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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Racist Suburb Resists City

Depending on whom you talk to, Tony Hay is either the soul of a new suburban xenophobia or the last bulwark against Brewster as barrio.

The tiny village of Brewster, New York is an outer suburb where minivans are replacing tractors and immigrants come in handy to mow the lawn or build a stone wall. Ninety-six kilometers north of New York City, Brewster has taken on a distinctive Latin flavor. Taco Loco is one of Main Street's busiest restaurants, Manny's Taxi is owned by Manny Illescas, an Ecuadorean immigrant, and the Spanish-language newspaper, El Diario, is available at Scally's Deli.

Like corners in Brooklyn and Queens, and the main drags of close-in New York suburbs like Mount Kisco and Glen Cove, the sidewalks here and in other semi-rural towns are now impromptu hiring halls where immigrants gather each morning waiting for contractors to hire them for the day.

There's plenty of work as land turns into lots in Putnam County, one of the fastest-growing counties in New York. But some of the fresh ground that the immigrants are manicuring has proved acidic.

Hay owns Brewster's No. 1 discount beer supermarket, which he named On the Border back when the border on everyone's mind was the one between New York and Connecticut. He has tapped a keg of his strongest stuff and is pouring it freely.

"There's a cultural difference between Americans and Latinos," he said. "We don't stand on the street looking for work. The average person will wake up at 8 o'clock and go to work. They wake up and go stand on the street corner and look for work. I call it visual pollution."

Hay is no trained cultural anthropologist, but neither is he simply a prominent beer distributor. He's the elected chairman of the legislature in Putnam, a county that is 95 percent white.

In a proposed resolution, he asked federal immigration officials to address what he believes is an illegal immigration problem so "it will no longer return to plague our community." His vision is cataclysmic.

"The World Trade Center blew up, planes are blown out of the sky," he said. "I'm not saying it's Latinos, but they're all immigrants. The West Nile virus, they laugh at me, but we don't know where that came from. If Saddam Hussein shaved his mustache and spoke Spanish, he could come here and stand on the streets of Brewster. Moammar Gadhafi, he could come here."

No terrorism has hit Brewster. Nor has crime increased, said Sheriff Robert Thoubboron, although three immigrants were charged recently with prostitution, which is unusual here.

But he said Hay had a point about illegal immigrants.

He said that when his officers arrest illegal immigrants, overwhelmed immigration officials tell the sheriff to let them go. "Either change the law so it's not on the books and it's not a crime, or beef up enforcement," he said.

Tom Opdyke, who owns the Bagel Depot opposite the train station, said, "Until Tony Hay made a statement, everybody else had their head in the sand." He said women are afraid of being harassed, and some of the immigrant job-seekers urinate in public. "This was always the country," he said. "Now we're a little like the city."

And as in cities, there are opposing viewpoints, strong ones. "It's big-time prejudice," said George Sclavounos, a refugee from earthquakes in Greece in the 1950s who now owns the 3 Star Deli here. He said immigrants have revived a fading Main Street, and are needed because "we're not willing to cut our grass or climb up on our roofs to clean our gutters."

"We want them to do our chores, but we don't want them living around us," he said.

At a legislative meeting last week, Hay's opponents came armed with a petition reading, "Say No to Hate!"

Hay withdrew his resolution after immigration officials agreed to meet with Brewster officials to discuss the situation.

But the anger continued. One man said, "When they jump the border down in Mexico, do they give them a map of Mount Kisco and Brewster?"

A county employee told Hay she found his words "very hateful." Sam Oliverio Jr., another county legislator, said Hay's actions threaten "the constitutional rights that I, as a former serviceman, fought for."

Finally, Lone Hawk, of White Plains and the Gwe'chin Nation of American Indians, rose to say the debate grieved him.

"This is our land," he said. "We lived in peace until the white man came."

He was generous enough not to ask everyone to leave.

Matthew Purdy is a columnist for The New York Times.