GARDEN CITY, N.Y. (AP) – They’re the ones running the power mowers and leaf blowers over manicured lawns. You see them hauling tiles and paint cans to construction sites, or washing pots and pans at a restaurant.

They’re also the ones subjected to derision or worse, because of their skin color, language, or some perceived notion that they’ve come to take jobs away.

“Farmingville,” a documentary honored at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, focuses on the anxiety, violence and fear that enveloped one Long Island community caught up in a national debate over the influx of undocumented aliens, many from Mexico and Latin America.

An issue once seen primarily in the Southwest, it evolved into a national phenomenon in the late 1990s, said filmmakers Carlos Sandoval and Catherine Tambini. The two spent nearly a year examining Farmingville, a suburb halfway between Manhattan and the Hamptons.

“We wanted the film to be part of the debate on immigration as we go forward,” Tambini told The Associated Press. “We think this will be an election issue this fall and we want the film to contribute to that discussion.”

“Farmingville,” which kicks off the 17th season of the documentary series “P.O.V.,” chronicles the arrival of about 1,500 Mexicans over several years and their impact on the community. It airs at 10 p.m. EDT Tuesday on PBS (check local listings).

Many longtime residents became alarmed when dozens – then hundreds – of men started showing up on street corners and at strip malls, seeking work. Long Island landscapers, builders, painters and other contractors soon began hiring them as day laborers, paying cash.

And citizens soon complained that as many as 20 or 30 immigrants were cramming into one- and two-family houses, creating neighborhood health and safety concerns.

While Tambini lived in nearby Hampton Bays, Sandoval – a lawyer and writer with homes in Manhattan and on eastern Long Island – rented a home in Farmingville in order to “tell this story from the inside out.”

Farmingville attracted national attention in September 2000, when two men drove from Queens and lured two Mexican day laborers to an abandoned factory with the promise of work. Once there, the immigrants were severely beaten. The attackers, who wore neo-Nazi and white supremacist tattoos, were convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.

More recently, a group of area teenagers pleaded guilty to firebombing a house they targeted last summer specifically because it was inhabited by a Mexican family.

“It felt a little scary at first, especially since there had already been a hate crime,” said Sandoval, a man of Mexican and Puerto Rican descent who experienced some bias firsthand. “I was walking home one day from a restaurant and a car veered right at me and somebody yelled” a racist slur.

But, he added, “part of that dissipated when people got to know me. The majority of residents of Farmingville are actually quite wonderful people.”

The film chronicles the lives of the immigrants, mostly men who send large chunks of their earnings to relatives in places like Hidalgo, Mexico, and the concerns of local residents and politicians.

Some residents united with national anti-immigration organizations. Others sought instead to get the men off the street and into a county-sponsored hiring hall – an effort that had early support but was later nixed by local officials.

The Rev. Allan Ramirez, pastor of the Brookville Reformed Church and a spokesman for day laborers, said the documentary “takes us to the core of the struggles … and helps us to understand the dynamics involved. Even though it is shown through the local level, there are national dynamics at work here.”

The struggles of Farmingville’s day laborers “mirror the experience of hundreds in communities across the country,” Ramirez said.

“The anger against the day laborers is still very present and very much a part of the community,” he added, recalling that five teenagers were arrested last summer for using fireworks to set fire to a Mexican family’s home.

Earlier this year, President Bush proposed a temporary worker program open to foreigners and people working illegally in the United States. They could work for three-year renewable periods under the plan, but must return home once their jobs are completed. The plan would allow them to apply for permanent residence.

Tambini said Bush’s plan was not perfect, but added: “I applaud him for having raised the issue. I think they really need to get together and work out the details … Clearly, something must be done.”

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AP-ES-06-16-04 1338EDT

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