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Angry anti-immigrants in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty

Angry anti-immigrants in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty

(New York) Most tourists only know about Staten Island by the ferry that connects Manhattan to this area of ​​New York and allows them to admire the Statue of Liberty for free, a symbol of welcoming immigrants.

Now, these days, all they have to do is get off the ferry and venture into Araucar, a neighborhood of well-maintained single-family homes, to discover a truth that is the exact opposite of the famous poem by Emma Lazarus inscribed on the pedestal, which makes the great lady say To the torch stretched to the sky: “Give me your poor, weary…”

By early Thursday evening, angry messages could be heard along metal barriers erected by NYPD to keep crowds away from St. John Villa Academy, a former Catholic school in the neighborhood that has been converted into an immigrant shelter.

” go home ! ”

“You don’t feel comfortable here!” »

“Go back where you came from!” »

“Go back to Manhattan!” »

The messages were addressed to about 10 women or girls who had just got out of a white van in front of the old school, which is meant to house 350 migrants.

“Now they are sending women in to make us look bad,” says Debbie, who takes part in the daily protests against the opening of this shelter, which was first attended by men.

“But you know, they will call us racists no matter what,” she adds, asking a reporter not to reveal her last name.

Zero point of the crisis?

Every evening for more than two weeks, protesters have gathered in front of Scott Herkert’s house next door to the old school. “No way F%*KIN!” We could read in white letters on the blue tarpaulin in the garden.

Photography by Richard Hito, private collaboration

“Protect our children, our neighborhood today, your neighborhood tomorrow!” “Can we read on these posters.

The same message appears on many street lamps or electricity poles in the area. Another ubiquitous message, calling to “Protect Our Children,” also contains this warning: “Ours today, yours tomorrow!” »

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“We have become ground zero for the immigrant crisis in New York,” said Scott Hurkert, a 53-year-old computer scientist.

Photography by Richard Hito, private collaboration

Resident Scott Herctor

It destroys our lives. My house is now not for sale. The neighborhood is angry. The situation is terrible.

Scott Herctor, a neighborhood resident

“We have no idea who these migrants are,” he adds, grumbling, and in addition to the recent appearance of rats, attracted by the rubbish bin installed along his fence, and the constant hum of generators, “they have not been subjected to any verification.”

“I barely sleep two hours a night,” he says.

Mayor Adams is furious

It would be an exaggeration to say that Staten Island has become “ground zero” for a crisis that has seen New York City receive 110,000 immigrants since April 22, many of them bussed in by Greg Abbott, the Republican governor of Texas.

But there is no doubt that New York’s unprecedented anti-immigrant anger is being expressed these days in the city’s most conservative neighborhoods, where Donald Trump easily defeated Joe Biden in 2020.

New York’s Democratic Mayor Eric Adams, a former Republican, appears poised to stoke that anger.

Photo by Kina Bettencourt, Agence France-Presse archive

New York Mayor Eric Adams

“Let me tell you one thing, New Yorkers,” he declared from the beginning on Wednesday evening during a public meeting in Manhattan, in which he addressed the issue of immigrants. “I’ve never had a problem in my life that I couldn’t see an end to — I can’t see an end to this problem. This problem is going to destroy New York City. Destroy New York City,” he repeated, predicting that the city will have to spend $12 billion over three years. years to face this crisis.

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One might add: Never in modern New York history has any mayor spoken so negatively about the immigration issue, and that includes the last two mayors elected under the GOP banner, Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg (who was later re-elected as an independent). .

Immigrant and freedom groups denounced the “dangerous rhetoric” one might expect from far-right politicians, not from the mayor of a city that has always welcomed and celebrated diversity and the critical importance of the immigrant community.

But Republicans in New York and Washington praised Mayor Eric Adams, who has criticized both President Joe Biden and New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, both Democrats, for their lack of help on the issue.

“I take my hat off to the mayor of New York, who has agreed to criticize President Joe Biden and his administration for their utter inability to secure the southern border,” Mike Pence, former vice president and presidential candidate, said this week.

“To silence us”

But the mayor’s comments did not sit well with Jerry Serra, whose imposing house is located next to the former school where the immigrants reside, in Arrocar.

“He said that to silence us,” said the 56-year-old restaurateur, who sent his six children to private Catholic schools. “It’s like he’s giving us a box of tissues.” I don’t need her wipes. »

Until immigrants arrived in his neighborhood, Jerry Serra believed he had achieved his version of the “American Dream.”

“I was happy to come home after work,” says the Brooklyn native. “Now I step back. My house is constantly shaking from the generators. And the smells coming from the portable toilets…”

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Jerry Serra didn’t finish his sentence, but his frown was enough to convey his thoughts, which are the thoughts of many children or grandchildren of immigrants on Staten Island these days.