Business in the Ironbound is suffering as Newark's fearful immigrant community hides

By Barry Carter | The Star-Ledger
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on March 07, 2017

Delicias de Minas Restaurant is usually filled with customers, but the owner, Wendel Correa, said business is down 25 percent because Newark's immigrant community in the Ironbound stopped coming when they heard a false rumor that immigration officers were arresting undocumented immigrants at a road safety police check point

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Alessandra's Beauty Salon on Ferry Street is usually packed with Newark immigrants who come to get their hair cut or their nails done. But things have changed.

"The people don't come in,'' said Alessandra Lima, the salon owner. "Everybody is worried.''

Elsewhere in the diverse Ironbound section of the city, other business owners tell a similar story. The lunch and dinner crowd at Delicias de Minas restaurant on McWhorter Street is smaller. And immigrant customers have not been showing up as much at the Casa Nova Grill on Adams Street, or a second location across the street from the salon.

Ironbound community leaders and business owners said many undocumented immigrants are saving their money after new rules from the Department of Homeland Security on immigration were released two weeks ago by the Trump administration.

Anibal Romero, a Newark immigration attorney, said that under the new guidelines undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. less than two years face expedited removal, and parents who attempt to bring their children across the border illegally will face prosecution. The administration also intends to hire 10,000 new immigration agents to enforce the law.

"The community got word of this and it's been crazy,'' Romero said.

More like panic. When Newark police conducted a road safety checkpoint on South Street Feb.23, false rumors spread that immigration officers were stopping and arresting people.

The fear, unfortunately, has hurt business owners, who say the immigrant community has not been patronizing shops and restaurants along Ferry Street as well as other Iroundbound corridors.

Lima said she has lost 50 percent of her business; Jose Moreiria, owner of Casa Nova Grill, estimated a 20 percent combined drop at his two restaurants; and Wendel Correa of Delicias de Minas said he's experienced a 25 percent decline

"They're scared to spend the money because they don't know what's going to happen,'' Correa said. "They don't know if they're going to be deported.''

Newark officials tried to ease residents' worry last week during a standing-room-only community meeting at the Mediterranean Manor restaurant.

Mayor Ras Baraka said Newark will remain a sanctuary city, meaning immigrants will continue to have access to city services and the police department will not ask them about their status or join any federal immigration force to deport them.

"We want to assure you that here in the city of Newark we're going to do all we can in our power to make sure we protect the residents and neighbors of this city," Baraka said. "Whatever it is that we in our power can do, we will do.''

Newark police captain, Adolph Perez Jr. also assured residents that Newark officer are not conducting a campaign with immigration officers to round up undocumented immigrants.

"Our job is not to enforce federal laws,'' Perez said. "Our job is to protect the citizens that live here."

But once the rumor got out about an immigration crackdown, Ironbound leaders said, the community has been on edge, uncertain and worried about Trump's deportation talk.

Roberto Lima, editor of Newak's Brazillian Voice newspaper said he had a hard time convincing a Portuguese resident that the police checkpoint wasn't being used to find illegal immigrants.

"Newark is a sanctuary city,'' Lima said, but he understands immigrants' concerns - especially  after an encounter he had with Newark police in 2007.

Lima filed a civil lawsuit in 2008 following an incident in which he claimed Newark's then-acting police director, Samuel DeMaio, asked photographer for the paper, Gerald Carlos, whether he had a "green card" after Carlos discovered a dead body and was taking pictures.

Lima claimed DeMaio ordered officers to seize the pictures and handcuff him at the precinct in order to stop him from publishing the photographs.

"I never heard of police asking for a green card,'' said Lima, who was awarded $55,000 in a suit for wrongful arrest against the city.

DeMaio, who has repeatedly denied Lima's assertion, was reprimanded by then-Attorney General Anne Millgram for the "green card" comment.  She said it violated a directive prohibiting police from asking crime witnesses about their immigration status.

"When I got arrested, the community was afraid of the police,'' Lima said. "If they arrested a journalist, what will happen with a guy who doesn't have the press behind him.''

It was a day Lima said he'd like to forget, which is why he believes Baraka's steadfast support of immigrants should help calm down deportation fears.

Romero, the immigration attorney, hopes that happens soon. The 1,500 calls his office received in one week from immigrants crashed his phone system.

Solange Paizante, executive director of Mantena, a Brazillian community organization in the city, said calls have increased 30 percent at her office and some parents have pulled their children out of school.

Following rumors of a checkpoint for undocumented immigrants, she said, many salons and boutiques in the Ironbound were empty.

But business was brisk at store that issues money transfers and takes identification photos for passports.

Owner Luciano Trajano said he normally services up to eight people a week who want their picture taken. After the checkpoint rumor, he said, the number jumped to about 25 in a week because people were preparing to leave for their homeland should immigration officers appear.

"They don't know what's going to happen,'' Trajano said.

A 23-year-old nursing assistant said Trump's immigration stance is unsettling because she doesn't know if the administration will renew her two-year work permit under DACA - the Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals.

If the permit is not approved, the Ecuadorian native who lives in Newark said she would be considered an illegal immigrant and face deportation.

"They (government) have all of my information,'' she said. "They know where I am."

An undocumented 44-year-old Brazillian woman hopes she can stay in the country after applying for an extension of her tourist visa.

She's counting on the approval. The woman said she sold her laundry service business in Brazil to pursue the American dream like many others who come to United States.

Now that dream seems to have gone into hiding, replaced by a community's anxiety.

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