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Suffolk County Debates New Law on Immigrant Contractors

February 1, 2008

Smithtown, NY - Battle lines are being drawn in Suffolk County over proposed legislation that would require 15,000 licensed contractors to investigate and verify the legal status of immigrant workers or lose their licenses. The measure, announced Thursday, has aroused concern among Long Island electricians, plumbers and home-building contractors, as well as immigrant rights advocates.

Luis Valenzuela with the Long Island Immigrant Alliance says the law would be discriminatory and needless.

"Already, employers are required by federal law to verify the work eligibility of their workers, so the bill is really unnecessary. It does not create a safer, more inclusive Long Island. It further serves to divide workers. It's another anti-immigrant measure."

The bill is sponsored by freshman Suffolk legislator Brian Beedenbender. He was unavailable for comment, but Beedenbender said in a written statement that he wants to crack down on contractors who hire undocumented workers and fail to file payroll taxes.

The Long Island Association, the region's largest business group, says the bill would cripple the Island economy because "the labor that immigrant day workers provide is indispensable." The proposal is subject to a series of public hearings before the legislature votes.

Valenzuela would like to see alternative legislation that protects the labor, safety and economic rights of all workers, native and foreign born. He adds that Long Island attitudes have been changing about immigrant workers.

"The public sentiment about immigrants has been improving. Polls have suggested the majority of people want to see immigrants who have been here, and who have been working, be put on a path to legalization, just like the immigrants want. They want to be a part of America."

In 2006, Suffolk County passed a similar law that applied only to companies holding a contract for doing business with Suffolk County government. That law requires these companies to verify that their employees are in the United States legally. Last year, only one out of an estimated 6,000 such contractors was cited for violating that law.

Robert Knight/Kevin Clay, Public News Service - NY