Immigrant advocates reacted angrily to a trio of bills that could affect undocumented immigrants in Suffolk County and pleaded Tuesday with legislators to steer clear of the divisive issue.
Although much of the debate was postponed, advocates warned legislators that the bills would resurrect the bitter climate of years past and reminded them of the hate-killing of Ecuadorean immigrant Marcelo Lucero in 2008.
"These are the types of bills that led to an anti-Latino, anti-immigrant hate climate here," said Luis Valenzuela, who heads the Long Island Immigrant Alliance.
Advocates were most upset about two bills from County Executive Steve Levy. His measures would require companies doing business with the county and those holding occupational licenses to check the immigration status of their hires through the E-Verify federal program.
Immigrant and civil rights groups also protested a bill by Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley), which seeks to restrict sales of prepaid cellphones used by many undocumented immigrants and low-income residents.
Browning tabled her proposal, which also was opposed by some members of the Working Families Party. Browning said foes are acting on misinformation, and she is confident the measure will pass at the legislature's next meeting.
"These bills are really more news releases against immigrants than well-thought-out legislation," said Patrick Young, program director of CARECEN, a Long Island immigrant-advocacy group.
Legis. Ricardo Montano (D-Brentwood) moved to postpone the debate on E-Verify until Nov. 9, after the budget is reviewed. The delay, seconded by Presiding Officer William Lindsey (D-Holbrook), irked Levy.
"We think the voters have a right to know where their legislators stand on the issue before the election this fall," Levy said in a statement. "E-Verify is a common-sense method of checking the accuracy of Social Security numbers submitted to ensure that employers do not get a competitive advantage."
Elaine Kahl, of the Suffolk County Coalition for Legal Immigration/No Amnesty, agreed. "E-Verify will make us all equal, according to the rule of law."
E-Verify is a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services program that helps companies check new hires against a federal database. People not authorized to work have to be fired.
More than 900 companies in Nassau and Suffolk have enrolled. An 18-month pilot program, approved by Suffolk in 2008, did not start until March.
With Rick Brand