Hate crimes, racial tensions, economic strife, illegal immigration, and the preservation of white neighborhoods are familiar issues in this nation, but the crux of the documentary “Farmingville” is where these issues play out. The titular city is not found in the heart of Dixie but rather is nestled in the center of Long Island, NY–and the fact that the battle for our borders has taken center stage in this locale is one of the compelling issues uncovered. The flashpoint for this story is a hate crime that was committed against two young Mexican day laborers by young white youths, but as the filmmakers explore the story behind the attempted murders what is discovered is a story with implications on American society.
Farmingdale was once a small working middle-class city when in the 1990’s it saw its population jump by 10% with an influx of illegal Mexican workers coming to the area to find work and establish themselves in the community. As odd as it may seem to have Mexicans flood into the New York area, the town lent itself to the migration because of the dynamics of the geography. Farmingdale has a glut of businesses that are labor intensive, and the town is situated in the exact middle of Long Island so that contractors in that region have a centralized work pool from which to draw. As a result street corners have become de facto employment offices and many of the neighborhood homes are filled with up to 20 or more residents.
The effects of this on the community was tangible, and soon the residents began to call out for enforcement of laws, be they local, state, or federal. Tragically the problems the community had to deal with were the result of lack of enforcement of immigration and labor laws, and by the time the ill effects were being experienced the time for action had already passed. Essentially when the problems were detected there was little that could have been done. The inflamed passions that were percolating beneath the surface began to flare when local officials were confronted with issues that they simply had no jurisdiction in handling.
The residents began to take this issue to heart and took to the streets in protest. They confronted politicians, they hassled the contractors who swept into town looking for workers, and they formed activist groups to confront the problem in their backyards. Inevitably passions would rise and the issue at hand would become clouded in accusations and charges. The specter of racism was going to eventually come to light. Whether or not it exists is open to interpretation—to the legislators, the audience, and even the participants. One man’s call for the laws to be followed is another man’s hate crime.
By this point you actually witness opposing protesters squaring off at town council meetings where they call for contradictory solutions, and national organizations from both sides began entering the debate inside of Farmingville. Most interesting was the impact the hate crime had on not just the national scale but also how it altered the debate. At first the residents sounded cogent, desperate to see that people who were in the country illegally would not further degrade their community, but when the attacks against the workers took place the sympathy shifted as anti-racism sentiment moved to the fore.
Curiously enough one of the primary motivators for all of the strife was the issue of these Mexican workers staying illegally in the country. Yet despite the pleas for INS action and the arguments that these men serve a vital role in the economy neither side appeared to be making steps in that direction. At one point we watch an organized group for the workers being formed in order to help them achieve some rights and to protect them from predatory employers, however no mention is made involving this group towards getting these men to become citizens and enter the workforce legally. As facile as it may sound the residents would get what they call for—legalized immigrants becoming contributing taxpayers—and the workers would benefit from better wages and protection from illegal business practices.
At the end we come to learn that even today the issue has not been fully resolved, showing that the only result was a residue of tension and dissatisfaction for people on both sides of the issue. As pleasant as it was to have an evenhanded representation of the details, the underlying message can be that when our government sits on its hands at the onset of a problem it may soon steamroll into an issue that is treated with bureaucratic inertia.