Willets Point: stepping stone to the American dream or signpost to its termination? – Edward Helmore Sunday 23 April 2017 07.00 EDT


Automobile repair businesses in Willets Point, Queens, photographed in 2008. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

For at least two generations, Willets Point been known as the “Iron Triangle”. A 48-acre site in Queens, in New York City, its small auto repair shops and stores selling used car parts have given thousands of new migrants a vital start in the job market.

Now, despite New York City’s status as a so-called sanctuary city for undocumented migrants, the Central American workers who once pitched for business on the corners of Willets Point are disappearing. They fear that under the Trump administration’s hardline policy, they could be rounded up and deported.

Rumors circulate of raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) officers in nearby Jackson Heights, as do stories of mothers reluctant to take children to school, or to collect food stamps. On Saturday, workers in the area declined to speak on the record or be photographed. The risks were too great, they said.

“This was an area that really helped immigrants,” said Arturo Olaya, owner of Arthur’s Auto Trim, a car upholstery shop on 36th Avenue, who came to the US from Medellín, Colombia. “It was a place where they could start from the bottom and start to build successful lives.

“But now they are scared. They don’t want to take this harassment, and they don’t want to be deported.”

Olaya is prominent figure in the neighborhood, president of the Willets Point Defense Committee, a coalition that for a decade has fought the city’s efforts to clear out as many as 225 businesses and make way for a $3bn development including a convention centre, a mall and housing.

Much of Willets Point, which sits in the shadow of Citi Field, thehome of the New York Mets baseball team which was completed in 2009, has already been cleared.

Mechanics check out a car in front of Citi Field, in a photograph from August 2013.
Mechanics check out a car in front of Citi Field, in a photograph from August 2013. Photograph: Andrew Burton/Getty Images
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