Dissecting Anti-Immigrant Sentiment On Long Island

(Photo/Creative Commons/Gage Skidmore)

After President Trump visited Long Island last week to once again scapegoat and dehumanize immigrants at a gang violence round table, a question arose: Why is Long Island a region just outside of New York City so receptive to anti-immigrant sentiment?

Despite Trump waving his supposed “Long Island” card, the Queens native attempts to connect with Long Islanders simply to pander to Nassau’s and Suffolk’s desperation to preserve the counties’ suburban qualities.

As Politico’s David Freedlander points out, the sentiment that Trump speaks for disaffected Long Islanders is rampant, especially when it comes to development and the potential influx of new residents, and especially immigrants, who are seen as outsiders.

“A four-story monolith in our community is beyond reason … It’s just simply a case of the type of people you’re going to be having in there,” a 72-year-old resident of Smithtown told Freedlander. “You’re talking about transients. You’re not talking about people who are moving in, like we all did, with the intent of putting down roots.”

Earlier this year, News 12 reported that 41 percent of Long Island’s young adults aged 18 to 34 are living at home, and “…a total of 59 percent of all adults and 71 percent of young adults said they are likely to leave Long Island in the next five years.”

Between Long Island’s stagnant property values, unaffordable housing, and lack of employment, it is well known that young people do not plan on staying and are leaving in droves.

And so, those left on Long Island are overwhelmingly oriented toward preservation, which may be all but the death knell for the growth and prosperity that will continue to make Long Island viable. Though one can empathize with the desire to create a stable community with one-family homes, the fixation on keeping the old in and the new out can devolve into xenophobia and racism.

For instance, the rise of Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy in the mid 2000s, armed with his vitriolic anti-immigrant rhetoric, stoked the disastrous fires of racism. The climate of hate boiled over in the 2008 slaying of Marcelo Lucero, an Ecuadorian immigrant who lived and worked in Patchogue for 16 years. He was killed by seven local teens who made regular sport of terrorizing Hispanic immigrants.

As immigrants and advocates work to change hearts and minds to promote a more welcoming, inclusive Long Island, it is imperative to recognize the factors that have unfortunately made Long Island a ready beacon of anti-immigrant hate. Such a mindset can help push back against the Trumpian powers that be, and hopefully reign in a toxic atmosphere that has shown to have bloody results.