A Shift in Tone on the Suffolk Human Rights Commission

During the Steve Levy years, the Suffolk County Human Rights Commission was notable for its failure to critique the county executive’s policies on immigration, allowing Levy to throw oil on the fire of anti-immigrant hatred.

Last month, new County Executive Steve Bellone changed the tone of the commission by appointing Luis Valenzuela to a three-year term as a commissioner. Luis is the executive director of the Long Island Immigrant Alliance and a board member at Long Island Wins. Over the last six years, he has consistently held Suffolk officials accountable for hate crimes against immigrants.

In appointing Luis, Steve Bellone has put a person on the commission who will criticize county government when it fails to provide immigrants with equal treatment, and that appears to be exactly why Bellone made the appointment.

Newsday’s Rick Brand reports:

For much of the past decade, when Steve Levy was Suffolk County executive, any mention of immigrant activist Luis Valenzuela usually elicited a combative response.

But last month without a word of debate, Valenzuela, executive director of the Long Island Immigrant Alliance, an immigrant rights group in Amityville, was confirmed unanimously by the county legislature as a member of the Suffolk County Human Rights Commission, one of two new appointments made by Levy’s successor, Steve Bellone.

Levy critics say he used the issue to attack foes as soft on illegal immigration and to gain a national platform, through television appearances with conservative pundits, including Lou Dobbs. They credit Bellone with largely defusing the issue locally. The tenor has so changed that Bellone next weekend will be grand marshal of Brentwood’s Puerto Rican Day Parade, which draws tens of thousands of people.

“He’s made it a nonissue,” said Legis. Edward Romaine (R-Center Moriches). “Levy made immigration an issue at the local level—knowing there was little that you can do—to stir up passions for political advantage and make a name for himself for higher office.”

Romaine said there was no opposition to Valenzuela’s appointment because he “has gained the respect of a lot of legislators . . . Whether you agree with him or not, you listen to him.

Photo credit: Ted Hesson.

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Patrick Young blogs daily for Long Island Wins. He is the Downstate Advocacy Director of the New York Immigration Coalition and Special Professor of Immigration Law at Hofstra School of Law. He served as the Director of Legal Services and Program at Central American Refugee Center (CARECEN) for three decades before retiring in 2019. Pat is also a student of immigration history and the author of The Immigrants' Civil War.

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