One dozen day laborers were removed from their tent homes in a Huntington Station wooded area Tuesday by local authorities who said the cold weather was putting them in danger.
The authorities wanted the men to spend the night in a local church that offers shelter during the winter.
But it was unclear where the men would make their daytime homes after being moved out of the woods, which are located on private property between East Fifth Street and the Long Island Rail Road tracks. Some vowed to return.
"We'll see who lasts longer - them or us," said Pablo Cervantes, 53, of authorities who may want to oust the laborers from the woods permanently.
"I don't want people to die out there," said Insp. Edward Brady of the 2nd Precinct. "This was a show of compassion to the individuals who are out there in this frigid weather."
Huntington Town spokesman A.J. Carter said authorities tried to encourage the men to use a local church program where they are offered shelter and food for the night during the winter.
Many of the men said they were already doing that on many cold nights, but that they still wanted to maintain makeshift tent homes in the woods because they had no place else to go.
"How are we going to pay the rent if there is no work?" said Luis Morillo, 34, an emigrant from Honduras who said he has lived in the woods for about a year. "If I could find work I wouldn't be here."
Peggy Boyd of the Family Service League, a nonprofit that works with the homeless, said the Huntington Station site was one of several encampments in woods in Suffolk County where the homeless live. Others are in Bay Shore, Brentwood, Sayville and the East End.
In February 2007, a Honduran immigrant was found dead in the woods at the Huntington Station site. Suffolk police and the medical examiner said hypothermia was not a factor in his death, but immigrant advocates and social service workers disputed that finding.
Tuesday, Huntington Town code enforcement officers accompanied by Suffolk County police headed into the East Fifth Street woods about 3:30 p.m. and told the men they could no longer stay there, in part because the night was going to be frigid, with temperatures forecast in the 20s. They also told them their tents may be bulldozed Wednesday by the property's owner, and they should take their personal belongings.
Signs were posted on the tents stating they were unsafe and illegal structures, and that returning to them could mean fines of $15,000 and/or six months in jail.
Brady said making arrests would be "our very last course of action" and that authorities hope to simply get the men to move out on their own.
Morillo, an emigrant from Honduras, said he had been living with a brother in Huntington but moved out a year ago because he had no money to help with rent. "Imagine coming to another country to live in the woods," he said.
He told his wife back in Honduras that he wants to go home, he said but doesn't have the money for airfare. "It's better to leave than to live in the woods," he said.