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Levy puts off contractor immigration plan

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy delivers his 2011

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy delivers his 2011 State of the County address. (Feb. 15, 2011) Credit: Jessica Rotkiewicz

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy is putting off a proposal that would have required contractors to check the immigration status of all new employees after learning that a pilot verification program had not been started.

Levy had been set Tuesday to introduce the legislation, which would have asked all contractors doing business with or licensed by the county to check their new workers.

It was similar to a proposal Levy made in 2008, when Suffolk legislators opted instead to create an 18-month pilot project requiring verification of immigration status only with companies doing business with the Department of Public Works.

However, Levy said Tuesday that he discovered that the department never implemented the pilot project.

As a result, he said he is ordering the pilot project to begin immediately, and would hold off on the more far-reaching proposal. He said he was suspending Public Works Commissioner Gil Anderson for a week without pay.

Levy said no one at public works picked up the ball when the employees who were supposed to start the pilot retired. "I was livid they were not more on top of it," he said. Legis. Jon Cooper (D-Lloyd Harbor), sponsor of the pilot project, said he first heard Monday night that the pilot project had never been implemented. He described himself as "flabbergasted."

Cooper said part of the purpose of the pilot was to see if the problem of undocumented workers was widespread in the county. He said the pilot program was a compromise and said that resurrecting the broader measure would accomplish little but reignite "a bitter and all-consuming" debate the county had already had.

Tuesday afternoon, Levy said he was putting off his proposal until he saw how the pilot project went. Levy said he may offer his measure in the future.

"No one expects it to pass," the Rev. Allan Ramirez, pastor of the Brookville Reformed Church, said of Levy's broader proposal. "But he's using immigrants' desperate situation for his political gain."

Some said Tuesday that they opposed the pilot project, saying E-Verify -- in which employers can voluntarily crosscheck new employees against a federal database -- occasionally red-flags legal workers as undocumented.

Hector Figueroa, secretary- treasurer of Service Employees International Union local 32BJ, said, "These divisive enforcement-only measures misuse taxpayers' dollars and spread fear in our communities."

A Government Accountability Office report in December found that steps have been taken to improve E-Verify's accuracy.

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