Suffolk County legislator presiding officer Kevin McCaffrey.

Suffolk County legislator presiding officer Kevin McCaffrey. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Republican Suffolk County legislators held a news conference Sunday to make a big announcement: They are hiring a lawyer! It was a topic Presiding Officer Kevin McCaffrey could have addressed directly at Tuesday's legislative session but he acknowledges that his goal was to send a loud message to New York City Mayor Eric Adams saying that migrants seeking asylum are not welcome here.

McCaffrey said he had to make it known that the controlling majority on the legislature would take legal action to stop any relocation efforts. "We don't want them to be our problem," he told us.

Dealing with the swell of asylum-seekers caused by a total breakdown of policymaking in Washington is a vexing matter no matter your view on what should be done. But McCaffrey's political framing of the issue can dangerously stoke existing and aggressive anti-immigration views. 

There is no question that Long Island officials have a fiduciary duty to their residents to keep them safe and to responsibly spend their taxpayer dollars. This international and national problem can't be resolved on the backs of local government; there are not enough resources to quickly house and assist significant number of migrants without massive federal financial aid and intergovernmental coordination. Now Democrats in northern cities understand what has been happening in southern border states that have been dealing with this crisis for a much longer time.

On Monday, Gov. Kathy Hochul and Adams repeated their call for Washington to expedite work permits for asylum-seekers which right now can take three times longer to obtain than the standard 180 days. Getting work permits for those here legally, which asylum-seekers are, is fundamental to easing the situation and can be a benefit for employers around the region who are seeking labor. More important, getting people to be self-supporting while their applications are pending seems the most logical and humane approach. There are thousands of jobs in agriculture and food service industries open in New York that these migrants want to fill.

Adams' criticism of the Biden administration is justified but the mayor's attempt to make private deals with hotel owners in the Hudson Valley also inflamed the politics. There are federal facilities in New York City and around the state where housing and other services can best be provided. Any local governments asked to shoulder part of this effort need guarantees of funding for safety, health and education  as well as a timeline and total transparency about what is being done. 

What's not needed is officials irresponsibly feeding fears. Consider why someone from Central or South America would walk thousands of miles, some with young children, braving many hardships and danger. It's to give their families a better life in the U.S. Sound familiar?

That beacon which once called the ancestors of now-comfortable Long Islanders hasn't faded. Compassion should inform our way of finding pragmatic solutions to this crisis.

MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.

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