August 02, 2006
Passion and Politics at Immigration Forum
The issues surrounding immigration are very emotional ones, Jon Schneider, district director for Congressman Tim Bishop said. "While we cannot and should not deny this we also must not allow emotion to overcome reason." And, for the most part, attendees at the East Hampton Town Democratic Committee's public forum last Thursday night didn't.
Sparks flew briefly during the event, the first public "issues" event hosted by the committee. Herb McKay, a town board watcher known for a confrontational demeanor, took umbrage when Committee chair Chuck Hitchcock called for a five minute break. Panelists had given their presentation, and next on the agenda were questions from the audience. McKay complained about the format, which called for audience members to write questions down.
As he fulminated, without listening to assurances that he would indeed have a chance to address the panel, David Wilt, called him an "asshole," prompting another outburst. It was eventually diffused.
Hitchcock opened proceedings, explaining that the committee felt the issue of immigration has had an impact on East Hampton, making it an apt topic for discussion. Panelists included East Hampton Village administrator Larry Cantwell and Town Supervisor Bill McGintee. The pair spoke of the impact of immigration on their respective municipalities.
Alex Jerez a scholarship student attending Harvard, and East Hampton High School's valedictorian in 2004, detailed what it is like to grow up Latino in East Hampton.
Sonya Montesdeoca and her sponsor Kristi Hood detailed how difficult it is to procure a green card, and Jacqui Candemir owner of Springs travel discussed the need to debunk myths about immigrants.
Every day, all day long, Candemir said she works with immigrants to help them fill out federal tax forms. That they don't pay taxes is simply not true, she asserted. Additionally she believes that while the town is cracking down on illegal houses (see article on the effort elsewhere in this edition) officials should also do something about how many businesses exploit workers. She hears stories of abuse and the circumventing of labor laws "day in and day out," she reported.
Hood and Montesdeoca unveiled the long, arduous and expensive road to a green card.
With Hood's sponsorship, Montesdeoca procured a green card, but said repeatedly "it is not easy." Still, the native of Ecuador said she's happy to be in the United States because "we feel safe. You don't have to worry about food. You don't have to worry about rape." Hood extolled her worker's contribution to the community and encouraged other business owners to sponsor immigrants. "I'm grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the diversity of this community, she said.
Jerez emphasized Latinos in the community come from 22 different republics. Each differs in art, culture, history and traditions. He feels the community harbors a "critical misunderstanding" of the differences among Latino immigrants. Immigrants are different from each other just as much as long time East Hampton residents are different from others living in town, he said.
Most questions were posed to the government reps — Schneider, McGintee and Cantwell.
Asked to predict when the US will have an immigration bill in place, Schneider expressed doubts for action from the current congress. Quoting Illinois Democrat Congressman Rahm Emanuel, he said, "Republicans are running a single issue campaign on an issue where they don't have a single accomplishment."
Cantwell and McGintee both were asked to weigh in on the notion of constructing a hiring hall. Neither expressed support of the idea. McGintee spoke of the economic impact the increased immigrant population has meant to long time established local businesses. He feels that impact is the cause of some of the ill will toward immigrants. Cantwell said village officials don't see a need for a hall. Instead, they believe employees and employers should interact with one another "the traditional way."