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Column: Oyster Bay’s Supervisor Shouldn’t Be Setting Immigration Policy (

By Samantha Fredrickson

Oyster Bay’s “Standing While Latino” law is more evidence why we must urge the federal government to pass just and humane comprehensive immigration reform.

The local law, which passed unanimously in September, makes it a crime to seek employment on a public sidewalk. Workers or contractors caught violating the law are subject to a $250 fine.

Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto has repeatedly tried to argue that the law is intended to protect immigrants and residents by making the roads safer. He has gone so far as to say that the town was forced to enact the law because the federal government has “abandoned immigrants.”

Well, that’s certainly no justification to enact a law that jeopardizes all of our constitutional rights, and Venditto has not pointed to any evidence that his law does anything to help or protect the immigrants in Oyster Bay.

But there’s one point Venditto makes on which we can all agree: our federal immigration system is broken.

As a result, municipalities across the county are taking immigration issues into their own hands. Unfortunately, Long Island provides several examples of this. Before Oyster Bay passed its unconstitutional law, the Suffolk County Legislature considered similarly misguided legislation in 2007. That proposal was defeated through grassroots organizing and lobbying by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) and other immigrants’ rights groups, like the Long Island Immigrant Alliance. Huntington also passed its own anti-immigrant ordinance in June 2008, though it has not yet been enforced.

This disturbing trend is not limited to Long Island. We’ve seen these misguided laws in California – the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, along with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON), filed a lawsuit recently against the City of Costa Mesa for an ordinance that is strikingly similar to Oyster Bay’s.

Until our immigration system is fixed, we will continue to see discriminatory local laws like Oyster Bay’s across the country. It’s time for the federal government to step up and protect everyone’s civil rights and liberties by enacting comprehensive immigration reform.

The NYCLU has been hard at work building coalitions across the state to push for comprehensive immigration reform. Specifically, we are urging Congress to pass reform that creates a path to citizenship for immigrants; ends local enforcement of federal immigration law; restores due process, judicial oversight and basic fairness in the immigration system; creates enforceable humane standards for conditions of immigration detention; and respects privacy by rejecting backdoor efforts to enact a National ID card.

Sen. Schumer has promised that Congress will consider immigration reform and U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), already has introduced a reform bill in the House of Representatives. The time to enact comprehensive immigration reform is now. The workers in Oyster Bay are depending on it.

To get involved with NYCLU’s campaign for immigration reform or to contact your representative, visit

Samantha Fredrickson is the director of the Nassau County Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

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