Donald Trump To Visit Long Island Village With Painful Immigration History

Apr 12, 2016
Originally published on April 12, 2016 5:52 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

On Thursday, Donald Trump is holding an event in Patchogue, Long Island. It's a town with a painful history. In 2009, I visited Patchogue to report on the one-year anniversary of a killing. A group of high schoolers went out looking for an immigrant to attack, and they found an Ecuadorian man named Marcelo Lucero. They stabbed him to death, called it beaner hopping.

During my reporting, I met a Catholic nun named Sister Margaret Smyth, and she told me immigrants come to expect abuse if they work on Long Island.

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MARGARET SMYTH: They accept it as part of the package that comes with having to live here.

SHAPIRO: Seven years later, Sister Margaret Smyth is on the line with us now - good to talk to you again.

SMYTH: Oh, it's very good to speak with you, too.

SHAPIRO: Are you still working with immigrants in eastern Long Island?

SMYTH: I certainly am.

SHAPIRO: And are they still living in fear?

SMYTH: Well, there's varying degrees of it, but there's still an overall picture of abuse or racist comments, things like that that are continuously going on. There's also good news, too. More people have been able to obtain papers from immigration. Our citizenship classes are filling up with people who are becoming American citizens. We have more families buying homes, starting businesses. Just now with all that's going on with the elections, I find that people are very, very informed and on top of this - of who's running for what and saying what and discussing it.

SHAPIRO: When I visited eastern Long Island in 2009, the Latino population had increased something like 40 percent in the previous decade. Has that kept growing?

SMYTH: It has, and it has especially since we've had the unaccompanied minors crossing the border. Just Riverhead alone, I'm aware of at least 200 that came in since April.

SHAPIRO: And Riverhead is just one small town.

SMYTH: It's just one small town.

SHAPIRO: Do you feel that the community has fully recovered from the violence of the Marcelo Lucero killing, or are those tensions as great as ever?

SMYTH: Those tensions are still there. There's a lot of sad things that have happened over the years where people have been beaten up. As one man said to me, I walk down the street, and sometimes people spit at me. So we may not have the stabbings, but we have the subtle ways of mistreating people.

SHAPIRO: In this context, Donald Trump is visiting Patchogue on Thursday, and of course, he has made stopping illegal immigration a key part of his platform. How are people responding to that?

SMYTH: People would look at it and say, give us a path that we can follow so that we can become legal residents here. We're listening to hear the plans of everybody who is running for an office because we will comply with those plans, and we want to have a legalization of our lives in this country.

SHAPIRO: What do you hear from the earlier generations of Long Island residents who say we don't recognize our community anymore?

SMYTH: I have to tell you that people in general - and I don't want to (laughter) - it's sounding so all altruistic. But I find people in general are wonderful. There's much more of integration going on. People are going back and forth as friends with each other. We'll have weddings in church, and there's Americans. The bosses are there, other workers from the jobs because they share a friendship together.

It isn't perfect, but it's amazing how many people are stepping up to become the people that the community would like to have on both sides.

SHAPIRO: Sister Margaret Smyth is a Catholic nun who works with immigrants on the eastern end of Long Island - good to talk to you again.

SMYTH: Thank you very much. It was a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.