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Mar 11, 2009 1:40 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Elected officials hold press conference to outline goals of new immigration coalition

Mar 11, 2009 1:40 PM

Three elected officials from the East End representing the federal, state and local governments plan on tackling an issue that has so far vexed both local and national leaders.

The issue of illegal immigration has become a hot potato that few politicians attempt to address, but U.S. Representative Tim Bishop, New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. and Southampton Town Councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst have decided to give it a go.

The three held a press conference Saturday afternoon at Westhampton Beach Village Hall announcing the formation of a new coalition aimed at addressing the issue, and plan to hold a forum in Hampton Bays this Friday, March 13, to discuss how immigration—both legal and illegal—impacts eastern Long Island.

The forum will be held at the Southampton Town Senior Center on Ponquogue Avenue starting at 6 p.m. and is open to the community. Robert Chaloner, president and CEO of Southampton Hospital, Joseph Gergela, executive director of the Long Island Farm Bureau, and Joanne Loewenthal, superintendent of the Hampton Bays School District, are among the community leaders scheduled to speak at the forum to address how illegal immigration affects various industries across the East End.

Prompted by local clergy, and solidified by the racially charged murder of an Ecuadorean immigrant in Patchogue late last year, the three lawmakers forged their alliance to foster a fresh dialogue within the community and to, as Mr. Thiele said, cool emotions and soften the rhetoric. “We shouldn’t wait for an incident to force this conversation to begin,” he said. “Now is the time.”

“This is an extremely difficult issue,” Mr. Bishop added, “one laden with emotion and one that suffers from misinformation and exaggeration. We need to understand the facts. As President Reagan used to say, ‘We’re all entitled to our opinion, but not to our own set of facts.’”

The congressman argued that no issue could be solved in anger and said that this Friday’s forum in Hampton Bays would be the first of several that, he hoped, would bring together divergent opinions from across the 
community without the hostility that often tempers the immigration debate. “We need to set aside our anger,” he said.

While acknowledging that immigration policy is set at the national level, Mr. Thiele said the primary goal of the coalition is to “change the tone” of the ongoing debate. “Immigration is largely a federal issue,” the assemblyman said. “But before we get anywhere, we have to reduce the volume. When you have a heated discussion, there’s not much light.”

Mr. Thiele said he began meeting with clergy members across the South Fork more than a year ago and determined that a grassroots coalition would be the best first step. “When you’re an elected official, you have three choices,” he said. “You can lead, follow or get out of the way. On the immigration issue, you can either play on people’s fears, or you can attempt to do something about it—that’s our goal.”

“There’s a lot of sand surrounding the immigration issue, and it’s time we take our heads out of the sand,” said Ms. Throne-Holst, whom Mr. Bishop and Mr. Thiele credited with doing the “dirty work” on the local level, as the two are often in Washington and Albany, respectively.

“The clergy reached out to us and we’re attempting to take the lead here as elected officials to begin addressing how immigration affects all of us,” she said. “While comprehensive immigration policy is being drafted on the federal level, an informed discussion of the real impact of the immigrant community on our area will go a long way in helping us craft solutions and build consensus locally.”

Mr. Bishop said he supported 
former President Bush’s immigration reform efforts as well as the McCain-Kennedy bill, or the Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act, 
which outlined a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants through the 
payment of fines and the setting of English language standards, while 
at the same time cracking down on 
employers who hire illegal workers 
and strengthening the country’s borders. “I don’t support amnesty,” Mr. Bishop said, adding that securing the nation’s borders needs to be a top priority in the effort to reform immigration.

President Obama, when he was still in the U.S. Senate, also supported the McCain-Kennedy initiative and, according to Mr. Bishop, is dedicated to working on the issue as president. “It’s going to take presidential leadership,” the congressman said.

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This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By NOAMNESTY, SPOKANE on Mar 8, 09 8:51 PM
Comments like those of "NoAmnesty (Spokane)" speak for themselves. Even from a whole continent away, they generate exactly the sort of counterproductive heat that Fred Thiele is talking about. He and Tim Bishop and Anna Throne-Holst deserve credit for undertaking a politically courageous enterprise in the present climate.
By Turkey Bridge (1979), Quiogue on Mar 9, 09 6:59 AM
Someone much wiser than I once said, "Not everything addressed can be resolved but nothing can be resolved unless addressed.' Kudos to the elected officials and local leaders who are prepared to address this very complex and important issue.
By Viewpoint (26), Southampton on Mar 9, 09 9:50 PM
The no amnesty, no mercy, no reprieve gang pretend they are disturbed by floutiung our laws and not against immigrants, only the "illegals" here, whom they assure us are being exploited, They are not against brown people they claim, but it is indisputable that for decades there was no animus against Irish immigrants by angry screechers.. You would think that this loud gang would welcome making immigrants not in status a path to legal residence to fight their passion against the "illegals." Let's ...more
By mo (89), Sag Harbor on Mar 12, 09 10:55 AM
The no amnesty, no mercy, no reprieve gang pretend they are disturbed by floutiung our laws and not against immigrants, only the "illegals" here, whom they assure us are being exploited, They are not against brown people they claim, but it is indisputable that for decades there was no animus against Irish immigrants by angry screechers.. You would think that this loud gang would welcome making immigrants not in status a path to legal residence to fight their passion against the "illegals." Let's ...more
By mo (89), Sag Harbor on Mar 12, 09 5:43 PM