Its sister restaurant in Saratoga continues to operate; locals offer support.
By Gordon Woodworth, Chronicle News Editor
El Mexicano, the popular restaurant on Route 4 in Hudson Falls, has closed. The co-owned El Mexicano restaurant in Saratoga Springs continues to operate.
“My understanding is that following the [June 1st] immigration raids in Saratoga, so many people were incarcerated that they didn’t have enough workers to work at both restaurants,” Rev. Tom Babiuch, pastor of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Fort Edward and St. Mary’s in Hudson Falls, told The Chronicle.
Father Babiuch is active in working with the local Mexican community. He said 12 families regularly worshipped at St. Joseph’s but have stopped attending.
“I’m sure we won’t see them in church ever again. A whole part of this parish will disappear, and it’s a huge loss. Their example was inspirational. The kids are very well behaved, the community was reminded of how we should treat one another.”
The Chronicle could not reach El Mexicano’s owners for comment. Chronicle stories in 2007 and 2009 said El Mexicano’s owners are brothers Esteban and Gabino Vasquez, natives of Puebla, Mexico.
News reports said that on June 1 agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested 16 undocumented immigrants in Saratoga, 15 of them from Mexico. Nine face potential felony charges for re-entering the country after being deported.
Email and voicemail messages left for ICE spokeswoman Rachael Yong Yow had not been returned by press time.
2 women on bikes stopped in HF
Father Babiuch said he and others were shaken when ICE agents in Hudson Falls on April 13 stopped two Mexican women riding bikes, fingerprinted them and told them to report to Latham the next day.
He said the husband of one of the women was arrested and jailed until the family and supporters paid the $5,000 bail.
“We were terrorized by the news,” Father Baiuch said. “It’s unacceptable to see that happen to parents in front of their children.”
Mrs. Leonelli said, “Everyone was so upset. The 11-year-old son of the family didn’t go to school because he was afraid he would come home and his mother wouldn’t be there.”
After that, said Father Babiuch, “we took matters into our own hands and formed a coalition of people from different churches in the area to try to help these people. To us Catholics, the Hispanic people are the future of our church.”
Bank account established
Father Babiuch said he and others from St. Joseph’s met with a local interfaith group and opened an account at Glens Falls National Bank for those who wish to donate to help with legal expenses.
The account is “North Country Immigration Support,” said Julie Leonelli, St. Joseph’s religious education director.
Father Babiuch said, “We are trying to educate people. Most of these workers pay taxes. They are hard-working people who don’t get social services because they don’t have a Social Security number. Ignorance is as powerful as knowledge. It all depends on how we choose to direct our thinking.”
Lisa Catalfamo, who works with the immigrant families and gives presentations locally about them, said, “This goes well beyond the restaurant workers. The restaurant closing is a huge loss for the community, and it’s the more visible piece in terms of immigration, but it’s small compared to the agriculture and stone slate workers. They are equally worried.”
She said many undocumented Mexicans now “don’t feel comfortable here. They are embedded in the community but are always at risk. In my view, we’ve got to take the focus off villainizing people. People assume there’s a working immigration system in this country. There isn’t. There’s no line to get in to be legal here.”
She said she knows an undocumented Mexican who works in two area restaurants and hasn’t returned to his apartment because ICE agents arrested several of his roommates. “He has bought all new clothes,” she said. “He’s afraid to go back.”
Father Babiuch said the families who worshipped at his church are “very devout and very pious people. They look real to me, in terms of their faith.”
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