Migrants on LI struggling to find places to live. NewsdayTV's Jasmine Anderson reports. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

Victor Pacheco spent $18,000 he borrowed from relatives, endured three weeks traveling from Ecuador to the U.S.-Mexico border, and crawled through a tunnel for 25 minutes to finally reach what he saw as the “promised land.”

Six months later, in early January, he was standing on a street corner in 35-degree weather in Farmingville, hoping someone would hire him as a day laborer.

By 9 a.m., after a 2½-hour wait, it wasn’t looking good.

But Pacheco was not deterred as he stood among a group of new friends from Ecuador, all looking for the same thing — work.

Back home, “No hay trabajo,” he said in Spanish. “There's no work.”

Pacheco, 46, is among a record-breaking surge of migrants who have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally during the past two years, and in many cases, made their way to New York City. Some of those migrants are now living on Long Island, according to immigration advocates.

The influx has triggered a crisis in the city — officials there estimate the cost of housing and feeding the thousands of migrants who have arrived will total $10.6 billion through June 2025. The city has processed about 172,000 migrants, most of them from Venezuela and Ecuador, since April 2022.

No one has an exact number on how many migrants have landed in Nassau and Suffolk counties, since they are not processed like they are in the city and they often remain in the shadows. But advocates say many signs point to sharply higher numbers in some areas of the Island and that agencies charged with assisting them have been strained.

The Central American Refugee Center, with offices in Hempstead and Brentwood, over the past 18 months has seen demand for legal services for asylum cases increase from an average of four a week to 25, said Elise de Castillo, the group’s executive director.

Because of that, CARECEN, the largest immigrant legal services agency on Long Island, more than doubled its legal staff from 12 at the end of 2022 to 28 at the end of 2023. That number should increase to 34 this year, de Castillo said.

“Demand is growing by the day,” she said.

At Catholic Charities, there is a waiting list of people who are seeking asylum to get legal help, said Carmen Maquilon, director of immigrant services.

“We are at capacity just about every day,” she said. “We need to close cases before I can take more cases or I need to hire more people in order to build capacity and take more cases.

“We tell them to keep looking” for legal assistance “because I don’t know when we will be able to do it. Call me in three or six months,” Maquilon added.

While many migrants apply for asylum, being poor and wanting a better life are not a legal basis for obtaining asylum under U.S. law. Most applications are denied.

The Island already was home to an estimated 100,000 immigrants without legal documentation before the latest wave, according to advocates. 

The new influx into Nassau and Suffolk is not creating anywhere near the level of financial pressure that New York City is experiencing, in part because the city's “right-to-shelter” means it is legally obligated to house anyone who is homeless. Tens of thousands of the migrants, including many bused from Texas, have spent months in hotels and other locations paid for by the city, with food and other services included.

On Long Island, Nassau does not provide housing or other assistance, including food or health care to migrants in the country illegally, said Chris Boyle, a spokesman for County Executive Bruce Blakeman. Children of immigrants without papers are legally entitled to some services, though, such as education, de Castillo said.

In Suffolk, newly installed County Executive Ed Romaine said through a spokesman that, in general, migrants can receive help if they have some kind of legal status.

Often, helping immigrants without legal status on Long Island falls to private agencies, church groups, charity organizations and other entities.

Maria Elena Duarte, a native of Chile, and her husband, Juan Ruiz, run a group of volunteers that helps new migrants on the East End with donated food, clothing and other basics. She said the number of families they serve has jumped in the last two years from 125 to 350.

“After the pandemic, there was an explosion,” Duarte said in Spanish.

Poverty, violence, political turmoil and, in some cases, repression are driving many of the migrants here, though the journey can be life-threatening and their lives often remain a struggle for months or years.

At the same time, their growing numbers are fueling anger among some longtime residents because of the perceived strain they can put on schools, social service agencies and health care systems.

Some advocates say that while numbers have gone up on Long Island, this surge in migrants is not as significant as some in the past. They say it is part of a historical pattern rooted in a broken immigration system that offers scant chances for lower-income migrants to come here legally.

For decades, Long Island has served as a major destination for immigrants from Latin America, mostly from Central America, who often fill jobs in restaurants, landscaping, child care, factories and the like, said Patrick Young, director of organizing and strategy for the nonprofit New York Immigration Coalition and a special professor of law at Hofstra University Law School. The region is home to the fifth-largest concentration of Salvadorans in the United States, he said. 

While Central Americans have dominated immigration to Long Island since the 1980s, when civil wars, “death squads” and abject poverty pushed them north, that is now changing. Today, growing numbers of migrants are arriving from farther south, from nations including Ecuador, Peru, Colombia and Venezuela, advocates said. 

The reasons are clear: The economy of oil-rich Venezuela has imploded, triggering one of the largest refugee crises in Latin American history, with one-fifth of the population fleeing. In Ecuador, gangs have created havoc. Violence erupted again in early January, with explosions, looting, gunfire and burning vehicles on the streets. Neighboring Peru has had six presidents in the past eight years. In 2020 it went through three in a week.

Venezuela native Pedro Herrera, 23, arrived on Long Island on Dec. 19 after a monthslong journey he barely survived. He was robbed of his money, walked past dead people in the treacherous jungles of Panama and clung for his life to the tops of speeding cargo trains as they headed north through Mexico.

He said he had to hold on so intensely that his hands cramped, and he thought he would fall off.

“The train is deadly,” he said.

But, to Herrera, it was all worth it.

“In Venezuela, you don’t even have the right to eat,” he said in Spanish, describing a moribund economy that has left most people unable to afford even the basics. “You can’t live there.”

He had departed Venezuela four years earlier, migrating to neighboring Colombia, where he worked picking up cans and bottles to recycle. He made about 60 or 70 pesos a day. It takes about 4,000 pesos to equal one American dollar.

So he decided to leave for the United States. His wife and 8-month-old daughter started the trip with him, but they had to head back to the Colombian capital of Bogotá because the girl got bitten all over by insects as they approached the Panamanian jungle.

They are still in Colombia.

When Herrera got to the Rio Grande, which had to be crossed to get from Mexico to Texas, he faced another obstacle: He doesn’t swim and the water was over his head.

He plunged in anyway, pulled partly by a relative. “I learned to swim on the spot out of fear,” he said.

On the other side, in Eagle Pass, Texas, U.S. immigration agents arrested and detained Herrera for three days. Then, they issued him orders to return to court in June for a hearing on his case and let him go.

He was placed on a free bus headed to New York — apparently one of the buses arranged by Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who says he is trying to show liberal northern states and cities the cost of illegal immigration by busing thousands of migrants there.

On Long Island, Herrera has been taken in by an elderly Salvadoran woman in Westbury, who is letting him live in her house for free until he can get a job. He connected with her through a Salvadoran family he met on his journey north. He sleeps on the floor in the living room with no mattress.

He said he's willing to do any job, but so far has landed only a single day of work as a day laborer as he waits on the streets of Westbury.

“I don’t come with bad intentions,” he said. “I want to be a good citizen.”

Unlike in New York City, where 41% of the new arrivals are from Venezuela, relatively few from the South American nation are winding up on Long Island, partly because there is a small Venezuelan community here to start with, Young said.

Even though President Joe Biden’s administration has offered thousands of Venezuelans Temporary Protected Status, which gives them temporary legal residence and the right to work, few have applied on Long Island, according to advocates.

At CARECEN, 10 Venezuelans have applied for TPS since it was approved last summer, de Castillo said. In contrast, the group processed about 7,000 TPS applications for Salvadorans during a 10-month period starting in 1990, said Young, who used to head the group.

“There are Venezuelans who are here, but we’re not seeing them coming in the hundreds or in the thousands,” he said.

Some of the migrants who arrived recently in New York City are being bused upstate by Mayor Eric Adams. Young said he helped recently at a law clinic near Albany where TPS applications were processed for about 200 Venezuelans in just a few days.

Still, some Venezuelans are on the doorstep of Nassau. In Far Rockaway, Queens, Venezuelans are the dominant group at a hotel New York City is using to house recently arrived migrants from countries that also include Turkey and Russia.

On one blustery cold day in January, some of the Venezuelans told a reporter they had been living there for as long as six months. Across the street, they pointed to a pile of burned wood they said was the remnant of a fire they built to cook food. They said they didn’t like the food the city gave them — it was often cold and unappetizing — so they cook their own.

“The food isn’t very good, but having a roof over your head — that’s everything,” said Gabriella Mijares, a migrant from Maracay, Venezuela.

While relatively few Venezuelans are making it to Nassau and Suffolk, many migrants are arriving from countries such as Ecuador. They are transforming communities such as Patchogue, which was dominated by Puerto Ricans starting in the 1950s, and then Salvadorans starting in the 1980s.

Now the community has a heavy presence of Ecuadorian restaurants, money-wiring businesses and other establishments that are being bolstered by the new waves of migrants, including Pacheco.

His motivation to work here and leave his homeland was strong: He left behind six children and his wife, whom he supports financially.

In Ecuador, he was lucky to earn $120 in a week as a carpenter and handyman. Here, he can make $200 or more in a day — if he gets lucky and lands a job with a “patron,” or boss.

Every day, it’s a waiting game on the corner.

While Farmingville’s street corners were populated for the last two decades or so mainly by Mexican day laborers, today there is a mix, with Ecuadorians, including many newcomers, establishing their own site. They wait by a gas station on North Ocean Avenue, a half mile or more from the two 7-Elevens along Horseblock Road, where the Mexicans congregate.

They tend to keep to their own corners. Sometimes the Mexicans complain about the newcomers taking their jobs.

Pacheco’s journey here in April was longer, more complicated and more expensive than the one most Mexicans made. He had to fly from Ecuador to El Salvador and then took another flight to Nicaragua. He made the rest of the trip by car through Guatemala and Mexico to reach the U.S. border.

Some Ecuadorians make the entire journey over land, crossing the treacherous Darien Gap in the rainforests of Panama.

Pacheco hired a “coyote” — Spanish slang for a guide — to lead him in the journey. Others just do it themselves.

He says he considers himself lucky — he didn’t have to walk through the desert into Arizona, a journey some do not survive. Instead, after making his way through the tunnel and emerging in Texas, he was taken to a “safe house” and then driven by car to New York.

He decided to come to Patchogue because he had an adult son already living there. A daughter lives in Queens, and another — a 17-year-old who made the journey with him — settled in Pennsylvania.

Pachecho lives in a room in a house he shares with two other Ecuadorians and pays $800 a month. On Sundays, he squeezes into St. Francis de Sales Roman Catholic Church in Patchogue, which is packed with Ecuadorians and other Latinos for the noon Mass.

He gets around by bicycle, no matter how cold it is.

In 2008, his hometown of Gualaceo made international headlines when one of its native sons, Marcelo Lucero, was killed by a group of teenagers in Patchogue in what police called a hate crime.

But it happened so long ago, Pacheco said he was only vaguely aware of it — and it certainly didn’t derail his plan to come to the United States.

He feels like he has no choice.

“You risk coming here because of the economic situation” back home, he said in Spanish.

Not every immigrant services agency on Long Island says they are seeing a major uptick in new arrivals. Young said he believes there has been an increase over the last two years, but not to record levels.

“I’ve been doing this for 40 years and at least for Long Island this is not a peak year, whereas in New York City, it is a fairly large number that we’re seeing,” he said. On Long Island, “It is fairly below what we’ve seen in peak years of the past like 2013 and 2014,” when thousands of people fled gang-controlled areas of El Salvador and Honduras.

On the East End, the advocacy group OLA, based in East Hampton, along with the North Fork Spanish Apostolate, a ministry based in Riverhead, said immigration levels have remained flat. 

Jessica Ruiz of the Spanish Apostolate said new arrivals may be wary of coming to the area in part because the then-Town of Riverhead supervisor, Yvette Aguiar, declared a “state of emergency” that blocked New York City from relocating any of the migrants. The order made it illegal for hotels, motels, bed-and-breakfasts, campgrounds and other facilities to house the migrants sent by the city. Her successor, Tim Hubbard, extended the order on Jan. 20.

Last summer, New York City dropped its litigation against Suffolk County, Riverhead Town and other jurisdictions statewide for blocking the relocation of migrants from the city into those places. The suit had accused those jurisdictions of seeking to “wall off their borders.”

Not all the new immigrants are coming here illegally. Maquilon, of Catholic Charities, said her agency is also handling an increasing number of people arriving as legal refugees with visas approved by the U.S. government. They are coming from countries including Haiti, Ukraine and Afghanistan.

One family that came legally was fleeing what they called “mafias” in Honduras who tried to extort them.

Juventina Vásquez's 10-year-old son was snatching mangos from a tree near their combination home and deli business one morning when the call came in from the gang members: Pay us $1,200 immediately or we will start killing.

Your two children will be first.

They kept calling throughout the day with the threat.

“When they say that, it’s not a joke,” Fernando Alonso, Vásquez's husband, said in Spanish.

They believe they were targeted because they were successful: Their businesses were prospering and the gang wanted a piece, Alonso said.

By nightfall, the family fled — and never came back.

They hid first in the house of the pastor of the church where they were members. The next three nights, they went to the house of a friend.

But the friend soon became afraid and told them they would have to leave.

They left the capital city of Tegucigalpa and headed south. They hid there for about a year, terrified the gang members would track them down.

Finally, with the help of some international agencies, they won legal approval to come to the United States.

They lost everything: their home, their business — which also included a hardware store and a small tortilla factory — and even their home country.

But they consider themselves among the lucky ones since they enjoy legal status and its benefits: work papers, government assistance, the right to live in the United States, most likely permanently. They don’t have to hide in the shadows the way many do.

They got here in April, and now live in Mastic Beach. Catholic Charities has helped them settle in with temporary assistance for housing, food, job training and medical care.

Alonso works in landscaping in the Hamptons; Vásquez works in housekeeping in Greenport. They hope to save enough to buy a car so they don’t have to spend two hours each way on public buses getting back and forth to their jobs.

Living in the United States “is like a dream,” Alonso said. “The pressure is gone.”

“I thank the Americans,” he added. “They gave us a hand.”

Victor Pacheco spent $18,000 he borrowed from relatives, endured three weeks traveling from Ecuador to the U.S.-Mexico border, and crawled through a tunnel for 25 minutes to finally reach what he saw as the “promised land.”

Six months later, in early January, he was standing on a street corner in 35-degree weather in Farmingville, hoping someone would hire him as a day laborer.

By 9 a.m., after a 2½-hour wait, it wasn’t looking good.

But Pacheco was not deterred as he stood among a group of new friends from Ecuador, all looking for the same thing — work.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • A record surge of migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally is being felt on Long Island, where the numbers are ticking up, according to advocates.
  • The situation is nowhere near as dire as in New York City, which has processed 172,000 recently arrived migrants and, because of an unusual legal requirement, plans to spend $10.6 billion housing and feeding them through June 2025.
  • One advocacy group on Long Island has seen the number of requests for legal help with political asylum cases jump from an average of four a week to 25 a week in the past 18 months.

Back home, “No hay trabajo,” he said in Spanish. “There's no work.”

Pacheco, 46, is among a record-breaking surge of migrants who have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally during the past two years, and in many cases, made their way to New York City. Some of those migrants are now living on Long Island, according to immigration advocates.

The influx has triggered a crisis in the city — officials there estimate the cost of housing and feeding the thousands of migrants who have arrived will total $10.6 billion through June 2025. The city has processed about 172,000 migrants, most of them from Venezuela and Ecuador, since April 2022.

NYC has processed about 172,000 migrants since April 2022. Most are from Venezuela and Ecuador.

No one has an exact number on how many migrants have landed in Nassau and Suffolk counties, since they are not processed like they are in the city and they often remain in the shadows. But advocates say many signs point to sharply higher numbers in some areas of the Island and that agencies charged with assisting them have been strained.

The Central American Refugee Center, with offices in Hempstead and Brentwood, over the past 18 months has seen demand for legal services for asylum cases increase from an average of four a week to 25, said Elise de Castillo, the group’s executive director.

Because of that, CARECEN, the largest immigrant legal services agency on Long Island, more than doubled its legal staff from 12 at the end of 2022 to 28 at the end of 2023. That number should increase to 34 this year, de Castillo said.

“Demand is growing by the day,” she said.

At Catholic Charities, there is a waiting list of people who are seeking asylum to get legal help, said Carmen Maquilon, director of immigrant services.

We are at capacity just about every day. We need to close cases before I can take more  ... 

—  Carmen Maquilon, director of immigrant services at Catholic Charities

“We are at capacity just about every day,” she said. “We need to close cases before I can take more cases or I need to hire more people in order to build capacity and take more cases.

“We tell them to keep looking” for legal assistance “because I don’t know when we will be able to do it. Call me in three or six months,” Maquilon added.

While many migrants apply for asylum, being poor and wanting a better life are not a legal basis for obtaining asylum under U.S. law. Most applications are denied.

The Island already was home to an estimated 100,000 immigrants without legal documentation before the latest wave, according to advocates. 

The new influx into Nassau and Suffolk is not creating anywhere near the level of financial pressure that New York City is experiencing, in part because the city's “right-to-shelter” means it is legally obligated to house anyone who is homeless. Tens of thousands of the migrants, including many bused from Texas, have spent months in hotels and other locations paid for by the city, with food and other services included.

On Long Island, Nassau does not provide housing or other assistance, including food or health care to migrants in the country illegally, said Chris Boyle, a spokesman for County Executive Bruce Blakeman. Children of immigrants without papers are legally entitled to some services, though, such as education, de Castillo said.

In Suffolk, newly installed County Executive Ed Romaine said through a spokesman that, in general, migrants can receive help if they have some kind of legal status.

Migrants helped by private agencies, nonprofits

Juan Ruiz collects food donations in Southampton. The Ruiz family has partnered with the nonprofit Hamptons Community Outreach to collect and donate food and goods for families in need. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

Often, helping immigrants without legal status on Long Island falls to private agencies, church groups, charity organizations and other entities.

Maria Elena Duarte, a native of Chile, and her husband, Juan Ruiz, run a group of volunteers that helps new migrants on the East End with donated food, clothing and other basics. She said the number of families they serve has jumped in the last two years from 125 to 350.

“After the pandemic, there was an explosion,” Duarte said in Spanish.

Poverty, violence, political turmoil and, in some cases, repression are driving many of the migrants here, though the journey can be life-threatening and their lives often remain a struggle for months or years.

At the same time, their growing numbers are fueling anger among some longtime residents because of the perceived strain they can put on schools, social service agencies and health care systems.

Some advocates say that while numbers have gone up on Long Island, this surge in migrants is not as significant as some in the past. They say it is part of a historical pattern rooted in a broken immigration system that offers scant chances for lower-income migrants to come here legally.

For decades, Long Island has served as a major destination for immigrants from Latin America, mostly from Central America, who often fill jobs in restaurants, landscaping, child care, factories and the like, said Patrick Young, director of organizing and strategy for the nonprofit New York Immigration Coalition and a special professor of law at Hofstra University Law School. The region is home to the fifth-largest concentration of Salvadorans in the United States, he said. 

While Central Americans have dominated immigration to Long Island since the 1980s, when civil wars, “death squads” and abject poverty pushed them north, that is now changing. Today, growing numbers of migrants are arriving from farther south, from nations including Ecuador, Peru, Colombia and Venezuela, advocates said. 

The reasons are clear: The economy of oil-rich Venezuela has imploded, triggering one of the largest refugee crises in Latin American history, with one-fifth of the population fleeing. In Ecuador, gangs have created havoc. Violence erupted again in early January, with explosions, looting, gunfire and burning vehicles on the streets. Neighboring Peru has had six presidents in the past eight years. In 2020 it went through three in a week.

A journey from Venezuela to Long Island

Pedro Herrera talks at his home in Westbury about the dangerous journey he took from Venezuela. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

Venezuela native Pedro Herrera, 23, arrived on Long Island on Dec. 19 after a monthslong journey he barely survived. He was robbed of his money, walked past dead people in the treacherous jungles of Panama and clung for his life to the tops of speeding cargo trains as they headed north through Mexico.

He said he had to hold on so intensely that his hands cramped, and he thought he would fall off.

“The train is deadly,” he said.

But, to Herrera, it was all worth it.

In Venezuela, you don’t even have the right to eat ... You can’t live there.

—Pedro Herrera, 23, who arrived on Long Island in December from Venezuela

“In Venezuela, you don’t even have the right to eat,” he said in Spanish, describing a moribund economy that has left most people unable to afford even the basics. “You can’t live there.”

He had departed Venezuela four years earlier, migrating to neighboring Colombia, where he worked picking up cans and bottles to recycle. He made about 60 or 70 pesos a day. It takes about 4,000 pesos to equal one American dollar.

So he decided to leave for the United States. His wife and 8-month-old daughter started the trip with him, but they had to head back to the Colombian capital of Bogotá because the girl got bitten all over by insects as they approached the Panamanian jungle.

They are still in Colombia.

When Herrera got to the Rio Grande, which had to be crossed to get from Mexico to Texas, he faced another obstacle: He doesn’t swim and the water was over his head.

He plunged in anyway, pulled partly by a relative. “I learned to swim on the spot out of fear,” he said.

On the other side, in Eagle Pass, Texas, U.S. immigration agents arrested and detained Herrera for three days. Then, they issued him orders to return to court in June for a hearing on his case and let him go.

He was placed on a free bus headed to New York — apparently one of the buses arranged by Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who says he is trying to show liberal northern states and cities the cost of illegal immigration by busing thousands of migrants there.

On Long Island, Herrera has been taken in by an elderly Salvadoran woman in Westbury, who is letting him live in her house for free until he can get a job. He connected with her through a Salvadoran family he met on his journey north. He sleeps on the floor in the living room with no mattress.

Pedro Herrera is living with a Salvadoran woman in Westbury,...

Pedro Herrera is living with a Salvadoran woman in Westbury, who is letting him live in her house for free until he can get a job. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

He said he's willing to do any job, but so far has landed only a single day of work as a day laborer as he waits on the streets of Westbury.

“I don’t come with bad intentions,” he said. “I want to be a good citizen.”

Venezuelan migrant population concentrated in NYC

Unlike in New York City, where 41% of the new arrivals are from Venezuela, relatively few from the South American nation are winding up on Long Island, partly because there is a small Venezuelan community here to start with, Young said.

Even though President Joe Biden’s administration has offered thousands of Venezuelans Temporary Protected Status, which gives them temporary legal residence and the right to work, few have applied on Long Island, according to advocates.

At CARECEN, 10 Venezuelans have applied for TPS since it was approved last summer, de Castillo said. In contrast, the group processed about 7,000 TPS applications for Salvadorans during a 10-month period starting in 1990, said Young, who used to head the group.

There are Venezuelans who are here [on Long Island], but we’re not seeing them coming in the hundreds or in the thousands.

—Patrick Young, of the nonprofit New York Immigration Coalition

“There are Venezuelans who are here, but we’re not seeing them coming in the hundreds or in the thousands,” he said.

Some of the migrants who arrived recently in New York City are being bused upstate by Mayor Eric Adams. Young said he helped recently at a law clinic near Albany where TPS applications were processed for about 200 Venezuelans in just a few days.

Still, some Venezuelans are on the doorstep of Nassau. In Far Rockaway, Queens, Venezuelans are the dominant group at a hotel New York City is using to house recently arrived migrants from countries that also include Turkey and Russia.

On one blustery cold day in January, some of the Venezuelans told a reporter they had been living there for as long as six months. Across the street, they pointed to a pile of burned wood they said was the remnant of a fire they built to cook food. They said they didn’t like the food the city gave them — it was often cold and unappetizing — so they cook their own.

“The food isn’t very good, but having a roof over your head — that’s everything,” said Gabriella Mijares, a migrant from Maracay, Venezuela.

While relatively few Venezuelans are making it to Nassau and Suffolk, many migrants are arriving from countries such as Ecuador. They are transforming communities such as Patchogue, which was dominated by Puerto Ricans starting in the 1950s, and then Salvadorans starting in the 1980s.

Now the community has a heavy presence of Ecuadorian restaurants, money-wiring businesses and other establishments that are being bolstered by the new waves of migrants, including Pacheco.

His motivation to work here and leave his homeland was strong: He left behind six children and his wife, whom he supports financially.

In Ecuador, he was lucky to earn $120 in a week as a carpenter and handyman. Here, he can make $200 or more in a day — if he gets lucky and lands a job with a “patron,” or boss.

On Farmingville street corners, waiting for work

In hopes of getting picked up for jobs, day laborers gather at a gas station on the corner of Horseblock Road and North Ocean Avenue in Farmingville. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

Every day, it’s a waiting game on the corner.

While Farmingville’s street corners were populated for the last two decades or so mainly by Mexican day laborers, today there is a mix, with Ecuadorians, including many newcomers, establishing their own site. They wait by a gas station on North Ocean Avenue, a half mile or more from the two 7-Elevens along Horseblock Road, where the Mexicans congregate.

They tend to keep to their own corners. Sometimes the Mexicans complain about the newcomers taking their jobs.

Pacheco’s journey here in April was longer, more complicated and more expensive than the one most Mexicans made. He had to fly from Ecuador to El Salvador and then took another flight to Nicaragua. He made the rest of the trip by car through Guatemala and Mexico to reach the U.S. border.

Some Ecuadorians make the entire journey over land, crossing the treacherous Darien Gap in the rainforests of Panama.

Pacheco hired a “coyote” — Spanish slang for a guide — to lead him in the journey. Others just do it themselves.

He says he considers himself lucky — he didn’t have to walk through the desert into Arizona, a journey some do not survive. Instead, after making his way through the tunnel and emerging in Texas, he was taken to a “safe house” and then driven by car to New York.

He decided to come to Patchogue because he had an adult son already living there. A daughter lives in Queens, and another — a 17-year-old who made the journey with him — settled in Pennsylvania.

Pachecho lives in a room in a house he shares with two other Ecuadorians and pays $800 a month. On Sundays, he squeezes into St. Francis de Sales Roman Catholic Church in Patchogue, which is packed with Ecuadorians and other Latinos for the noon Mass.

He gets around by bicycle, no matter how cold it is.

In 2008, his hometown of Gualaceo made international headlines when one of its native sons, Marcelo Lucero, was killed by a group of teenagers in Patchogue in what police called a hate crime.

But it happened so long ago, Pacheco said he was only vaguely aware of it — and it certainly didn’t derail his plan to come to the United States.

He feels like he has no choice.

“You risk coming here because of the economic situation” back home, he said in Spanish.

'Not a peak year' for Long Island immigration levels

Not every immigrant services agency on Long Island says they are seeing a major uptick in new arrivals. Young said he believes there has been an increase over the last two years, but not to record levels.

“I’ve been doing this for 40 years and at least for Long Island this is not a peak year, whereas in New York City, it is a fairly large number that we’re seeing,” he said. On Long Island, “It is fairly below what we’ve seen in peak years of the past like 2013 and 2014,” when thousands of people fled gang-controlled areas of El Salvador and Honduras.

On the East End, the advocacy group OLA, based in East Hampton, along with the North Fork Spanish Apostolate, a ministry based in Riverhead, said immigration levels have remained flat. 

Jessica Ruiz of the Spanish Apostolate said new arrivals may be wary of coming to the area in part because the then-Town of Riverhead supervisor, Yvette Aguiar, declared a “state of emergency” that blocked New York City from relocating any of the migrants. The order made it illegal for hotels, motels, bed-and-breakfasts, campgrounds and other facilities to house the migrants sent by the city. Her successor, Tim Hubbard, extended the order on Jan. 20.

Last summer, New York City dropped its litigation against Suffolk County, Riverhead Town and other jurisdictions statewide for blocking the relocation of migrants from the city into those places. The suit had accused those jurisdictions of seeking to “wall off their borders.”

Not all the new immigrants are coming here illegally. Maquilon, of Catholic Charities, said her agency is also handling an increasing number of people arriving as legal refugees with visas approved by the U.S. government. They are coming from countries including Haiti, Ukraine and Afghanistan.

Fernando Alonso and his wife, Juventina Vasquez, left, and daughter, Audelia, at their home in Mastic Beach. Alonso and his family left their native Honduras after receiving death threats. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

One family that came legally was fleeing what they called “mafias” in Honduras who tried to extort them.

Juventina Vásquez's 10-year-old son was snatching mangos from a tree near their combination home and deli business one morning when the call came in from the gang members: Pay us $1,200 immediately or we will start killing.

Your two children will be first.

They kept calling throughout the day with the threat.

“When they say that, it’s not a joke,” Fernando Alonso, Vásquez's husband, said in Spanish.

They believe they were targeted because they were successful: Their businesses were prospering and the gang wanted a piece, Alonso said.

By nightfall, the family fled — and never came back.

They hid first in the house of the pastor of the church where they were members. The next three nights, they went to the house of a friend.

But the friend soon became afraid and told them they would have to leave.

They left the capital city of Tegucigalpa and headed south. They hid there for about a year, terrified the gang members would track them down.

Finally, with the help of some international agencies, they won legal approval to come to the United States.

They lost everything: their home, their business — which also included a hardware store and a small tortilla factory — and even their home country.

But they consider themselves among the lucky ones since they enjoy legal status and its benefits: work papers, government assistance, the right to live in the United States, most likely permanently. They don’t have to hide in the shadows the way many do.

They got here in April, and now live in Mastic Beach. Catholic Charities has helped them settle in with temporary assistance for housing, food, job training and medical care.

Alonso works in landscaping in the Hamptons; Vásquez works in housekeeping in Greenport. They hope to save enough to buy a car so they don’t have to spend two hours each way on public buses getting back and forth to their jobs.

Living in the United States “is like a dream,” Alonso said. “The pressure is gone.”

“I thank the Americans,” he added. “They gave us a hand.”

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