Gurney's Inn
August 16, 2006

Latino Advocates Threaten Immigration Lawsuit

Purveyors of anarchy. Sounds like an 80s punk band, but those are the words County Executive Steve Levy used to christen critics of his latest immigration proposal.

Speaking out against the plan last week, opponents, many of them representatives from Latino advocacy groups, returned the favor, painting a picture of the leader as one who is simply trying to grab headlines and foment racism. One group in particular, the Puerto Rican Legal Defense And Education Fund, a nationwide civil rights organization, subsequently threatened to sue should the legislature adopt Levy's measure.

The proposal mimics federal law, seeking to ensure immigrant workers are properly documented. Levy's law targets companies, including not-for-profits, who have contracts with the county, requiring them to certify workers are eligible to work in the United States and setting fines for non-compliance. In the face of opponents' complaints, Levy recently dismissed arguments by stating his bill simply builds on what the feds already have in place.

That it's redundant was one reason why speakers at the legislative session on August 8 oppose the plan. Susan Steinman of Mastic Beach said she is opposed to the expense of the plan because it duplicates federal law. It would create "a whole new level of bureaucracy," she said, in a county where taxes are high as it is. Ed Dumas, Levy's spokesman, did not return repeated requests for comment on the potential cost the proposal might incur.

Additionally, like most who testified, Steinman predicted the law would result in discrimination. Rather than deal with the additional paperwork, employers will "hire the guy who looks like Beaver Cleaver."

Advocates agreed. Patrick Young of the Central American Resource Center cited a study undertaken by the General Accounting Office, an independent federal agency, shortly after the first federal law was adopted in the 80s. One in five American employers admitted discriminating against employees who weren't "mainstream," Young reported.

The advocate, who is an immigration attorney, also looked askance at Levy's failure to include the same anti-discrimination provisions the federal bill contains. In other words, the Levy bill contains the anti-immigrant portion of the federal bill without the balance of the anti-discrimination section, Young explained.

Luis Valenzuela of the Long Island Immigrant Alliance reported that a similar bill adopted in Pennsylvania has already resulted in an increase in hate crimes. Signs have popped up in storefronts warning "No Illegals." He opined all Latinos are perceived as illegal. "This message is toxic for our county," Jim McAsey of Jobs With Justice Long Island declared. He urged lawmakers to ask Levy to stop his campaign against the immigrant population, "His polls are high enough." Like most speakers, McAsey charged the measure is little more than an effort to grab headlines.

Beyond the advocates and individuals, the bill has also garnered opposition from at least two labor unions. Michelle Lynch of 1199 SEIU, which represents health care workers and contributed thousands to Levy's campaign fund, disparaged the proposal as "fanning the flames of hatred."

The bill was sent to committee for further review. According to an informal poll conducted by Newsday, 16 of the 18 members of the legislature have expressed a willingness to support the CE's proposal.

If they do, PRLDEF head Cesar Perales warned, they can expect a legal challenge. PRLDEF recently prevailed in court against the Town of Brookhaven, he reported. The organization sued the town for evicting people from a suspected overcrowded house without adequate notice. PRLDEF is also launching a legal challenge against the law in PA.

In the Suffolk suit, Perales will argue that the county is usurping the powers of the federal government. Levy's spokesman was not available to offer rebuttal to the notion of a suit either.

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