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Immigration Debate Heats Up On Long Island

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The immigration debate goes local this week, following our Legislative Scorecard examining the Suffolk County Legislature's record on key middle class issues. The Scorecard, released by Long Island Wins and the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy, analyzed nine bills passed during the 2008-9 session and graded legislators based on their support for the middle class position. We found that a majority of the legislators consistently voted against the middle class on immigration; as a result, eleven out of eighteen received C grades and four received D grades.

A recent editorial in Long Island's Times Beacon Record questioned the utility of focusing on (and critiquing) the records of individual lawmakers as a means to move forward on immigration policy. "Assigning ranks and publicly highlighting deficiencies is not the best way to win friends and influence people en route to an immigration solution." But we can only begin to advocate for common sense immigration solutions when we identify the policies working against this agenda, and hold accountable the elected officials who voted for them. We believe better policy can be created when citizens know how their legislators voted on what matters most to them, and when legislators know their constituents are watching.

The piece also remarked on our methods, stating that the report drew conclusions from a narrow subset of facts and left out efforts made by elected officials outside the legislature. We considered a broad range of policy measures, from affordable housing and the costs of home energy to environmentally sustainable building practices, which address some of the most critical concerns for Suffolk's middle class. The Scorecard is not intended as an exhaustive review of the Legislature's policy work, nor does it account for what legislators do outside the chamber. Suffolk residents should have a focused look at how their elected officials actually vote, and what these votes mean for the middle class.

Another Beacon Record article on the scorecard included a comment from a low-scoring legislator that illuminates the need for this analysis: "He couldn't see how some selected issues, like his support for requiring those in Suffolk's probation system to document their immigration status, impact the middle class at all." Clearly, some legislators have yet to see that immigration policy matters for the US-born middle class, so we focus on amplifying the overlooked connections between immigration issues and the middle class. To the lawmaker's point, we argue that using local resources to target immigrants in the probation system is a poor use of taxpayer resources, and further diverts the attention of local law enforcement agents away from their core mission to uphold public safety.

After evaluating the Legislature's record on selected policy measures important to the middle class, it's clear that there is room for improvement. On immigration, the Legislature can do much more to advance effective policies at the local level that benefit all residents. But this requires a tough but fair appraisal of the policies and policymakers holding Suffolk County back.