Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone joined immigrant advocates unveiling an advertising campaign at the Brentwood railroad station Tuesday to back their push for registered status and eventual citizenship for those living in the country illegally.
In his year and a half in office, Bellone has praised immigrants' contributions and ordered that key county documents be translated into six languages. But Tuesday's event marked the first time he waded into the debate over federal immigration policy.
"Immigration is good for our country . . . and it doesn't matter what group of immigrants or what time period it is, they have the same hopes and aspirations and dreams of every other immigrant group," Bellone said. "It is time for us to pass comprehensive immigration reform. The time is now. It is good for our county. It is good for our country."
Advocates took his remarks as a welcome change from the previous county administration. Immigrant rights groups had challenged former County Executive Steve Levy over his opposition to "amnesty" for residents living in the country without legal permission and the handling of the 2008 hate killing of Ecuadorean immigrant Marcelo Lucero in Patchogue.
Maryann Sinclair Slutsky, director of immigrant advocacy group Long Island Wins, said Bellone's backing "represents an important change in tone."
Bellone described his approach as a departure from "the politics of division" to "diversity and inclusiveness."
Levy, now a consultant, said that he "wouldn't wear it as a badge of honor that advocates for illegal immigration are holding you up as a poster boy."
The new billboards will be displayed at Long Island Rail Road stations on the Ronkonkoma and Babylon lines, advocates said. The ads, paid by the SEIU 32BJ labor union, urge voters to ask Congress for "immigration reform with a path to citizenship."