Carly Fox, a legal rights advocate with the Worker Justice Center of New York, visited farm workers upstate this month. Credit Brendan Bannon for The New York Times
José was looking for peace and quiet, in addition to work, when he decided to settle in the hinterlands of upstate New York 14 years ago. “A lot of farmland and trees,” he recalled, speaking in Spanish. “It reminded me of my village in Mexico.”
But he quickly learned that being poor and undocumented and living far from the well-established immigrant networks found in the nation’s big cities made life especially difficult. There was the absence of public transportation (he cannot legally drive), the scarcity of lawyers with immigration expertise and a feeling of isolation fed by his inability to speak English and the lack of opportunities to learn it.
“It’s a big challenge,” said José, 38, who works on a dairy farm in Livingston County, where he lives with his wife and four children, about 230 miles from New York City. “We’re a forgotten community in terms of service.” (He asked that his last name not be published because of his immigration status.)
Such challenges are a fact of life for the large and growing population of immigrants across the country who have bypassed traditional gateway cities like New York and San Francisco to settle instead in suburban and rural areas…