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Protestors make Suffolk County uneasy over plan to ban migrants

J.D. Allen
/
WSHU
About 75 protestors rallied outside of the Suffolk County Legislature building in Hauppauge ahead of a meeting Tuesday in opposition to a proposal to hire a special council to explore legal options to block migrants arriving from the southern border.

The Suffolk County Legislature evaded plans to look for legal pathways that would block southern border migrants from relocating here.

The Republican majority announced on Sunday that they would advance a procedural measure this week to hire an outside attorney in an effort to explore legal options. Civil rights groups protested outside county legislative buildings in Hauppauge on Tuesday ahead of a regularly scheduled meeting, saying any lawsuit would be discriminatory. Then, the legislature did not discuss the issue.

J.D. Allen
/
WSHU
Legislator Kevin McCaffery (R-Lindenhurst) is the presiding officer of the Suffolk County Legislature.

“There's nothing that is happening right now that leads us to believe we have to take immediate action,” said Presiding Officer Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst) during the meeting.

The next time legislators can vote is at the next meeting on June 6, or during a special meeting, which has not been announced. The legislative clerk was expected to receive a draft of the procedural motion to hire a lawyer on Wednesday.

On Sunday, McCaffrey said he was concerned about the strain on migrant county resources. Supporters of the measure backed Republicans, saying food assistance services are already strained, housing is limited and schools would overflow.

They also called for migrants to be vetted by federal authorities, despite being part of ongoing asylum processes. However, civil rights and immigrant support groups denounced this as “fear mongering” to label asylum seekers as illegal and a deemed threat to public safety.

J.D. Allen
/
WSHU
Demonstrators held signs in the chambers of the Suffolk County Legislature to denounce hate and welcome asylum seekers to Long Island.

“Our next generation wants to be proud as Long Islanders. We don't want to be known as those crazies who are bringing about consistent hate,” said Serena Martin Ligouri, executive director of New Hour for Women and Children, “and to every lawmaker to every county official to every person in power. You have a responsibility to set the tone.”

The groups said the estimated $100,000 attorney fee is better served to shelter and feed residents of Suffolk County.

J.D. Allen
/
WSHU
Joanne Lynch, a resident of Kings Park, warned legislators of "an invasion" of migrants relocating from New York City. She was met with outbursts from the crowd of civil rights and immigration groups.

Neither Suffolk nor Nassau County has been asked to care for hundreds of migrants coming to New York City daily, according to a city spokesperson. Still, some residents, like Joanne Lynch, of Kings Park, warned of an “invasion.”

“It's not in our best interest,” Lynch said. “We don't have to build resources for these people to even get in here. We worked too hard for our American Dream for our communities to be safe and to function properly.”

“We're not going to change the hearts of people that have a disregard for people of color, right?” said Angel Reyes, with Make the Road New York. “Racists are going to be racist.”

The New York Civil Liberties Union said it is keeping an eye on Suffolk County. The civil rights group has already sued two Upstate counties for obtaining temporary restraining orders to block asylum seekers from relocating from New York City.

J.D. Allen
/
WSHU
Angel Reyes identifies as an immigrant, and is the Long Island organizing coordinator for Make the Road New York.

Immigrant support groups, including OLA of Eastern Long Island, which has served asylum seekers in the region for the past two decades, are also looking at legal options to challenge an executive order in the Town of Riverhead to prevent private hotels from accepting migrants.

“Asylum seeking is a legal way to be in this country. They are vetted, and they can work. And there is a labor shortage by the way in Suffolk County, and we can do the math,” said Minerva Perez, OLA’s executive director.

Governor Kathy Hochul has requested the Biden administration waive a federal rule that requires migrants be in the country for at least six months before they can work legally.

Hochul also asked for the Department of Defense and the National Parks Service to immediately open federal lands for housing services. In New York, she also directed her departments to evaluate state facilities for this purpose — especially SUNY campuses during the summer break. It’s unlikely that any legal action taken by Suffolk County would apply to state or federal lands.

“Stop the fear and stop the hatred because it only leads to violence,” Perez echoed.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said he would convene an intergovernmental task force to coordinate with state financial support.

“We support Governor Hochul’s coordinated and humane approach to addressing the asylum seeker issue with its focus on ensuring local taxpayers do not bear the cost, rather than the city’s recent efforts to bus people to random hotels,” Bellone, a Democrat, said in a statement.

A native Long Islander, J.D. is WSHU's managing editor. He also hosts the climate podcast Higher Ground. J.D. reports for public radio stations across the Northeast, is a journalism educator and proud SPJ member.