do do. I was a carpenter, my father was a carpenter . . . I got hurt in 1991. If I go back to my job today, I will be making $5 less an hour."
"This problem stems from two sections, from people coming across the border and from the elitists welcoming them," said Ray Wysolmiersky, president of the Greater Farmingville Community Association. "And here in Southampton, we have too many elitists who want to pretend that this is okay because they have to have their lawns tailored perfectly.
They want to close their eyes and hope that if they build a hiring site, somehow that's going to stop. It's not going to stop. It's going to invite more in here like it's done in every other place."
But advocates in favor of amnesty for illegal immigrants said ignorance is fueling these assertions.
"This is based in jealousy. This is also based in uneducated people that are rallying, people that are frustrated about their own lives and cannot get jobs," said a woman who would only go by the initial G. "This is a class issue as well, and we should all understand that the real enemy, the real problem is central government right now."
The message of bigotry passed along to younger generations is destructive and dangerous, added Becky Genia, a member of the Shinnecock Nation.
"Racial slurs and hate mongering is not going to be tolerated in our community," she said. "It's a human issue, and they're trying to herd [immigrants] up like cattle and throw them all across the border. It's a horrible, wicked attitude, and the attitude is what I am protesting."
Still, demonstrators seeking more stringent immigration laws insisted they only want to protect job security for American citizens.
"They undercut me by like half. How can I compete? If I'm doing everything right, and they're doing everything wrong, how can I compete? I can't compete. That's why I'm here. I'm just a construction worker. I'm not a madman," said Overbeck, who made headlines a few weeks ago when his picket sign was taken by a day laborer, who was subsequently arrested. Fingerprinting analysis revealed the laborer had entered the country illegally and he is now facing deportation.
Sitting in his car eating breakfast in the 7-Eleven parking lot, contractor Jeff Jones who was not a part of any protest offered a different opinion. "We've got to get some money out of these people. Make them legal. Find out some way of making it easier for them to be legal. I don't have a problem with them being here, but they've got to pay into the system," he said.
Sister Margaret Smyth, Director of the North Fork Spanish Apostolate, stood with several day laborers who were waiting for work behind protesters holding signs that read "Which laws can I ignore?" and "Hiring undocumented workers is against the law."
She said that most of the undocumented workers that come into her office pay taxes. "The majority of people pay taxes because whether you're paid on the books or off the books you can apply for a taxpayer ID number in my office. From January to April, we have two accountants, working two and half days a week just taking care of their taxes."
Whether some are paying into the system or not, for Overbeck, it comes down to the overall impact on the community and the taxpayers.
"All these illegal immigrants are basically affecting our social services programs, our jobs, our hospitals, our schools, and I mean who's really paying for all these taxes? It's the guy that has the social security number, not the guy that don't," he said.