3.12.2007

Immigration panderfest

Immigration panderfest
Suffolk legislators descend into mania in futile effort to solve global problem
(Long Island Newsday - March 12, 2007)

In the past year or two, the Suffolk County Legislature has looked statesmanlike in contrast to the zany events in the Nassau County Legislature. But now, anti-immigrant mania is driving Suffolk lawmakers off the rails. Overnight, they're tumbling from statesmanship into demagoguery.

First, it was an anti-loitering bill, designed to keep the day workers off county roads. At a raucous public hearing last Tuesday, Legis. Elie Mystal (D-Amityville) - a verbal loose cannon - "joked" that he "would load up my gun and start shooting" if large numbers of immigrants gathered near his home. It's not funny. Anti-immigrant talk, even in jest, can lead to violence.

Now Legis. Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches), a former history teacher who should know better, wants the county to stop using the Bank of America, all because of an innocent and legal pilot program in Los Angeles that he construes as aiding illegal immigrants. The bank is serving its customers and following the rules. If some of them are immigrants striving to build a credit rating, that merits praise - not censure.

The essential mismatch is between ill-conceived local laws and the global scope of the problem. Critics of the day workers like to say that they're illegal. Some are. But they got to be illegal because of the nation's inconsistent policy about globalization. We seek complete integration of all the elements of the world economy, such as the flow of goods, capital and services - but not labor. At the same time as trade with Mexico opened up, Princeton sociologist Douglas Massey points out, we have closed down the borders.

Immigration used to be circular. Workers came here, made money and went back to Mexico. Now, our immigration policy has made that homeward flow harder. Those macro policies are the real cause, and breathtakingly dumb local laws like these will do nothing to alter that reality.

It's bad enough that County Executive Steve Levy is the panderer in chief on this issue. The legislature, whose role is to counterbalance the executive, abdicates its responsibility when it tries to demagogue right along with him.