SUFFOLK COUNTY, NY - LEVY IMMIGRANT BILL - NEWSDAY - AUG 2006 COVERAGE
Pols ponder immigrant law
BY JAMES T. MADORE
Newsday Staff Writer
August 24, 2006
Suffolk's ability to curb illegal immigration through County Executive Steve Levy's controversial immigrant workers bill is now being questioned by lawmakers, after more than a month of discussion by advocates and the public.
Though the formal debate is weeks away, county legislators who support Levy's resolution joined with opponents Tuesday night in expressing skepticism about enforcement. They also questioned whether the county has jurisdiction over immigration, which has been the domain of the U.S. government. Lawmakers fired questions at the labor commissioner and county attorney, who will enforce the bill should it be adopted.
The lawmakers wondered if more employees would be needed to monitor compliance with the measure, which requires thousands of county contractors to sign an affidavit stating their employees are eligible to work in the United States. Fourteen of the 18 legislators have told Newsday they support the resolution.
"I have no problem voting for this, but the county executive wants to pass a law with no enforcement," said Legis. Edward P. Romaine (R-Center Moriches), pointing to a report from Levy that states his bill would have no impact on the county budget.
Levy, a Democrat, said yesterday that "any additional resources needed would be nominal at best." He also said he was committed to full enforcement through "spot checks," which "create a chilling effect on the entire industry."
Legis. Thomas F. Barraga (R-West Islip), who said he supports Levy's bill, questioned whether contractors would make "a good faith" effort to verify their workers are legal given past abuses. "Where are the teeth to this thing?"
Legis. John M. Kennedy Jr. (R-Nesconset), who is undecided, agreed, adding that he is concerned Suffolk will be pre-empted by federal officials, who have authority over immigration. "I am not of a mind to support something that will fall with the first [legal] challenge," Kennedy said.
Opponents of the measure, including the New York Civil Liberties Union, predicted Levy's resolution would be voided by a federal judge.
County attorney Christine Malafi said Suffolk was on firm legal ground because the bill's provisions are limited to businesses and others doing work for the county. "I will take on a lawsuit," she added.
In other business Tuesday, the legislature unanimously overrode Levy's veto of a 4 percent increase in the 2007 budget for Suffolk County Community College.
Levy yesterday expressed disappointment at the override, saying the legislature had missed an opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to containing education costs. Two legislative commissions currently are studying how to rein in school property taxes.
The legislature will reconvene at 9:30 a.m. on Sept. 5 in Hauppauge to take up the many bills still on its agenda and hearings that were extended because public notices were missing from a Smithtown weekly newspaper.
Taking it to the streets
Both immigrant advocates and those against undocumented workers
debate merits of Levy's verification bill
BY JAMES T. MADORE
Newsday Staff Writer
August 23, 2006
More than 200 union members, immigrant advocates and people opposed to undocumented workers rallied last night outside the Suffolk Legislature's building in Hauppauge to debate the merits of County Executive Steve Levy's immigrant workers bill.
Some people waved American flags. Others held up homemade signs urging the undocumented to go home. And one man dressed up as Uncle Sam.
The crowd remained orderly as police stood nearby and watched as speakers hotly debated whether Suffolk should require businesses and other entities with government contracts to sign affidavits stating their employees are eligible to work in the United States.
Later, inside, nearly 50 people testified before the legislature, in which 14 of the 18 members have told Newsday they support Levy's resolution. During the three-hour hearing, supporters of the bill outnumbered opponents 2 to 1.
Susan Steinmann of Mastic Beach complained about the chants of "Go home" that she heard outside the building. "I want our county to stand up for what is fine, good and decent. . . . Many of the problems [with undocumented workers] are real, but we should solve them in a way that doesn't demonize people."
Robert DiCarlo, a former state senator from Brooklyn who now lives in Stony Brook, urged Suffolk lawmakers to adopt Levy's bill, which seeks to strengthen enforcement of a 20-year-old federal law. He and others called for even tougher penalties than what are included in Levy's resolution.
Speakers from the Greater Farmingville Civic Association and the Suffolk County Minuteman Civil Defense Corps described illegal immigration as "an invasion" that is undermining the quality of life. "These [government contracted] jobs must be kept open for people who belong here," said Ronald Lewandowski of the Minuteman group.
Immigrant advocates countered that such statements, combined with Levy's bill, would increase discrimination. "Every time there is a problem in Suffolk County - it's the illegals who are blamed," said Luis Valenzuela of the Long Island Immigrant Alliance. "Veterans are being asked to 'go home,'" he said, referring to naturalized citizens who have served in the U.S. military.
Legis. Joseph T. Caracappa (R-Selden), who is co-sponsoring Levy's measure, emphasized the importance of all governments enforcing the law. But Legis. Vivian Viloria-Fisher (D-Setauket), an opponent, questioned its necessity. "We should be enforcing the prevailing wage law that we have. Why do we need another law?" she said.
Presiding Officer William Lindsay (D-Holbrook) announced that the public hearing would be adjourned to Sept. 5 - because of a mishap with a Smithtown weekly newspaper that failed to publish the hearing notice.
Biz group criticizes bill
Long Island Assn. says Levy worker bill's penalties too stiff,
doesn't do enough to protect businesses
BY JAMES T. MADORE
Newsday Staff Writer
August 22, 2006
The Long Island Association, the region's largest business group, has come out against Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy's controversial immigrant workers bill.
Citing a lack of protections for businesses that act in "good faith" and overly harsh penalties, Long Island Association president Matthew T. Crosson yesterday urged Levy to amend his resolution, which was introduced into the county legislature recently. A hearing on the bill is set for 5:30 p.m. today in Hauppauge.
In an Aug. 18 letter to Levy, Crosson said: "It is our position that if the county is going to enforce Simpson-Mazzoli, then all of the protections carefully built into that law by Congress should be applied at the county level."
Levy's bill seeks to toughen enforcement of the 1986 Simpson-Mazzoli Act, which requires employers to verify that workers came here legally. Federal officials aren't monitoring the law, he said. A spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement did not return a call seeking comment.
Levy's measure, which appears to have the backing of 14 of the 18 legislators, would require businesses and others with Suffolk contracts to file a sworn affidavit each year stating their workforce doesn't include undocumented workers. Penalties for a false affidavit include fines of up to $2,000 or 6 months in jail.
Such measures are far stricter than the federal law, Crosson said yesterday. He also was troubled that no accommodation was made for the "good-faith" efforts of employers to determine that their workers are legal.
However, Crosson stressed the LIA is not opposed to worker verification or Suffolk's enforcement attempts.
Levy responded by saying the Long Island Association "should be more proactive in protecting its legitimate businesses that are being hurt by the cheaters" who use undocumented workers. He said his bill's penalties are no different from those in federal law.
"But we will be open-minded to implement some of their more reasonable suggestions," Levy added, echoing a statement he made after Local 1199 of the Service Employees International Union criticized the bill's anti-discrimination clause.
SEIU, immigrant advocates and the Long Island Council of Churches have predicted Levy's bill will spur racial discrimination. Unions representing construction workers, however, have argued that their jobs and wages are being undermined by undocumented workers.
No detour for Levy bill
Despite push to have immigration measure tabled,
public hearing is set for Tuesday, even as county exec considers some new amendments
BY JAMES T. MADORE
Newsday Staff Writer
August 18, 2006
An attempt to derail Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy's latest proposal to curb illegal immigration by bottling up the bill in a legislative committee failed yesterday, but opponents vowed to try again.
Eleven of the 19 people who spoke before the county legislature's ways and means committee criticized Levy's plan requiring government contractors to verify that their employees are eligible to work in the United States. Several speakers called for the bill to be "tabled, subject to call," which the legislature's top lawyer George M. Nolan said later was the equivalent of burying the resolution.
"Table this bill so that we can get together to come up with a new and better solution" to the problems of illegal immigration, said Brother Clark Berge of the Episcopal church's Society of St. Francis. He said the undocumented workers he helps are here to earn money to feed their families back home.
Berge, of Mount Sinai, and others see the committee as the best arena for stopping the bill from Levy, a Democrat.
Of the six members, Legis. Ricardo Montano (D-Central Islip) opposes the measure; Edward P. Romaine (R-Center Moriches) supports the underlying concept, but is a political foe of Levy; Elie Mystal (D-Amityville), a naturalized citizen originally from Haiti, voted against immigration bills in the past, but told Newsday he supports this one; Steven H. Stern (D-Dix Hills) declared his support, but is being lobbied by union opponents; and John M. Kennedy Jr. (R-Nesconset) is undecided.
Committee chairman Louis D'Amaro (D-North Babylon), a co-sponsor of Levy's measure, said a formal public hearing - set for Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. in Hauppauge - must take place before the committee can vote.
Later, Levy vowed to prevent his resolution from dying. He will consider further amendments to strengthen the anti-discrimination clause, which opponents have demanded.
"This is a red herring from organizations that really cannot come up with a good argument against this bill. Nevertheless, we will modify it to incorporate their concerns," he said.
Leaders of unions representing electrical workers and insulators urged adoption of the bill, saying wages and benefits are being reduced because contractors evade industry practices by hiring the undocumented.
"This has nothing to do with black versus white," said Mario Mattera of the Plumbers Union, Local 200. "This has everything to do with greed and money. These contractors are exploiting these workers," he said.
Matthew Chartrand of the Iron Workers Union, Local 361, agreed, saying immigrants often don't pay taxes because they are paid in cash.
Such statements angered Blanca Calderon of Brentwood, who immigrated to the United States in 1980 to escape a civil war in El Salvador. "I've paid taxes and experienced discrimination."
Levy's alliance on immigration
King, a Republican, endorses Suffolk exec's plan
to require contractors to verify workers' eligibility
BY JAMES T. MADORE
Newsday Staff Writer
August 17, 2006
Flanked by construction union leaders and Rep. Peter King, Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy yesterday called on municipalities across the country to replicate his controversial proposal requiring government contractors to verify that their employees are eligible to work in the United States.
"This type of legislation not only has an impact on us here in Suffolk County, but if the model is followed throughout the nation it can have a major impact from California to Maine," Levy said. "We would ... help stem the flow of illegal immigration across our borders."
Levy's declaration came only a day after advocates for immigrants filed lawsuits against Hazleton, Pa., and Riverside, N.J., to block ordinances that target undocumented workers by penalizing employers and landlords. The Hazleton suit was brought by the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, which also has threatened to sue Suffolk if Levy's bill passes the county legislature, where 14 of 18 members told Newsday they support the measure.
Late yesterday, Levy amended his resolution to include anti-discrimination clauses for workers and job applicants of county contractors. The Central American Refugee Center and other groups had criticized him for omitting such language from the original bill, the first of its kind in the state.
Lawmakers will hear today from immigrant-rights groups, ministers and leaders of construction unions as the ways and means committee takes up the resolution.
King (R-Seaford) endorsed the plan by Levy, a Democrat, saying the Bush administration had failed to enforce a 20-year-old law requiring employers to vouch for their workers' legal status.
King is facing a challenge for re-election from Legis. David Mejias (D-North Massapequa), the first Latino elected to the Nassau Legislature. Levy hasn't yet made an endorsement but won't back King, despite their agreement on this and several other issues, a spokesman said.
Union leaders representing construction workers said their jobs and wages are being threatened because contractors are hiring the undocumented to avoid paying prevailing wages and benefits.
Levy lashed out at what he called "opponents" of his bill, including the Long Island Association, the region's largest business group. "We just believe there has been tremendous hypocrisy here," he said, pointing to what he claimed were contradictory statements.
LIA vice president Mitchell Pally responded that Levy had mistaken for opposition the group's concerns about harsh penalties for businesses and no accommodation for the "good faith" efforts of employers to determine that their workers are legal. Pally said the LIA hadn't yet taken a position on Levy's measure but supports the concept of "requiring employers to ascertain the legal status of their employees."
The Service Employees International Union, one of the state's most powerful, opposes Levy's proposal. Shirley Aldebol of SEIU Local 32BJ said the bill was "bad for Long Island because it is costly for business and taxpayers, does not ensure that workers will be treated with dignity or paid fair wages."
In a letter to lawmakers, the Puerto Rican defense fund called Levy's measure "unlawful" because it "infringes on the exclusive federal power over immigration policy." A spokesman for Levy said he would be "undeterred" by the group's threatened lawsuit.
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- Plainfield resident since 1983. Retired as the city's Public Information Officer in 2006; prior to that Community Programs Coordinator for the Plainfield Public Library. Founding member and past president of: Faith, Bricks & Mortar; Residents Supporting Victorian Plainfield; and PCO (the outreach nonprofit of Grace Episcopal Church). Supporter of the Library, Symphony and Historic Society as well as other community groups, and active in Democratic politics.