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Immigrant Labor Law Raises Enforcement and Economic Concerns

May 15, 2008

Long Island, NY - The Suffolk County Legislature has passed what some say is the nation's most stringent anti-immigrant labor law. The bill requires contractors to verify the immigration status of their employees or lose their licenses. Milan Bhatt with the New York Immigration Coalition believes Suffolk's new law sends employers into unfair and unfamiliar legal territory.

"Local officials, who are now charged with enforcing these standards, don't know immigration law; they don't know how to decipher documents. So, they're acting not just beyond their jurisdiction, but beyond their expertise, and that's extremely problematic. We're seriously concerned about the effect this is going to have on all Suffolk County residents."

The bill's author, legislator Brian Beedenbender, says the bill would create a "level playing field" by enforcing federal employment standards for contractors licensed by Suffolk County. Bhatt says local involvement in federal enforcement is a bad idea that could spread statewide.

"In other parts of the state, workers would be fired indiscriminately based on their appearance as being foreign-born. So, to the extent that other counties around the state impose local sanctions within the sole jurisdiction of the federal government, this is only going to devastate the lives of local residents."

Domenico Romero with the Long Island Civic Participation Project is convinced the new law will have the unintended consequence of stifling the Island economy.

"Long Island has done well during the past years, especially because of the labor that mostly Latino immigrants provide, related to construction and services. Now that they're not going to be able to work independently of their status, the whole economy of Long Island is going to be in trouble."

The Beedenbender bill was passed over a compromise measure that required contractor wage and tax compliance, but would have omitted language regarding immigration status. Opponents of the new law are contemplating a lawsuit.

Robert Knight/Don Mathisen, Public News Service - NY