Latinos Respond To Trump Victory

Advocates field a flood of concerned calls
Nancy Nano of Noyac, who became a United States citizen in May, voted in her first U.S. presidential election on Tuesday. Durell Godfrey

In his victory speech on election night, Donald Trump called on America to “bind the wounds of division” and “come together as one united people,” but with his anti-immigrant rhetoric on the campaign trail still resonating, his election has struck a note of fear and uncertainty for many Latin American immigrants on the South Fork, particularly those who are undocumented. 

In East Hampton, Democrats outnumber Republicans about 70 percent to 30 percent, while countywide, their numbers are more even, said Reg Cornelia, the East Hampton Town Republican Committee chairman, but despite those figures, Mr. Trump prevailed with a more than 8-point lead over Hillary Clinton in Suffolk County. 

“It’s a very exciting win,” Mr. Cornelia said. “In spite of what the media, the national media, like to talk about . . . this election was really about serious issues. Are we going down the socialist path with Mrs. Clinton? Continuing Obama’s policy? Or making a U-turn back to constitutional, free-market process?”

Mr. Cornelia said that Mr. Trump was willing to talk about issues that both parties had avoided — like “that damn border.” The first priority on Mr. Trump’s immigration plan is to “begin working on an impenetrable physical wall on the southern border, on day one,” according to his website, where he vows that Mexico will pay for the wall.

“My phone has been ringing off the hook,” said Diana Walker, an Amagansett resident, advocate, and a member of East Hampton Town’s Latino advisory committee. Undocumented immigrants are “terrified they are going to be deported,” she said. With President Obama’s election, it seemed America had become more tolerant, she said. “I think that we were blindsided by all these unhappy people who just said, ‘No. We’re not being left behind and we don’t like it.’ Their voices prevailed.” 

The Rev. Stephen Grozio of the Hispanic Apostolate, which provides Spanish-speaking priests for Catholic churches on the East End, said the Latino community is shocked by Trump’s win. “I don’t know if they considered the ‘what if.’ It was more like the ‘I hope not,’ ” he said yesterday. Concerns about what will happen to undocumented immigrants are shared by many who are documented because, he said, “everyone has relatives” who may not be here legally.

Ms. Walker has been reassuring undocumented immigrants that policy changes cannot happen overnight. “Those of us in the advocacy business are really going to have to have the balls to be a strong firewall, if for no other reason than that the economic bottom would fall out from this area.” 

“Our entire resort community runs on the engine of immigrants,” largely Latino, but also Jamaican and Irish, said Minerva Perez, the executive director of Organizacion Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island. She said the East End business community has to take stock of its future. Without immigrant labor, what would that be like? “The response to that question, I hope, would be let’s take care of who we have here now.” 

She said it is more important than ever to bridge the cultural divide and to be vigilant about what may be bubbling to the surface. “We are fully willing, able, and ready to speak up,” Ms. Perez said, whether it is on policy issues or bullying, to “make sure we’re together and not just the Latino community.” 

Locally, she said she has seen such “great things” happen recently — diversity training of local police, ongoing dialogues with local leaders, and the creation of the Latino advisory committee in East Hampton. “I’ve seen people come together, like showing up to move a woman out of a slumlord-like situation at the drop of a hat,” she said. “We seem to know how to take care of each other. I just want it to continue in that vein.”

She agreed that Mr. Trump’s election has stirred fear, but she said that many undocumented immigrants have come from such dire situations in economically depressed countries that “no matter what goes on here, it’s so much better.”

Sandra I. Melendez, an East Hampton attorney who practices immigration, tax, and criminal law, said people are afraid of what a Trump presidency could bring. “The people that are here without status, I can tell you, they are all afraid. It is a game changer.”

She received a text message at 6:30 yesterday morning from a client, asking “Please review my case status. I want to know if it is coming soon. I am afraid that with this person winning, I can lose my benefits.” 

“People are worried. We all should be,” Ms. Melendez said.

However, she cautioned that even if Trump follows through on campaign promises to remove undocumented immigrants and overturn paths to citizenship opened by President Obama, the power will rest with Congress. “It is not like he can just sign an executive order. There are going to be groups fighting it. It is going to be a long battle. Who knows what is going to happen? We will have to wait for January to see. First 100 days.”

Andrew Bedini, a co-owner of Java Nation coffee roaster in Bridgehampton who was born in Argentina and speaks fluent Spanish, said that the mood among his Latino regulars was subdued yesterday morning. “They’re shocked. People are worried,” he said.

“We are actually in fear now,” said Mario Guerra, 36, an undocumented immigrant who came to the United States from Ecuador 11 years ago. Afraid to give his real name, he said, “If what he said in his campaign is going to be true. . . . I have several friends that have applied for DREAM Act, and they’re worried. They’re probably going to lose their driver’s license, work permit, all that. So it’s pretty scary.”

With two small children, one who is on the autism spectrum, his biggest concern is losing the services his family gets through New York State. “Are we going to be able to get it somewhere else for my kid with special needs?” 

He works in construction and is also worried that business owners are not going to want to give him work. “Will you be punished by law if you hire illegal immigrants, that type of stuff,” he said. 

“The sun doesn’t even want to come out today,” said a 27-year-old from Ecuador, also afraid to give his name because of his immigration status. He came to the United States seven years ago and overstayed his visa. Many of his family members are citizens and have been here since the 1980s, but members of his immediate family are not. 

Pedro Enqrique Rivera, a 44-year-old living in Springs for the last 10 years, said he understands the fear those who are not citizens feel. Still, he knows enough about American government that he is not concerned that his path to citizenship is threatened. Having received his green card a year ago, after coming here from Mexico on student visas, and then obtaining work permits, he has to wait three to five years to apply for citizenship. “These kind of changes take a long time. I don’t think he’s allowed to do these right away. There are many other issues he has in the world to be concerned about,” he said.

Nancy Nano, a Peruvian who has been here 20 years, voted Tuesday in her first presidential election since becoming an American citizen in May, casting her ballot for Mrs. Clinton. “I’m sad now. I expected she’s the winner,” she said by phone from her Noyac tailoring shop. She is disheartened by the way Mr. Trump speaks “about women, about everybody, about immigrants, too,” and feels sorry for her friends who are undocumented. “They are scared. I don’t know what they can do now.”

She came to the U.S. through Mexico 20 years ago. Nine years ago, with the help of her employer in Manhattan, she obtained working papers and a driver’s license. The citizenship process took nearly a decade. “Thank God, I am a citizen,” she said, but she is concerned about the future. “This is my country. What happens now?” 

Even with the loss of her candidate, she is glad to have cast her first ballot. “Yesterday was my first experience in my life. I’m feeling really good. My disappointment that she’s not the winner? Well, that’s life!”