JOHN YDSTIE, host:
A generation ago, new immigrants crowded tenements in America's big cities. Today, many more head for suburbs like Farmingville on New York's Long Island. For several years, the town has struggled with an influx of illegal immigrants. Now authorities are turning them out of substandard houses, 11 so far. Cindy Rodriguez of member station WNYC reports on the men evicted from one home who are now refusing to leave the backyard.
CINDY RODRIGUEZ reporting:
On a typical day, the tenants that live at 196 Berkshire Drive would have been off landscaping yards or working at construction sties, but today, a handful of them stand guard over the belongings piled up in the backyard of the blue wood-framed home they were evicted from last week. Ignasio(ph) is from Mexico and came to the United States seven years ago. Because he fears retaliation from town officials, he wouldn't give his last name.
IGNASIO: (Through Translator) The young men get here in the evening and they lay down to rest and to sleep. Inside those bags are a bunch of blankets.
RODRIGUEZ: There are also three multicolored tents in the backyard. Water, fruit, soda and religious candles sit on a nearby table underneath a wooden gazebo. The men use the bathrooms of nearby businesses and shower at neighbors' homes. They say about 20 people, most of them family members, occupied the house. Town officials say at times the number of tenants was as high as 40. Ignasio says in Mexico it's not unusual for large families to live together.
IGNASIO: (Through Translator) I think they see it as bad because they have small families. The white people sometimes don't even have families. Maybe they take care of a cat or a dog. We as Hispanics have a different culture.
RODRIGUEZ: The landlord, a Portuguese immigrant, was said to be collecting close to $5,000 a month in rent from the tenants. Standing in the backyard with them, she would not confirm the amount and refused to be interviewed on tape for fear her words would damage her in court. The town has been investigating her property for several months. Councilman James Tullo is responsible for pushing forward with the inspections. He says in the last year, the town has received permission from a judge to close down 11 houses due to egregious violations.
Mr. JAMES TULLO (Councilman): No fire alarms, electrical cords from one end of the house to the other, open wires, blocked ingress, egress. I mean, you know, in some cases, you know, in excess of 10 and 15 and 20 beds in a basement.
RODRIGUEZ: Tullo says the town is interested in punishing the landlords and not the tenants, and he says the enforcement is working.
Mr. TULLO: You're seeing a ripple effect of landlords now reaching out to the town to say, `OK. What do I need to do bring my house into compliance? Because, you know, I don't want to be on the other end of one of these investigations.'
RODRIGUEZ: Dozens of immigrant men have been left homeless by the action, and Tullo says it is not the town's responsibility to find housing for them. He blames immigrant advocates for not addressing the problem sooner. Edma Solice(ph) from the Long Island Workplace Project has been sitting in solidarity with the day laborers camped outside the house they once occupied.
Ms. EDMA SOLICE (Long Island Workplace Project): We completely agree that no one should be living in such conditions, you know, where you have so many people living in a house.
RODRIGUEZ: Solice accuses the town of exaggerating the numbers, but says regardless, the advocates will teach the immigrants about housing codes and help those who are ready purchase their own homes. In the meantime, they've asked two judges to stop the evictions until the town agrees to give tenants more notice. So far their requests have been denied. Ignasio says he will continue to stay camped outside because he has nothing else to lose.
IGNASIO: (Through Translator) In this country, I've been so humbled. I have been brought down about as low as you can go. I think even a dog, even though he is an animal, is valued more than me, a human being.
RODRIGUEZ: Several violent hate crimes against Mexican immigrants in the last four years have helped fuel a perception that the community of Farmingville is racist, but residents adamantly reject the idea.
(Soundbite of mower)
RODRIGUEZ: Seventy-nine-year-old Ben Monocco(ph) was mowing his lawn across the street from where Ignasio lives.
Mr. BEN MONOCCO: I don't think there's really a racial--no, nobody tried to do anything to them. They didn't try to do nothing to us.
RODRIGUEZ: Still, Monocco says the influx of immigrants has wrecked the neighborhood. He says his block used to be quiet.
Mr. MONOCCO: Now all of a sudden they've got so many people there. You know, the value of my property go down because if I want to sell house, people will see what the hell is going on outside, they won't want to buy.
RODRIGUEZ: Monocco says he's glad the town has cracked down on illegal housing. Officials in Farmingville are currently investigating 150 alleged overcrowded homes and will continue to push towards closing them down. For NPR News, I'm Cindy Rodriguez in New York.
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