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On Immigration, Which New York Will Rule?

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Note: Cross-posted at the Huffington Post.

Steve LevyIn New York State, the legacy of Ellis Island is clearly echoed today. One in five New Yorkers are immigrants, granting the state one of the most vibrant and dynamic populations in the nation.

Perhaps it’s only fitting, then, that New York has become an important crossroads at the intersection of immigration and politics. 

The state’s current political landscape includes true champions of immigration reform sharing the stage with those who embrace the worst aspects of the immigration debate – those who demonize immigrant communities, embrace discredited conventional wisdom at all costs, and misread public sentiment on immigration issues. 

First, the good stuff. In his recent inauguration speech, Mayor Michael Bloomberg used the occasion to call for comprehensive immigration reform, stating:

With leaders from across the country, we will assemble a bipartisan coalition to support President Obama’s call for comprehensive immigration reform that honors our history, upholds our values, and promotes our economy.

Mayor Bloomberg, who has also said that “New York’s immigrant communities have driven America’s economic engine for generations,” could serve as an example to fellow New York politicos about the benefits of immigration and the necessities of reform.  

Down the road in Washington DC, New York’s Chuck Schumer is hard at work crafting a long overdue comprehensive immigration reform bill, one that combines smart enforcement with the legalization of undocumented immigrants.  If enacted, this landmark effort, likely to spur a Senate debate this Spring, would significantly curtail illegal immigration and  restore America’s tradition as a nation of immigrants. 

Then there’s the other New York.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy (pictured above), who is reportedly considering a primary challenge to New York Governor David Patterson, is among the most notable anti-immigrant public officials in the state. Levy’s Long Island base has been the site of several anti-immigrant hate crimes.

In fact, largely because of his incendiary immigration views, the state-wide Levy candidacy is already on rocky territory. El Diario recently argued:

Steve Levy has done little to discourage nativist intolerance or prevent hate attacks. In fact, he has thrown coals into the fire.

The New York Daily News reported that Hispanic lawmakers are organizing in opposition to a Levy candidacy and have issued a statement noting that Levy’s “past and ongoing policy positions on immigration have been blamed for biased-related attacks on immigrants living in Long Island and for fostering hate speech and intimidation of Hispanic students in schools.”