Levy and immigration issues are forever linked
Public passion surrounding illegal immigration has a way of raging and then abating, for months at a time, through public hallways and government offices, from Phoenix to Hauppauge.
For a while it seemed as if the whole issue fell from the official radar, amid reports that the economic crisis had slowed or reversed job-driven migrations.
The tide of debate swells again.
Last week, Arizona enacted a controversial measure requiring those who have immigration documents to carry them at all times. Police would be mandated to question people on reasonable suspicion that they're undocumented. Citizens could sue localities and counties for failing to enforce the laws.
Closer to home, Jeffrey Conroy, 19, was convicted earlier this month of a hate crime in the slaying of Ecuadorean national Marcelo Lucero in Patchogue in November 2008, renewing assertions that local elected leaders driving public crackdowns help create an atmosphere for such attacks.
The confluence of these distant events - just as federal lawmakers discuss when to revisit immigration reform - has a way of turning local political conversations to the subject of Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy.
More than any other state candidate, he's drawn regional and even national exposure for his postures and official actions regarding illegal immigrants.
When Conroy was convicted, Levy's public statement focused tightly on the crime. "A heinous, reprehensible act was committed," he said. "It is my hope that the sentence will properly reflect the brutal and blind hatred that was displayed on the night of the murder."
As for the Arizona law, Levy gave neither "aye" nor a "nay." "There are parts of the bill that seem very rational, which is the enforcement at the work site," he said. But he quickly added: "If this bill is calling for police to randomly ask people for their papers, I oppose it and it's unconstitutional. We've never done that in Suffolk County." Only when someone is arrested is an individual's information checked against a federal database in the county, he insisted.
"If you want to deal with the issue of illegal immigration you can solve it tomorrow," he said, by broadening the legal use of a federal database system that includes Homeland Security and Social Security data. "Democrats look the other way at illegal immigration because they want to grow their base once these individuals become legalized through amnesty, which they're hoping for. And Republicans, many of the Republican big business owners have looked the other way because they like the cheap labor," he said.
Nowadays, Levy antagonists denounce his postures on a wider stage. Levy, in defense, condemns his critics. When Charlie King, the state Democratic Party's executive director, portrayed him as intolerant, Levy predicted such attacks wouldn't succeed with "moderate Democrats who don't believe in [King's] advocacy for illegal immigration, or his politically correct distortions."
Members of the state's Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus circulated a letter that goes as far as to say Levy "has seldom missed an opportunity to agitate festering racial tensions to boost his poll numbers on the backs of people of color."
Levy says this charge and statements used to support it amount to "flat-out lies."