A Roman Catholic priest who ministers to deaf people summoned his flock to an emergency meeting after morning Mass on Sunday in his parish church. With someone translating in sign language, he warned them about people who seduce deaf Mexicans into traveling to the United States to labor as street vendors.
“Look at the papers saying they enslaved deaf people in New York City,” the Rev. Martin Montoya Garcia said, holding aloft local newspapers reporting Sunday on the rescue of 64 deaf Mexican immigrants from abusive employers. “Be careful with those offering a better life elsewhere, and don’t be misled by deceitful promises.”
Passing the word through hand signs and lip-reading, thousands of deaf Mexicans shared the stunning story of the deaf immigrants who the police say were held in virtual slavery in New York.
The news aroused considerable alarm, confirming widespread rumors of ill treatment suffered by the thousands of deaf Mexicans who travel to the United States each year to sell trinkets on streets from Los Angeles to New York.
“This gives me an ugly feeling,” said Juana Martinez, a 39-year-old deaf woman who heard the news during Montoya’s meeting at the San Hipolito parish in downtown Mexico City.
The events in New York transfixed not only deaf people; several of the city’s largest newspapers led Sunday’s editions with the news.
The headlines so alarmed five young deaf men, former students at the National School for the Deaf, that they knocked on the door of the school in a colonial sector of Mexico City at 7 a.m., arousing its director to express their fears that their deaf relatives and friends might be among those found crammed into two apartments in New York, the director, Jose Badillo Huerta, said.
Badillo said he had good reason to believe that some of his ex-students might be among those involved in the New York case, because 67 of his ex-students were recruited in 1994 to work as street vendors in the United States.
Badillo said he believed that Adriana Paoletti, a 29-year-old Mexican woman arrested in New York in connection with the exploitation of the deaf street sellers, had attended classes at his school, which is private, before emigrating to Los Angeles in about 1990.
Badillo said that the 67 former students made up just one of many groups of deaf Mexicans that have been recruited to work north of the border, usually by deaf Mexicans who have themselves emigrated earlier to the United States and have learned the lucrative potential of selling chewing gum or other knickknacks.
The deaf vendors are recruited in cities and towns all over Mexico and then are assembled into groups in Mexico City, bused north to Tijuana or Ciudad Juarez and given false documents to cross the border.
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