Panelists discuss immigrant experiences in New York

On Wednesday March 6, Geneseo hosted distinguished speakers Dr. John Ghertner, M.D., Cheryl Gee and David Irving, who discussed the difficulties that immigrants in New York face.

Ghertner, who works with Migrant Support Services of Wayne County and Rural and Migrant Ministry, opened the forum with the story of Jennifer, a 3-year-old girl of immigrant parents.

“I’m going to introduce you to one person. Unfortunately this one person’s story is the same story of the 64,000 migrant farm workers in New York. It is the same story of the one million undocumented children in this country,” Ghertner said.

One day it was revealed that Jennifer’s father was working in the U.S. illegally, Ghertner explained. The father was taken to jail and was released on bail two weeks later. He was granted temporary rights to remain in the United States and work upon his release. On the way home from prison he was pulled over and because his wife was not legally allowed to be in the United States both were deported. This left Jennifer in the care of her 7-year-old and 14-year-old sisters.

Following this story, Irving, who works with the Justice Center of New York, gave statistics regarding immigrant labor in New York and spoke about some of the difficulties that immigrant workers face.

Irving discussed how the majority of New York state farm workers come from Mexico and Jamaica, while others come from Southeast Asia and Central America.

“Out of the two to three million farm workers in the United States, 80 percent are male and 20 percent are female and over 50 percent immigrant and guest workers are undocumented,” Irving said.

Irving also said that individuals earn between $10,000 and $12,499 a year and families earn approximately $15,000 to $17,499 annually. Most workers receive $7.25 an hour and 30 percent fall below the poverty line.

Irving said although there are farm worker labor laws, these laws do not protect important rights, including the right to overtime pay, restrictions on child labor and or the right to rest days.

He also explained the H-2A visa as “a temporary agricultural worker visa that allows someone to work for one employer for a designated amount of time out of the year.”

Gee, sexual violence specialist and worker for the Justice Center of New York, focused primarily on the harassment that female immigrants face.

Gee told the story of an anonymous woman who moved to Texas from Mexico and married an American who abused her. Gee explained that this woman was afraid to tell police because she had not yet completed her certification to be a legal citizen of the United States.

According to Gee, eventually the police were notified about the abuse and the woman was imprisoned for two weeks before being released. She was able to get her papers after two years of applying.

“My point is even when there are laws to protect them, even when there are rights someone has in this country, [immigrants] do not have access to them because our system chooses to look at the color of the skin, the language the person speaks, their ethnicity, their background and they act upon that rather than the crime committed,” Gee said.

“The more we do not look as people as human beings, the easier it is to treat people like they’re aliens and like they don’t belong here,” she added.u