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Suffolk Closeup: Immigrant Island

Recent headlines tell the story of Suffolk County and migrants being bussed to New York City, largely from Texas and mainly Latinos, and the city pursuing help from other areas of the state. 

These include:

Counties Snub Adams Plan To Put Migrants in Suburbs

Suffolk seeks plan to block migrants

New York Mayor Sues Suffolk, Riverhead for Action on Immigration

New York City and Suburbs: A Rift Widens

Migrant Crisis Highlights Political Divide

A majority of members of the Suffolk County Legislature last month voted to hire an attorney to explore what can be done to block migrants sent to the city from being placed in Suffolk.

That followed the Town of Riverhead declaring a state of emergency mandating that “all hotels, motels, bed and breakfast facilities, inns, cottages, campgrounds or any other transient lodging units and/or facilities allowing short-term rentals do not accept said migrants and/or asylum seekers for housing.”

The chair of the Suffolk County Human Rights Commission, Lynda Perdoma-Ayala, meanwhile, has called on “lawmakers and other community leaders to work together to seek fair and reasonable solutions that do not encourage bias and discrimination toward immigrants. We know that when members of our communities are marginalized, hate and violence can result.”

She said: “Providing for people in need can be complicated, but protecting the vulnerable is a U.S. obligation. Despite the words on the Statute of Liberty, our country in the past has failed to be a refuge. We are haunted by memories of failures such as the St. Louis, which in 1939 was not permitted to dock in the United States and had to return to Europe, sending a quarter of the nearly 1,000 passengers [trying to escape from Nazi Germany] to their death.”

“The county Human Rights Commission reminds legislators and County Executive Steve Bellone that seeking asylum is protected by international law,” said Perdoma-Ayala. “Those who’ve fled countries seeking refuge from war and violence have the right to ask for protection. Asylum seekers are not illegal immigrants but humans seeking a better life no different than many of our ancestors did many years ago. Safety is a human right.”

But Suffolk County Legislator Nick Caracappa, the legislature’s Republican majority leader, says: “This is mismanagement at the top level of government. They made false promises to these individuals and encouraged them to keep coming here to America with Sanctuary Cities and other policies. We simply cannot provide for them.”

“We are having enough trouble providing for our own tax-paying citizens, our veterans and people that have mental health issues,” said Caracappa of Selden. “They’re walking the streets right now. We have people starving, families, children, begging on roadways. There are just simply not enough jobs, there’s not enough housing, there’s not enough food, there’s not enough of everything to sustain such an influx of people.”

“I’m not a racist for doing my due diligence,” said Caracappa. “They’re allowing people to cross the border, unvetted, unchecked, unhoused, unfed, unclothed, unvaccinated. It is quite frankly a huge mistake.”

As to the city’s lawsuit against Suffolk and Riverhead, he said: “We should sue them right back.”

Most interestingly, amid the intense differences on immigration — reflective of the polarities on so many issues in the U.S. today — the front-page headline of the just-published edition of this area’s leading business publication, Long Island Business News, is: “Immigrant Island.”

Its extensive article begins: “Unless you’re a Native American, you or your ancestors came here from somewhere else, making most of us either immigrants or a product of immigrants. Today there are some 550,000 foreign-born people living on Long Island, making up about a fifth of the population. And now, a new comprehensive study from the Immigration Research Institute examines how immigrants impact the Island’s economy, highlighting their contributions, career choices, compensation and challenges, while exploring their importance in the growth and development of communities throughout Nassau and Suffolk counties.”

It says: “The report, titled ‘Immigrants in the Long Island Economy: Overcoming Hurdles, Yet Still Facing Barriers,’ offers a detailed vocational accounting of those who have come to this region from other nations.” The research by the non-profit, non-partisan organization was funded by the Long Island Community Foundation.

Long Island Business News quotes the report’s co-author and director of the group, David Dyssegaard Kallick, saying: “Immigration has been such a controversial issue that we often miss the forest for the trees. Long Island has been a place where immigrants come and much of the time thrive and it’s also been good for the communities where they live.”