In upstate New York, both workers and the farmers who employ them fear more aggressive immigration enforcement.
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Luis is no stranger to violence. Even though he has worked on a relatively tranquil apple farm in upstate New York’s mid-Hudson region for over a decade, he originally came to the United States to flee the violence in Guerrero state on Mexico’s west coast. For years there, vigilante militias have been fighting back against local warlords. The last time he was home, five years ago, Luis wanted to stay. He drove a pickup truck as a form of taxi service for hotel workers, but the warlords held him up at gunpoint, threatening to kill him if he didn’t give them a cut of his fares. (Pseudonyms have been used in several instances throughout this article to protect the identities of undocumented farmworkers and the farmers who employ them.)
“If you don’t pay,” Luis told me, “they kill you.” So he journeyed back to the United States, walking across Mexico every night for a week under the guidance of a “coyote,” or human smuggler. That, too, was frightening. He says he was so thirsty, he thought he might die.
Luis had good cause to be afraid. About a week prior to the late-night knocking, ICE had picked up an undocumented farmworker on this same farm because he’d been convicted of two DUIs. And a few days after that, on a different apple farm just a few miles away, ICE had come before sunup for a 23-year-old man, Diego, who is from Guatemala. He had also been charged with DUIs. Diego is one of four brothers who, one by one over the years, all hitchhiked from Central America, walked across Mexico, and eventually found their way to the Hudson Valley to pick apples. He’s now detained, awaiting deportation proceedings in lower Manhattan. According to his attorney at a local nonprofit public-defense firm, Diego has a less than 5 percent chance of getting bail, much less staying in the United States.