November 14, 2012
In recent years, states and localities from Arizona and Alabama to Hazleton, Pennsylvania, have passed laws and ordinances to make immigrants’ lives unbearable—what some call “attrition through enforcement.” Suffolk County, NY (located in the central and eastern portion of Long Island) was until recently a paradigmatic case of such an approach.
Only one week after a historic election in which Latino voters played a deciding role in choosing the president, Suffolk County’s new county executive, Steve Bellone, signed an executive order guaranteeing translation and interpretation services to residents with limited English proficiency. The result: a potential model for how pro-immigrant advocates can work with elected officials to change the tenor of immigration politics in this country.
Until last year, Suffolk County was dominated by County Executive Steve Levy, who frequently blamed undocumented immigrants for Suffolk’s problems, appearing with famed restrictionists like Lou Dobbs and supporting legislative proposals that targeted immigrants. Levy and other officials fanned the flames of nativist sentiment in a tense climate that became rife with hate crimes against Latinos, culminating in the tragic hate murder of Ecuadorian immigrant Marcelo Lucero.