The Southampton Town Councilperson on forming a coalition to address immigration on the East End, confronting conflicting ideals and what the coalition cannot do.
When the coalition first began – what were some of the immediate goals you hoped for concerning immigration?
Our goals were to try to get people from all parts of the community together and start talking about how we can start the immigration dialogue in our community. There are issues around it that are good and bad and indifferent. We began with the feeling that this is the elephant on the couch and no one wants to come out and take the politics out and address this issue. I think in the past it hasn’t been very easy for anyone to deal with it. Clergy and non-profits deal with it and it is very easy to say it’s a federal problem.Â You could keep passing the buck – but nothing else will be done about it if we don’t come forward and talk about it now.Â
Who are the key players involved in the coalition?
Tim [Bishop} and Fred [Thiele]. The clergy reached out to them. They invited elected officials and had a couple meetings which were held at the college to get the conversation going. Between the three of us, we represented three levels of government and are able to represent the different roles we play. The thought was that unless we all get together it’s easy to keep passing the buck. This way we take the political football out of here too. There is no particular agency or level of government but we are trying to take the bull by the horns and send the signal that we were willing to work together on this and be able to take the politics out of it.
Are there other organizations or coalitions that have formed in this country that deal with this issue or other issues that are similar?
Yes, I believe there are several. We haven’t modeled ourselves after anyone in particular, there are several organizations that have successful outcomes, but every community is different and the goals are different. We are hoping to get as much information as possible and craft solutions for our community. I’m sure our solutions will be unique to us.
Is the town looking to set new policies regarding immigration?
That is hard to say. I was asked at Friday’s forum what can I do as a town representative? It’s a good question. There are things we can do and things we can’t do. There are things we are restricted from doing. It’s important to understand what we can do on a local level.Â I believe that I can have an open door, there are people with issues around this issue and I can deal with those on an individual basis. I can work with the things I have on hand, I can get code enforcement. We are concerned about the well being of families and I can go to the clergy group and ask them to help. We can start talking about the partnerships, but more than anything else we can start this conversation and look at it from all levels and see what we can do about this.
What that is going to lead to? It’s too soon to say. But we have to do something – nothing has been done so far and no one wanted to touch this issue. But we do know what we can’t do or don’t want to do.
And what are some of the things you can’t do or don’t want to do?
We can’t deport people. We don’t have the power to crack down on people who employ undocumented workers. We cannot strip them of their rights as humans. But on both sides of this issue, we can foster a healthy dialogue.
We want to bring all of this together. We want all the facts and figures brought to the table so we are all working from the same set of facts. We want to know how this is affecting neighborhoods, hospitals and schools.
Â We can’t change the federal mandates. If this is an issue in our school then how do we work with the schools to somehow ease that? Or how can we help people understand?
The president of the hospital said those that work in the hospital are federally mandated to fix what comes in their doors; they are precluded from asking any issues of visa or residency. The bigger issue for them is uninsured patients. There could be someone as American as apple pie or a visitor to the U.S. who is on vacation but their bigger issue is uninsured Americans. And how do we wrap our heads around that?
Do you find that there is any structure or anything that needs to be tweaked concerning the issue of immigration?
Right now there are no laws or direction. There is no doubt that we need comprehensive immigration reform, and laws and a road map for going forward – and that is important to point out. One thing that both Barack Obama and John McCain agreed on was an immigration policy. But we need to know how that is going to come down the pike for us. Until we get that – it will be hard for us. Right now our laws don’t affect any of this so it’s more about finding practical solutions and our realities in the community.
How do you find a middle ground with so many conflicting ideals concerning immigration?
Allowing and welcoming the dialogue and making everyone feel they are welcoming the dialogue and that’s okay, but in the end we need to start talking and looking at the facts and figures and the problems. We need to look at what is or isn’t working and what is affecting the community and the quality of life and economics.
I hope the outcome is that there is a dialogue and people feel they are welcome to that dialogue and then we hope we can come to some consensus collectively. I think we want healthy dialogue; we want to recognize the many sides to this issue.
We don’t want what happened in Patchogue to happen here – we don’t want the quality of life to be adversely impacted. But we also want to know that businesses are being supported and laws are being respected, the solutions we hope will form themselves.
One thing we do know is there are confusion and a lot of anger and a strong sense that nothing is being done and that is not okay.
Overall, how do you think Friday night’s immigration forum went?
There was some anger. But the way I look at it, I could’ve gone home and put on my slippers.
But there were 150 people there – and what that speaks to this issue that is so important to so many people. It is incumbent on us not to get into our slippers on Friday night and bring people together, and the chips will fall where they are going to fall. We recognize what a big issue this is. And we are being proactive to work around it.