City’s Newest Migrants Head Underground Looking to Survive

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Yves here. This is all so sad. The cost of having lots of migrants compete for jobs at the bottom is more desperation, pressure on cheap housing, too often homelessness and disease….and for what? The PMC wanting cheap servants and businesses like meatpackers, laborers who will accept terrible condition? The Feds not wanting to devote the effort and resources to better solutions to a thorny problem? The only clear winners seem to be the traffickers.

This article describes how New York City subways, which have become a place for migrants to try to earn a living selling food and trinkets (due to lack of enforcement) is now seeing more competition due to an influx of arrivals. Most Americans are in denial of how third-worldy our yawning income gap has made us.

By Jose Martinez. Originally published at THE CITY

As evening-rush commuters zipped through the 42nd Street subway passageway that links the Times Square and Port Authority stations last week, a mother of four young sons gently tried making her voice heard inside the city’s busiest transit complex.

“Chicles, chocolates, galletas,” she said repeatedly in Spanish, clutching a small cardboard box with $2 packs of chewing gum, M&Ms and Oreos, as three of her boys sat on the floor crowding around the screen of a mobile phone.

Two months after arriving in the United States via the Mexican border town of Piedras Negras, the 35-year-old Ecuadorian woman — who did not want to be identified by name — told THE CITY that she has followed the path into the subway of other newly arrived asylum seekers from Central and South America who try to make a few dollars by selling sweets and fruits.

Initially, she’d struggled to land cleaning jobs alongside day laborers at a street-corner “parada.”

“The jobs there are not enough, you get maybe one or two days of work in an entire week,” she said. “You can’t survive in this country with two days of work.”

So she turned to the transit system to peddle snacks.

With her child in a stroller, Rosa Perez sold fruit at the Barclays Center station after emigrating from Ecuador, May 18, 2023.Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

More than 67,000 asylum-seekers have arrived in New York City since last year, according to City Hall, with the majority coming from countries in Central and South America.

Some of them are migrants shipped on buses to the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Midtown by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

In the last week alone, 5,800 asylum seekers have arrived in New York, Mayor Eric Adams said Monday, with many arriving by plane at JFK and LaGuardia airports. An unknown number are now setting up shop in the subway.

“You don’t have to make a huge investment,” said Hildalyn Colon, deputy director of New Immigrant Community Empowerment, a Queens-based organization that provides job training and other help for the newly arrived. “You buy a package of candy and sell it.”

The city has been bracing for a significant influx of people crossing the southern border following the expiration earlier this month of emergency order Title 42, a federal pandemic measure that barred many migrants from coming into the U.S. in pursuit of asylum.

While train stations have long been a draw for immigrants who sell food in the subway without authorization — a practice prohibited by the New York City Transit Rules of Conduct — advocates for the newly arrived told THE CITY that the ongoing migrant crisis has increased the number of people peddling things there.

“The subway is a last resort for a lot of people because of their circumstances,” Colon said. “They may be people who never qualify for asylum, but what you will see in common is that they all have to feed their families.”

Among them are mothers with infants strapped to their backs and, in some cases, unaccompanied small children selling candy in the subway.

“I see this kid all over,” said one veteran subway worker who sent THE CITY photos of a boy selling Welch’s Fruit Snacks at stations in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

When asked last month about sightings of children selling snacks in the subway, MTA Chairperson and CEO Janno Lieber told THE CITY that, in years past, the agency has raised the issue of youth selling candy on trains to the Administration for Children’s Services.

“They’re doing it, but they’re not necessarily collecting for the basketball team,” Lieber said. “There are large businesses that put them out there to tell a story and don’t pay them much.”

Lieber added that violations of the transit system’s rules of conduct are left to the NYPD.

A spokesperson for ACS said if New Yorkers spot a child panhandling in the subway or elsewhere and who may be in danger or need immediate assistance, they should notify the police.

According to NYPD data, one criminal court summons was issued in the first three months of 2023 for unauthorized commercial activity in the transit system, while 76 were issued for disobeying transit signs, along with 63 for violating other transit regulations.

In response to questions from THE CITY last week, MTA spokesperson Meghan Keegan did not address migrants in the subway, focusing instead on recent improvements to service reliability, increases in ridership and declines in crime.

More Competition

Longtime unlicensed subway vendors said they have also noticed the surge into the subway of the city’s newcomers.

“It used to be that there were just a few of us,” said Maria Toapan, 41, an Ecuadorian woman who said she has been selling churros and fruits in the subway for four years. “Now, this whole station is packed.

“But it’s not easy,” said Toapan, who was offering grapes and chunks of watermelon and mango at the sprawling Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center subway hub in Brooklyn last Friday. “There is so much competition that some days you sell next to nothing.”

While there is no reliable measure of how many of the new arrivals have found their way into the subway system as vendors, several told THE CITY that working on trains and in stations gives them a better chance to make a few bucks — but also to encounter police.

“It’s the first place I found where I can make a little money,” said Maria Farinango, a 44-year-old vendor from Ecuador who arrived in the U.S. six months ago and now rents a room in Corona, Queens, with her husband. “I’m sure there are other places, but since I don’t know my way around, I come to the subway.”

Farinango, who was selling bracelets, necklaces and churros at Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center, told THE CITY she and other vendors are regularly ordered out of the subway by police.

Maria Farinango sells jewelry at the Barclays Center station, May 18, 2023.Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

“They say move, that I’m not allowed to be here,” she said. “So I go somewhere else for a bit, then I come right back.”

On multiple occasions last week, THE CITY saw police officers move vendors out of the sprawling Brooklyn station, only for the vendors to return within minutes.

“They clear them out and they come right back,” a station cleaner said.

Farinango said she also has to occasionally contend with customers who stiff her on the food. While she spoke with THE CITY, a man walked up to her cart, grabbed a bag of churros and left without paying.

“Not much I can do,” she said.

Colon, of New Immigrant Community Empowerment, said migrants are likely to continue turning to the subway as a place to make money.

“It’s easier, there’s always going to be someone passing through who can buy from you and it’s something they can do,” said. “They are desperate and they are looking to work.”

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  1. timbers

    In broad terms regarding immigration, what strikes me over the decades when this first became an issue I was old enough to read about in the “news” which was around 1980, is the seeming complete breakdown in order and any pretense of our government officials to address this in a serious manner. Compared to the 80’s things have become a jungle like free for all. Regardless of pro/con of Reagan’s stab at a solution, it at least attempted to pretend to be a “final” solution at least for a period of time. Fast forward today, and paralysis and incompetence seems to be the rule. Anything goes. The flood gates are open and our more important elected officials in power basically deny a problem exists at any level. Ukraine Ukraine Ukraine. And China too.

    1. digi_owl

      Because for them it means cheaper goods and services, thanks to wage suppression.

  2. upstater

    Some immigrants may be going into subways, but hundreds or thousands are being bussed by Eric Adams to upstate NY. Long stay hotels are evicting long time residents (this hotel is in a food and transit desert):

    Central NY hotel management sent long-term residents scrambling to make room for migrant contracts

    The city of Syracuse has a 40% poverty rate. Apartment and house rental costs exceed inflation. City housing stock is decrepit. How is it going to work bringing in more unskilled poverty-stricken immigrants? Do people like Adams, Hochul and Biden think the supposed Micron wafer fab will hire these people?

    The benefits of free trade, gutting economies of Latin America, drug violence, sponsoring wars and coups, and open borders.

    1. timbers

      Syracuse and upstate NY. So why aren’t bed and breaks in Beacon Hill, Back Bay, South End and Martha’s Vineyard being contracted to house immigrants? And Nancy’s San Fran area? Mitch McConnell’s neighborhood too. And what about the Acela can it be packed with immigrants like NYC subway?

    2. Doc

      NY is a right to shelter state. If they don’t like it, they can change the law. They won’t this is all part of the plan. The US was built on and continues to “thrive” on an immigrant class of labor to exploit. Our governor is begging to the Feds to allow these folks work permits. There are loads of jobs that are unfilled. They want them here and they want them working for sub-minimum wages. If these jobs paid well, people would travel here to take them. The left hand at the Fed is tanking the economy and won’t stop until there is mass unemployment. We want employed people out or work to stop inflation and we want migrants to work. Doomed! Clearly, we want us all back in chains.

      1. Pat

        Hey Adams is going to court to weaken the laws we do have in place to protect both those in shelters and the places where they might put shelters. Because…

    3. Pat

      Whoa, Syracuse?!?! Is Hochul out of her ever loving mind?
      Has she actually looked at the numbers? From a political point of view this is the equivalent of adding an extra bullet in the revolver for Russian roulette. The larger upstate cities are the places keeping Democrats in the majority, and sometimes people like Hochul in office. And considering the financial pressures on them keeping them majority Democratic is a delicate balance.

      I keep saying this is a political disaster for the Democrats and is bloody brilliant on the part of the Republican governors doing it, but I didn’t think that our so called leaders would be so politically shortsighted. They may be between a rock and a hard place because of earlier political actions (like sanctuary declarations) that were done thinking this would never really hit here, but I honestly thought Albany, Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse would be last resorts for forced migrant shelters. It is either far worse than we are being told or the Dems are arrogant idiots or both.

      There was a recent poll by a polling group I have never heard of that still has Adams in the lead over everyone else, but the numbers were confusing. For instance He had a good approval rating but the majority thought the city was going in the wrong direction. I could be wrong, but my frequent eavesdrop polls agree with wrong direction but disagree with that approval rating. And the migrants are divisive (based on dress there is more support among the better off while the elderly and the labor class are not happy about them and the costs to the city.)

    4. Another Scott

      I’m pretty sure that the people you mentioned will, as Yves mentioned in her intro to the post, benefit greatly from the reduced costs of servants (maids, landscapers, and nannies). In addition, their donors like the downward pressure on wages, and their staff and media will enjoy the sense of superiority from calling people who disagree with them racists.
      The migrants are sadly just pawns in the political games of Republicans and Democrats. The same can be said for the people currently living in the hotel in the article you linked to.

  3. timotheus

    Amid all the noise on immigrants and immigration, there is zero focus on the conditions in the countries of origin that are pushing people to take such desperate steps. Of course, it is hard for our overlords to discuss, say, Honduras, given the bipartisan collusion in ushering in the narco-state that further wrecked people’s lives there for which Obama, Clinton, and Trump all share the honors.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Being homeless in NYC is no party. They avoid the shelters due to risk of being robbed, beaten, and raped.

      You have no idea how much of this immigration is due to traffickers overselling opportunity here.

    2. Odysseus

      there is zero focus on the conditions in the countries of origin that are pushing people to take such desperate steps.

      Thank you.

  4. Hayek's Heelbiter

    “The cost of having lots of migrants compete for jobs at the bottom is more desperation, pressure on cheap housing, too often homelessness and disease….and for what? The PMC wanting cheap servants and businesses like meatpackers, laborers who will accept terrible condition?”

    Absolutely en pointe, with exception that you omitted without a tsunami of immigrants, where would Californians get their below-minimum-wage lawn workers, swimming pool attendants, maids, etc.?

    1. George

      Every “migrant” means one less housing unit, or percentage of one, for Americans priced out of rentals, homes, roommate situations etc.

      We lamentably visited Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco and it no longer has the old restaurants that once served seafood to tourist families, they are closed. Instead hundreds of popup carts selling everything from Chinese made San Francisco T shirts to liquor and fruit juices. Several of our family members spent part of their vacation vomiting after foolishly eating something from one of these vendors who store hot dogs in coolers, drinks, including booze, in puddles of filthy water etc.

  5. Michael Fiorillo

    It’s win-win, all around: Capital gets the desperate, cheap labor it craves – even the Congressional Progressive Caucus is hyping the cheap labor refugees will provide – with downward pressure on a minimum wage the Democrats refuse to raise, MAGA gets a powerful talking point, while liberals and faux-gressives get the dopamine rush of “Open Borders ” and “In This House We Believe” lawn signs… and cheaper personal service proles.

    I’m ancient enough to recall how in 2016 Bernie warned about the political and economic dangers of open borders, saying that it was a policy by and for the Chamber of Commerce and the Koch’s, and he was roundly criticized and forced to pull back by the moral vainguard that dominates Center/Left and (so-called) Left discussion.

    As with Ukraine, yet more evidence of the suicidal tendencies of the #McResistance…

    1. JBird4049

      I think that being homeless in San Francisco is also no picnic, but is probably even worse in Los Angeles. It has been a long time since I visit LA, but seeing current pictures of Skid Row shows no improvement. Yet, they keep trying to push down wages, keep housing too expensive, and import even more workers.

      I keep saying this one way or another, but are the politicians being suicidally stupid? If I wanted to, I could do a short drive and tour Market Street with its empty stores and drifting homeless, then swing over to either the civic plaza or the Tenderloin for the more permanent homeless spots. Or Golden Gate Park or… Really, I could do a little bit of hunting and find similar, smaller bits of unpleasantness throughout the Bay Area.

      And if anyone starts bloviating about people being lazy or something like that, I would have to mention that many of the homeless work and often sleep in their cars, plus this has been getting worse for at least forty years around here.

      I just really, really hope that there will be no organized violence against immigrants or even those perceived as such.

  6. Telee

    What are the present conditions in Ecuador that is driving this exodus? At this time the right wing, with US support, is running the country. Lasso has just dissolved congress to avoid impeachment. Supporters of Correa are being being targeted. Indigenous people are rebelling. Hunger, violence, unemployment, and political repression appear to be the driver. I would like to know more about the situation. Anybody have this information?

  7. Grayce

    When the world economic summit addresses the conditions leading to asylum-seeking or economic betterment, then there will be a beginning of protecting the better off countries from surges of immigration. There is no uniform “worthiness” in any country, industrialized or third world. There are horizontal layers of economic reality in every one. This is a humanitarian problem being argued as a political problem.

  8. Felix_47

    Certainly Mexico is a rich country crippled, like the US, by bad government. As I look at my children’s classmates in the local schools and universities here it is obvious that the future US population will be largely Mexican and Central and South American with white, Asian, and Black minorities. It might make sense to integrate Mexico and perhaps the rest of Central America into the US as part of this largely Hispanic population. In a way convert the de facto situation to a de jure situation which would allow stronger unions. regulations etc. Where I work in Los Angeles Spanish is already the primary language. That would get rid of the fiction of the border which makes money for unsavory businessmen on both sides. If they could rationalize property law on both sides it would be a win for both sides. The UAW, for example, could organize the Mexican auto plants. The IBEW could organize the Mexican electric assembly plants. The 5 freeway could extend to Cabo San Lucas. There would be an huge land boom in Baja California. The drug issues would be addressed by the better funded US government. And the entire population could benefit from the rich natural resources on both sides now. If the US wanted to compete with China it would seem that would be a great way to do it and to bring prosperity to the Hispanic masses in the western hemisphere. Instead of assembling I phones in China it could be done in Mexico by Union labor. And the Mexican primary educational system gets more done in terms of basic math and literacy in four years than the US does in 12.

    1. FreeMarketApologist

      It might make sense to integrate Mexico and perhaps the rest of Central America into the US

      Sense for whom, exactly? I was thinking it would be better to give Texas back to Mexico. In fact, give them everything south of I-40 from the OK/AR border westwards. Perhaps throw in Las Vegas as well and let us keep Houston. Plenty of land, oil, businesses, and activities to boost the overall Mexican economy, and conveniently gets a few problems out of our way.

      1. Felix_47

        It would make sense for workers. Right now tomato pickers are making very low wages in Mexico. Because of agricultural subsidies courtesy Uncle Sugar in the US corn can be produced cheaper than they can grow it in Mexico. Eliminating the border would immediately force the Mexican oligarch who owns 5000 acres of soon to be rotting tomatoes to pay US wages to pick them and those tomatoes were grown for the US market. Corn subsidies have decimated Mexican indigenous agriculture. Auto workers in Mexico are building US pickups and foreign imports like Kia and Hyundai and Audi for 2 dollars per hour. With an open border to include unionization their salary would rise to US levels and the automakers would have to pay it unless they plan to import Chinese cars. There is a reason that Cesar Chavez was opposed to ulimited illegal immigration. Were he alive today he might well be recommending a vote for Trump.

  9. Megan

    After fighting in various wars and paying the equivalent of millions of inflation adjusted dollars in taxes, our children now get to “compete” with desperate poor uneducated slaves in back room jobs, with no expectation of privacy, time off, working benefits etc.
    That is if the employer still hires people who only speak English, which is disappearing. If Hispanics are the future and are the only ones getting hired, then they can pay all the taxes. We are done, cash only, no declared income, no building permits etc.

    Based on that and that alone, we will vote for the orange asshole over anyone else, plus not getting vaprorized for Ukraine.

    1. Vermont Farm Wife

      I can really sympathize. There are a lot of jobs for unskilled labor, but not nearly as many as proponents of unlimited immigration imagine, proponents who generally don’t work unskilled jobs and probably don’t know anyone who does. (Not counting teens.)

      I heard a sob story on NPR (where else?) about an illegal alien who was relying on the kindness of strangers to make his way from the border to Dallas, where he was planning to work in construction. Only the snobs on public radio would consider construction one of the “jobs that Americans don’t want”, which is their one-size-fits-all rationale for encouraging migrants. My husband, second-generation IBEW, worked his entire career in industrial construction and supported our family with those wages; there are lots of Americans who are happy to work in construction. Hubby saw illegals brought to a job in the back of a garbage truck, after hours, so the contractor wouldn’t have to pay union overtime. It would be naive to think this doesn’t happen all. the. time.

      Besides that, there are lots of non-hispanics who love doing landscaping too, but they can’t compete with the low wages paid to illegals so they watch their business wither.

      Trump is coarse, sometimes crude, and yes, an orange asshole, but he had some policies that genuinely benefitted working people, which is more than I can say for most of the presidents during my lifetime. If he’s on the ballot he’ll get our votes too and from the sound of it, the votes of our Millennial children as well.

  10. Arul

    I am getting early 20th century deja vu. Poor, vulnerable migrants who cannot speak English properly, and don’t have a proper social support system. That sounds very similar to the wave of Irish and Italian immigration to the East coast a century ago.
    Those immigrants faced poor working and living conditions, inadequate protection from the law, and an administration that had no resources to properly integrate them into the society. That led to the rise of criminal gangs that plagued the country for nearly half a century.
    I am not saying that similar criminal gangs will rise again, but the events that are happening now are making it more likely.

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