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Mar 17, 2009 5:37 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Immigration coalition holds its first forum

Mar 17, 2009 5:37 PM

Residents representing all sides of issues pertaining to immigration, both legal and illegal, packed the Southampton Town Annex in Hampton Bays on Friday night to take part in a forum aimed at fostering a civil discussion of a controversial topic.

The event was hosted by U.S. Representative Tim Bishop, New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. and Southampton Town Councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst, who recently formed a coalition to address how immigration impacts the East End of Long Island. Titled “Immigration in the Hamptons: Beginning a Community Dialogue,” it was the first in a series of forums that the lawmakers hope will attract a diverse group of citizens committed to solving an issue that has stumped Republican and Democratic administrations alike. A second forum has not been scheduled.

Along with the three legislators, the panel included Julio Gonzalez, associate professor of education at the State University of New York at Old Westbury; Joanne Loewenthal, superintendent of the Hampton Bays School District; Robert Chaloner, CEO of Southampton Hospital; Laura Anker, professor of American Studies at SUNY-Westbury; and Southampton Town Justice Andrea Schiavoni, who moderated the event.

Mr. Bishop kicked off the night by stating that there were two facts that everyone should agree upon: The federal government has failed to solve the issue, and the status quo isn’t working. Though the congressman said the coalition’s goals were to generate a dialogue free of the passions that usually inflame the immigration debate, it didn’t take long for some of that hostility to surface.

Ron Lewandowski, a Southampton Town and Suffolk County Conservative Party committee member and the leader of the Eastern Suffolk chapter of the Minutemen, questioned Mr. Bishop’s motives in attending a meeting last month of the Organización Latino Americana, where, Mr. Lewandowski said, immigration lawyers were giving advice to illegal aliens on how to circumvent federal immigration laws. “I want to know why you attended a meeting where illegal activity was being condoned?” Mr. Lewandowski said.

“This problem can only be solved by dealing with people out in the open and listening to all sides,” Mr. Bishop responded. “We need to be pragmatic, and the only way to deal with this issue is through an earned pathway to legalization.”

Mr. Lewandowski also took issue with Mr. Bishop’s estimation that between 12 million and 15 million illegal aliens now live in the United States. “It’s more like 20 million to 30 million,” Mr. Lewandowski said, adding that he wants all of those who crossed the border illegally to be deported.

“Anyone who thinks deportation is a realistic option is not thinking clearly,” Mr. Bishop said. “How do you suppose it can be done? Especially if the number is what you say it is, which it’s not. Just do the math.”

Mr. Bishop said he supported the comprehensive immigration reform policy of former President George W. Bush that outlined a road map for earned citizenship through the payment of back taxes, a knowledge of basic civics and English literacy. “Was it a perfect policy? No,” Mr. Bishop said. “But it got us past the status quo.”

Mr. Thiele said he has introduced a bill in Albany that would create an “office for new Americans.” Although immigration policy is set at federal level, Mr. Thiele said it was the duty of all elected officials to do something. “It’s easy not to do anything,” he said.

Ms. Throne-Holst said no one liked to see droves of day laborers lining the streets looking for work and human beings driven to an underground economy. “The federal government has failed us,” she said. “But it’s our job to do what we can to promote safety and to do what we can to craft solutions to this problem. But we have to put aside the anger.”

The local clergy’s advocacy on behalf on the immigrant population prompted the three lawmakers to form the coalition.

Historically, immigration today is similar to the waves of immigration the country faced in the past, according to Ms. Anker.

“We are a nation of immigrants. It was immigrants, whether forced as in the case of enslaved Africans and indentured servants, or free, who literally built America,” she said. “Throughout our history immigrants pushed out of their countries by political and religious persecution, but most importantly by economic dislocation—the need for work—were pulled to the United States by the demand for labor and the availability of jobs.”

Mr. Chaloner said he usually doesn’t take part in immigration debates because the hospital’s main concern is the medical care of patients. “When someone comes through our doors, we’re required to take care of them,” Mr. Chaloner said. “Not ask their status.”

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why have a debate when Bishop's mind is made up. An ''earned pathway to legalization'' is policitician for amnesty. The government complex thinks they can collect back taxes on millions of illegal immigrants, but deporting them is way too tough...and the translation of , ''whoever things deportation is a realistic option is not thinking clearly'' is politician for you're stupid if you think that. Call off the press releases and photo opts, this effort is dead on arrival
By hamptons surfer (79), southampton on Mar 17, 09 7:58 PM
We are nation of LEGAL immigrants and NOT ILLEGAL ones who steal jobs, identities and rob our American children of future.

There are 20 million to 30 million foreign criminals living in the United States stealing jobs from the 13,000,000 Unemployed Americans.

When the mistaken only Amnesty was given in 1986, there were only a reported 3,000,000 illegals.......Oops our Govenment forgot to close the door and now we have 10x times the numbers of illegals in this nation.

Amnesty ...more
By HernandezUSA (1), Pasadana on Mar 18, 09 10:42 AM
Thank you Mr. Bishop for having the courage to take on difficult issues in a district overrun by ignorance and unfounded fears.
By dagdavid (646), southampton on Mar 19, 09 11:08 AM
I, too, thank Congressman Bishop for standing up to the hatred apparent in the Hamptons the night of this forum, and for his continued support of immigration reform. He's right when he says that deporting all the undocumented immigrants would break the bank, particularly if we used their numbers.

Among the group of interesting presenters that evening, Laura Anker's talk about immigrant history was a potent reminder that immigrants have always been the target of hatred and the "cause" of ...more
By gimanasih (2), Cutchogue on Mar 19, 09 11:24 AM
I don't believe for one second that this nation, the one that has the Statue of Liberty still residing in NY harbor, is going to massively deport 15,000,000 undocumented aliens. So, with that as the premise, it seems the best and only alternative is to propose exactly what Congressman Bishop suggests, a hard path to citizenship. I hope that everyone can play a positive role in welcoming all potential fellow citizens. I applaud our elected officials (Bishop, Thiele, Throne-Holst) and their attempts ...more
By number19 (111), Westhampton on Mar 19, 09 11:35 AM
The numbers are staggering of how many illegals are here. It would not be cost effective to deport them. Bishop is absolutely right; ;however when an illegal commits a crime or is not productive..they should be shown the door.
By BeachGal12 (8), Hampton Bays on Mar 19, 09 12:31 PM
Congressman Bishop has it right, "The present situation is unacceptable." Neither amnesty for all (which no one had proposed) nor deportation for all (which some have proposed) offers any chance at resolving this problem. The staggering costs (in the hundreds of billions of dollars) and the massive infrastructure that would need to be created to affect deportation makes such a sugggestion pure folly. Comprehenive immigration reform, as desecribed by Congressman Bishop and others, is coming because ...more
By Viewpoint (26), Southampton on Mar 19, 09 1:11 PM
whats with these all-or-nothing solutions? You speak of either 1.) Deport all 15 million, or 2.) do nothing.

Why cant we have compromises; small steps:

How about starting with, say, just deporting those who are arrested (for DWI, or aggravated vehicular assault, and all that crap we see in the police blotter every week). Deporting criminals is not unreasonable, and I dont think it is beyond the capabilities of the police forces of this country.

Or perhaps this “roadmap ...more
By nicole (96), Hampton Bays on Mar 23, 09 1:10 PM
And i am sick of hearing statements like this:

"Historically, immigration today is similar to the waves of immigration the country faced in the past,"

WRONG. Historically, there was much greater diversity of immigrants, speaking a much greater number of languages. Today, everyone is Mexican/South American, and all speak Spanish.

-- Historically, immigrants had to learn English to advance beyond their narrow ethnic ghettos. Now, Spanish is so mainstream, that theres ...more
By nicole (96), Hampton Bays on Mar 23, 09 1:16 PM
Mr. Chaloner and Ms. Loewenthal presented the most intelligent, practical and realistic aspect of this complex and emotional immigration issue. The fact that 47,000,000 legally documented US born and raised patriotic citizens do not pay for or have health insurance and 500,000 US citizens drop out of High School each year and we can't seem to come to an agreement on how to handle these problems, models a very poor example to all people around the world. Why don't we all try to come together for ...more
By Peace Maker (1), southampton on Mar 23, 09 8:47 PM
hey peace maker...we do not live in a utopian society. to each an equal chance, to each unequal results. spend a few minutes watching mutual of omaha's wild kingdom. if folks want to spend money on things other than health insurance or want to drop out of school...why is that anyone's problem?
By hamptons surfer (79), southampton on Mar 24, 09 10:34 AM