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A New Day in Long Island: Steve Bellone Signs Executive Order Granting Equal Access to Non-English Speakers

by Van Le on 11/14/2012 at 6:35pm

Great news out of Long Island today, where activists are celebrating a civil rights victory for immigrants.  From a Make the Road New York press release:

This morning, Long Island’s Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone signed an Executive Order that requires all County agencies to provide translation and interpretation, ensuring equal access to services for more than 100,000 Long Islanders who are not yet proficient in English.

This makes Suffolk County the first suburban county in the U.S. to enact such a progressive language access policy. While Suffolk County has suffered from over a decade of anti-immigrant politicking, today County Executive Bellone has demonstrated that we can turn away from the politics of division and embrace policies that welcome and value all residents — regardless of the country from which they hail and the language that they speak.

The executive order ensures that all county agencies will translate essential public documents into the county’s top six languages and provide interpretation services to all Suffolk residents with limited English proficiency.

The move is especially inspiring considering Suffolk County’s history with former County Executive Steve Levy, who declined to run for reelection last year after investigators began looking into his campaign fundraising ethics.  Bellone took Levy’s seat after defeating Levy’s heir apparent, Republican Angie Carpenter.

During his tenure as a County Executive, Levy was known for being one of the most anti-immigrant public officials in New York State, refusing to discourage a rash of hate crimes that sprung up near his Long Island home.   Latino immigrants were routinely beaten, pelted with rocks, and spit at.  High school students casually talked about “beaner jumping,” and attacks on Latino immigrants were treated as a common pastime.  When Ecuadorean immigrant Marcelo Lucero was stabbed to death by seven high school students, Levy dismissed the murder as a “one-day story.”

Suffolk is taking a big step away from its ugly past with this executive order.  Congratulations to all the groups that made this possible, including Make the Road New York, the Long Island Civic Engagement Table, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, the Long Island Language Advocates Coalition, and the Center for Popular Democracy.

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