Time to recognize strengths of LI's immigrants

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Joye Brown Newsday columnist Joye Brown

Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006. She joined the newspaper in 1983 and has ...

Immigrant-rich Elmont pulled off the almost-impossible two years in a row.

First, the multiethnic community, home to Haitian, Asian, East Asian and other immigrants, pulled behind newcomer CarriƩ Solages to defeat a veteran county legislator in 2011.

One year later, the community did it again, making another newcomer, Solages' sister, Michaelle, the first person of Haitian heritage elected to the state Assembly.

The community's political prowess was likely one reason why it was divided in a new redistricting map signed last week by Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano.

The new map was drawn to give Republicans -- as it had been a decade earlier to give Democrats -- an election advantage in a county where the immigrant population is booming.

But did Republicans do themselves harm by ignoring requests from Elmont -- and a host of other Nassau communities -- that wanted to remain the same?

The answer is no, unless residents turn their anger into votes.

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"Angry doesn't do it," Michael Dawidziak, a political consultant who has worked on campaigns for Republicans and Democrats, said in an interview as we stood outside a forum in Patchogue. "Angry and turning out to vote against what made you angry does."

Dawidziak was one of many -- including a Suffolk County lawmaker and a Babylon town board member -- attending the forum called "The Economic Benefits of Immigration Reform."

The discussion, mostly about immigration and its impact on Long Island, was especially relevant as the nation -- finally! -- begins the process of refashioning a failed immigration policy.

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According to a report in the Los Angeles Times Monday, a bipartisan group of senators have agreed on a path to legal status for millions of illegal residents -- although it's too early to know specifics of what that would entail.

The moves in Washington may have provided a backdrop to Monday's discussion in Patchogue, but on Long Island, when it comes to immigration, several things already are clear.

Immigrants -- such as those who voted in Elmont, and those who spoke up against the redistricting proposal in Nassau -- are changing the region.

Legal and illegal, they account for the fastest-growing population, and that's important because without immigrants, Long Island likely would have lost a congressional seat after the last U.S. census.

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Immigrants are opening businesses, providing a needed boost to communities such as Hicksville; and they are essential to farming and other portions of the local economy.

According to a Sunday Newsday report, the number of students is declining in many local school districts -- except in communities where immigrant populations are growing.

If the projections of falling student enrollment hold, there could come a time when it will cost twice as much to educate half the current number of students in some of the region's wealthier school districts.

Would that make the idea of countywide school districts -- which, even now, would provide significant property tax relief -- palatable?

Such are the policy and economic challenges the region will have to grapple with as immigrants grow in number, economic strength and political power.

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Long Island's strength is in its present -- with immigrants who are increasingly essential to the region's well-being and future growth.

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