Suffolk County "is a community that embraces immigrants" and values their contributions, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said Wednesday as he joined advocates in supporting an initiative to welcome those who have moved to Long Island from other countries.
Bellone hosted Long Island's celebration of Welcoming Week, a national campaign marked this year in 20 states to promote unity and meaningful talks on immigration.
The event at the county's H. Lee Dennison building in Hauppauge included a reading and discussion of an immigrant worker's story. It was seen by some as an opportunity to reset the discussion of immigration issues in a county where it had been a contentious debate about illegal immigration.
"Suffolk County is a place that welcomes new Americans," Bellone said Wednesday. "We, as a community, want to do every thing we can to work together with these new Americans, with immigrants, to integrate and bring them into our family here in Suffolk County."
The county coordinated the event with the immigrant advocacy group Long Island Wins, based in Old Westbury, and Herstory Writers Workshop, a Centereach organization that includes immigrants in its project to help women put their life stories in writing.
Maryann Sinclair Slutsky, Long Island Wins' director, praised Bellone's support as "an important change in tone," adding that "for too long in Suffolk County people who wanted to talk instructively about immigration were drowned out with negative rhetoric."
Former County Executive Steve Levy said in a telephone interview that his administration had welcomed immigrants but made a distinction "between legal and illegal immigration."
At the event, Honduran immigrant Elba Ordoñez , 37, of Hempstead, read in Spanish part of her published story about being injured working at a vitamin factory and not being taken for immediate medical care. The rest of her story was read in English for participants who included county and police officials.
"We should hear from our immigrants," said Claire McKeon, executive director of youth services in the Town of Babylon. "We all come from immigrants."
Telling stories could be a better way of creating understanding about immigrants and their place in the region, said Erika Duncan, founder and artistic director of Herstory.
"While you can argue with a political position, you cannot argue with a story," she said.