On Immigration Policy, Suffolk County Legislature Gets a C
Yesterday, Long Island Wins, an organization promoting immigration solutions, released a legislative scorecard grading how the Suffolk County Legislature voted on immigration and other issues critical to the middle class. DMI provided the research for the report, which evaluates how Suffolk’s legislators voted on nine bills in the 2008-9 session. Out of eighteen lawmakers, eleven received C grades and four received D grades based on their support of the middle class. Only two did well enough to get B grades.
What explains such a poor record? On policy measures regulating home energy costs, small business ownership and sustainable building practices, most legislators voted for the middle class position. But on immigration policy, the bulk of Suffolk County lawmakers consistently voted against middle class interests. They missed the opportunity to protect Suffolk workers from unfair competition, fight worker exploitation, and improve overall public safety. Instead, the Legislature chose to further an enforcement-only agenda targeting and scapegoating undocumented workers. The majority voted in favor of establishing an E-Verify pilot program, adopting employer verification requirements for the occupational licensing system and using the probation system to enforce federal immigration policy. This flawed approach to immigration policy is not in the interest of the middle class; accordingly, the legislators who championed these measures got the worst grades.
In an interview with Newsday, one legislator defended his lackluster grade by pointing to economic concerns: “We can’t afford a lot of additional spending and I usually vote against those kind of issues. Most of the time if there are fiscal issues and it involves additional dollars that have to be spent by the county, I’ll vote against it.” Perhaps he needs reminding that enforcement-only policies, like the employer verification scheme included in the Scorecard, are costly and ineffective, particularly for small businesses that help fuel Suffolk's economy.
We argue that stepping up immigration enforcement further undermines the middle class by threatening to drive undocumented immigrants underground, where they remain more vulnerable to exploitation by bad-faith employers. When employers take advantage of these workers’ undocumented status, this degrades the labor conditions that all workers rely on. Moreover, enforcement only policies hurt the middle class by reducing immigrants’ contributions to Long Island’s economy, estimated at more than $10 billion. Suffolk lawmakers should instead pursue immigration policies that strengthen and expand these contributions. With legal status, immigrants would be in a better position to find good jobs, open small businesses and pay more taxes to bolster the local economy.
This Scorecard is a snapshot of the decisions made by elected officials that purport to represent the middle class. Too often, the Legislature failed to advance the positive, inclusive immigration policies that would advance this agenda. Going forward, we hope that Suffolk residents will use this as a tool to hold their lawmakers accountable if they continue to drop the ball.