Mexican consulate visits St. Lawrence County, talks dairy farm workers

Mexico has more consulates in the United States than any other country has anywhere. The one in New York City has been working to expand its presence north into Upstate New York. So on Wednesday, its head and staff drove up to Canton.

“Each of these consulates, including the consulate of New York, of which I am responsible for, is very engaged at all levels,” says Diego Gómez Pickering, Mexico’s Consul General in New York.

He says his visits have become more urgent since President Donald Trump ratcheted up rhetoric about immigrants and criminality. “Now that there’s been sort of a normalization of this erroneous interpretation of what an immigrant is, and we have seen an increase in the criminalization of immigrants, then of course, we’re more active in terms of building bridges, providing assistance to the Mexican nationals” who live in places across New York, including the North Country.

One service the consulate offers is a mobile office that can help Mexican nationals with everything from passports and birth certificates to vaccinations, HIV testing, and legal help with labor or immigration issues, so Mexican don’t have to travel all the way to New York City.
Bringing the Mexican consulate to the farm

A good number of the Mexicans in the North Country are working on dairy farms, mostly illegally. Wednesday night, Gómez Pickering met privately with farmworker advocates about how to extend those consular services to them. He says a big problem is those farmworkers rarely leave the farm for fear of getting caught and deported, and that’s troubling.

“I mean, even though they get paid their salaries, being not able to leave your work premises it’s almost like being a slave, right? I’m not talking about the employers, but the condition itself, because of fear that just stepping outside, something could happen to you or your family.”

The workers’ relative invisibility makes them more vulnerable to housing and workplace violations and abuse, and less likely to seek medical help for injuries or illnesses.

Gómez Pickering is scheduled to meet Friday with the St. Lawrence County Sheriff, the county administrator, and members of the county legislature. He says this issue of farmworkers’ lack of mobility given the heavy presence of border patrol in the area is likely to be a topic of conversation.

Kevin Acres is the chairman of the county legislature and a dairy farmer. He says farmers are wary of anyone coming on their farms – “call it farmers’ independent spirit”, he says – but farm visits from the Mexican consulate could be a good thing. “I think if it could be shown that there will be positive results that is helpful to the labor force, help increase productivity, resolve conflicts, things of that nature, I think it could be a plus for the systems.”

Consul General Diego Gómez Pickering says Mexican farmworkers are crucial to the North Country dairy industry today. “It’s their work that makes this a thriving economy, so it’s not fair that they’re not able to go and get medical attention.”

He says it’s his job to look after Mexican citizens in New York State, regardless of their immigration status.

 

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