Gurney's Inn
March 14, 2007

Muy Caliente: Immigration Debate Heats Up Decry Bank, Road Proposals

Immigration continued to dominate public discussion this week, with a contentious hearing before the county legislature in Hauppauge, and a protest in East Hampton over the weekend.

There were more signs than demonstrators to carry them on Newtown Lane Saturday morning. About 12 protestors, more than half of them from out of town, rallied in front of the Bank of America, offering opposition to the institution's pilot program providing credit cards to presumably undocumented immigrants. In the wake of news of the program which is underway in Los Angeles and expected to go nationwide this year that allows customers to get a credit card without providing a Social Security card, North Fork Legislator Ed Romaine proposed pulling county funds from BoA. His bill is up for discussion in committee this week.

Carrying placards with sayings such as "Boycott Bank of Amexico" and "Bank of Treason," demonstrators stood in front of the bank. "It's national boycott Bank of America week," Thomas Wedell of East Moriches, founder of the Anti Illegal Immigration Association said. "We're here to say that they are breaking moral law and US law and it's got to stop."

"For the greed of a few, the masses will lose," Wedell predicted. "This is definitely not the first protest and it will not be the last. I just hope America wakes up and realizes what's going on here." He said his group has made the rounds of BoA branches on Long Island in recent weeks.

The demonstration progressed with scant reaction from passing motorists or pedestrians. One man on the street confronted sign carriers, asking why they weren't out looking for work. Police on the scene kept watch, and the pedestrian eventually walked off.

A passing motorist called out from a pickup truck, asking protestors if they wanted work. "I need three guys and I can't get any Americans," he said, stopping by to pass out his card later, "They don't stay any longer than three weeks. They say the work is too hard."

After about 30 minutes, the rally moved from Newtown Lane to the Village Green. There, rallyers shifted focus, condemning East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill McGintee for failing to solve the illegal housing issue. Rick King, of Springs, complained of rampant cases of overstuffed houses.

Earlier in the week, vociferous protest came from the other side of the issue. On March 6 in Hauppauge, the county legislature held a public hearing on a measure that, if adopted, would prohibit gathering along county roads for the purpose of seeking work. Legislators Joe Caracappa and Jack Eddington, whose districts include areas like Farmingville, where day laborers, sometimes numbering as many as 100, gather looking for work, causing what they say are severe traffic safety problems. At one site in his district, Eddington said rear end collisions brought about by contractors stopping short to pick up drivers tallied 400 in just one year. Area residents complain that whenever they stop their cars, labors swarm around the vehicles, thinking they might find work.

Over the course of almost three hours of testimony, opponents to the bill, most of them representing Latino advocacy groups, dominated public input, with scathing condemnations of the proposal as "mean-spirited" and more about scapegoating Latinos than ensuring public safety.

Rev. Allen Ramirez, an outspoken critic of County Executive Steve levy's immigration-related initiatives asked legislators, "Do you really want to be Levycrats?" He said the CE and his "series of anti-immigrant proposals" have become such an annoyance to the Latino community, they have taken to referring to him as "El Chiquitito Levy," which translates to "teeny weenie Levy."

Udi Offer, legislative counsel for the New York Civil Liberties Union opined the proposal is unconstitutional as it infringes on First Amendment rights. He said the bill has been dubbed an attempt to criminalize "Standing While Latino." Additionally, he noted that New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law already contains provisions geared toward preventing the type of traffic problems lawmakers cite as the basis for the proposal.

Some speakers predicted that prohibiting people from loitering along county roads would merely shift them to town or state roads. Legislator Elie Mystal (D., Amityville) reminded that a more permanent solution, like a work center, had been proposed and rejected by county lawmakers in the past.

Mystal, who is known for verbal shots from the hip, drew ire from GOP counterparts when he said if he had to confront hundreds of day laborers in his driveway each morning, "I would load up my shotgun and start shooting." The lawmaker later apologized for making a tasteless comment.

Latino advocates were not the only ones who expressed opposition to the bill. Roger Clayman of the Long Island Federation of Labor worried the law as written could also impede the ability of workers to demonstrate.

The bill will be discussed during committee this week. At the earliest, the measure could come before the entire legislature for a vote during its session next Tuesday.

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