One of the burdens I carry is the knowledge that I come from one of the country’s anti-immigrant hotspots. No, I am not from Arizona, Alabama, Postville, Iowa or Hazelton, Pennsylvania. I grew up in Suffolk County on the eastern end of Long Island, New York. While Suffolk County never passed laws like Arizona’s infamous SB 1070 or Alabama’s even more odious HB 56, Suffolk County gained notoriety for an even more loathsome practice– extreme violence against immigrants.
This phenomenon really got underway in 2004 when Israel Perez and Magdaleno Escamilla, day laborers from Mexico, were lured to a basement in Farmingville, NY with the promise of work where they were beaten and stabbed. This hate crime occured as local anti-immigrant organizations used more and more inflammatory rhetoric against immigrants and aligned themselves with well-known white supremacists such as Glenn Spencer. PBS sponsored a documentary about the violence and its aftermath:
In 2008, Ecuadorean Marcelo Lucero was stabbed to death on the streets of Patchogue, New York. Mr. Lucero was walking down the street, when he was attacked by a group of young men who went out to “beat on some Mexicans.” This episode introduced the world to the practice of “beaner-hopping,” which is an activity where young men would find Hispanic men and beat them in the street.
During much of this time, the County Executive for Suffolk County was a despicable little troll named Steve Levy, who sought national prominence by bashing immigrants at every turn. Rather than manage the affairs of his county, Levy attacked immigrants, changed parties and sought the Republican nomination for governor. Levy assumed that he could ride his harsh rhetoric to Albany and never considered whether his words may have contributed to the climate that killed Lucero. His huge campaign warchest was not enough to buy the nomination for governor and Levy declined to seek another term as executive, handing over $4m in campaign funds to the District Attorney, all but acknowledging serial corruption.
Suffolk County has a new executive, who signed an executive order earlier this month requiring agencies to translate official documents into several languages. The county has 1.5 million residents, 20 percent of whom speak languages other than English at home. Interestingly, these are the languages other than English most commonly used in Suffolk: Italian, Mandarin, Spanish, Polish, French Creole and Portuguese.
That Levy would be out of office, Lucero’s killer in jail, and Suffolk residents contributing to the re-election of the President committed to immigration reform shows that, even in the darkest corners, the sun light can come in. I am very relieved. Mo Goldman, help is on the way!