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Jun 2, 2009 4:13 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Officials focus on immigration's impact on East End economy

Jun 2, 2009 4:13 PM

Migrant day laborers, such as the men who wait for work outside the East Hampton train station or the Southampton 7 Eleven, make up a tiny fraction of the roughly 183,000 illegal immigrants in Suffolk County, according to a presentation made last Thursday night at a packed forum at Guild Hall in East Hampton.

Their presence has often garnered the loudest protest against illegal immigrants, but as a population, day laborers have little actual impact on the local economy, said David Dyssegaard Kallick, an economist from the Fiscal Policy Institute and one of the forum’s panelists.

The ways immigrants have an impact, both good and bad, on the East End economy was the focus of the forum, the second in a series on immigration hosted by U.S. Representative Timothy Bishop, New York State Assemblyman Fred Thiele and Southampton Town Councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst.

Most significantly, the viability of Long Island’s agricultural industry depends on an immigrant workforce, according to two of the event’s panelists, Joe Gergela, the executive director of the Long Island Farm Bureau, and Judy Brink, a Dowling Institute MBA Fellow who recently conducted a study on the impact that immigration reform would have on local farms.

Ms. Brink reported that most of the Long Island farmers who participated in her survey reported that they have a hard time finding the workers they need to operate their farms.

Currently, 53 percent of farm workers are undocumented, although some people believe that figure could be closer to 70 percent, said another panelist, Melinda Rubin, a lawyer who specializes in obtaining agricultural and seasonal work visas—the H2A and H2B programs.

The problem is that most farmers report that they can’t afford to lose any of the workers they have. They worry that without immigration reform, their farms will not survive, which could result in Suffolk County losing the majority of its 34,000 acres of small-scale commercial farms in the next few years.

“Do we want to import our workers or import our food?” asked Mr. Gergela. “Every time a farm goes bye-bye, it’s not coming back.”

In order to keep local, small-scale farms thriving, he said there needs to be immediate visa reform at the federal level so that farmers can hire the legal, safe and reliable workers they need through federal H2A visas, or agricultural work visas, until wider comprehensive immigration reform is passed.

“The current immigration system does not let enough people enter the country legally,” Mr. Kallick said. “The question is how do we create a system where people can come legally to fill jobs that need to be filled.”

Overall, 20 percent of the economic output in New York State, or the state’s GNP, derives from immigration, according to the presentation by Mr. Kallick. He attributed this number to both the range of immigrants and the types of jobs that immigrants have, which he said was much more diverse than people realize He added that the most immigrants are of working age, increasing their impact on the local economy.

To avoid some of the heated confrontations of the last forum, held in Hampton Bays on March 13, questions for the panelists were only accepted via index cards, which were collected by women from the League of Women Voters of the Hamptons and submitted to the forum’s facilitator, Southampton Town Justice Andrea Schiavoni.

One audience member asked what taxes immigrants pay. The panelists responded that immigrants pay all the same taxes as American citizens if they are legal. Undocumented immigrants pay sales tax and property taxes if they rent.

Although a rallying cry of those who oppose illegal immigration is that the population does not pay taxes, Mr. Kallick said the opposite is true.

“Undocumented workers currently subsidize the Social Security system,” he said.

Between half and 75 percent of undocumented workers pay Social Security and Medicare taxes by using false Social Security numbers they often use to obtain work. There is a big excess fund that the federal government calls a “suspense fund,” as the government collects the taxes and later finds out that the Social Security number doesn’t match an actual person, allowing the government to keep the money.

That said, “these are very low wage workers so they probably wouldn’t even owe income tax if they were to file,” Mr. Kallick said.

Another question from the audience asked “Why are police officers out doing seat belt checks and inspection stops when illegal aliens are staring them in the face?”

The panelists agreed that immigration enforcement is not a matter for the local police to handle; it’s a matter for the federal government.

“You can’t tell someone’s status by what they look like,” said Mr. Gergela.

Even after the federal government gets involved, such as is the case with an Immigrations and Customs Enforcement raid, when people are rounded up and sent to a detention center and the business is shut down, there is little lasting benefit, the panelists said.

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Illegal pay taxes Argument!

There's the "illegal aliens pay tons of taxes" argument. Sure, they all pay real estate taxes (in rent) and sales taxes (most states). Those working on the books (typically using stolen Social Security numbers) pay FICA and, perhaps, income taxes. But they're mostly ill-educated and low-skilled and pay very low taxes connected to their working -- in fact, most claim the Earned Income Tax Credit, i.e. negative income tax! If a family with both parents working ...more
By black saint (4), Norman on Jun 2, 09 4:50 PM
There's the "the U.S. stole the southwest" argument.

Well, the land in dispute was "owned" by Spain for a couple of centuries. Then by Mexico for about 25 years. During these periods, there weren't more than a few thousand Spaniards or Mexicans in the entire territory. It's been owned by the U.S. for about 160 years now, much longer than Mexico's reign. And the U.S. has actually done something with the land, made it habitable for tens of millions. The difference between American and Mexican ...more
By black saint (4), Norman on Jun 2, 09 4:52 PM
Then there is the straw man Argument this Nation cannot afford to deport 12 million people!

Never noting if our Politicians had abide by our Constitution and enforced our Laws there would not be 12 millions to deport. Even worse, there is not 12 million but between 20 and 30 million but the government prefers to lie and down play the number! ( Same as the 1986 Amnesty was more than double the government estimate, so will this one be) At any rate deportation would save billions in the ...more
By black saint (4), Norman on Jun 2, 09 4:52 PM
Our Politicians keep telling us our Immigration laws are broken and we need an comprehensive solution, which are code words for Amnesty, our Immigration Laws are not broken, they just have not been enforced, what is broken is our Political system when we elect Corrupt/Pandering politicians that puts their desires ahead of the Constitution of USA and the Rule of Law!

Our government fails the most basic and primary task & duty of government, to protect this Nation and its Citizens from ...more
By black saint (4), Norman on Jun 2, 09 4:58 PM
black saint. Looks like you've digested the the commentary from conservative groups, I'd propose that you read the study by Dowling College on the impact of immigration on Long Island's farms. As Mr. Gergela stated, w.o. the labor provided by immigrants, the farms on LI will cease to exist.

In the same stidy it was ppointed out that with comprehensive reform, and the subsequent legalization of the current undocumenteds, that path to citizenship opens up opportunities to climb out of the ...more
By number19 (111), Westhampton on Jun 3, 09 12:54 PM
In regards to your comments. Your friend from Guatemala is one of the few that apparently, came here legally and obtained citizenship legally.
As far as the farmers go, my parents were potato farmers in Watermill for many years and they survived. Yes, even then laborers were hard to come by at times, but as I've said before, they survived. Most of what is left of farming on the eastend are family run, passed down from generation to generation and apparently were able to employ ...more
By lgfla (8), Southampton on Jun 3, 09 2:45 PM
Ok, to say they pay property tax is the stupidest thing I have ever heard. Those property taxes get paid no matter who lives on the property. The owners pay that tax, so to credit the illegals with that is absurd.
By squeaky (291), hampton bays on Jun 3, 09 4:08 PM
lgfla, thank you for your thoughtful comment. I can only go by what the Long Island Farm Bureau is saying, and they represent 600 LI farmers. They are desperate for a good guest worker program. This was pointed out at the forum that is described in this news article and in other news article I've seen. And, it is apparent from the Dowling College study. Regarding my friend from Guatemala, yes she did all the right things and comprehensive immigration reform is about a do over so others get to do ...more
By number19 (111), Westhampton on Jun 3, 09 4:38 PM
The Agricultural work visas (h2A) work quite well for long island farmers. Perhaps, they can streamline and expand that program.

But that is a program specific to farming. I would estimates 99% of illegal immigrants are here for non-farm work.

the H2b program would work well for non farm work, but the US has pretty much made that program go away for some reason. hmmmm........
By C Law (354), Water Mill on Jun 4, 09 1:14 PM
I guess the criminal mortgages,credit-default swaps packaged by the elite, mostly white financial sector had no effect on California,where whole communities are being foreclosed. The financial sector did more damage to this country than any foreigner.
By Mets fan (1501), Southampton on Jun 6, 09 8:59 PM
Before immigrant labor, there was migrant labor, men and women came north from the south following the crops. Mostly usually went back home after the harvest was over. Thats how a lot of the east end farms managed as recently as the 70's. The "uneducated", "unskilled" migrant workers became educated and skilled and slowly that source of cheap labor dried up. There will always be a need for "unskilled" worker and there will always be someone to fill that need legally or illegally, the issue at ...more
By pstevens (406), Wilmington on Jun 9, 09 11:24 AM
So asking the people who wrote the laws to actually enforce them is OUR lacking?? Priceless.
By squeaky (291), hampton bays on Jun 9, 09 12:45 PM
if farmers are worried about losing their farms without immigrants working them, why dont they try hiring their own countrymen and women. NYS unemployment has a very long list of applicants. The bottom line is, theyre greedy. they can pay these illegals very little money, and get away with it. Next, we will hear that no one wants to work for minimum wage. yet I look at help wanted ads and craigslist everyday and never see "farm help wanted". Its a copout
By truepatriot (7), Shelter Island on Sep 10, 10 5:43 PM