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Suffolk Residents Protest Illegal Immigrants and Day Laborers

New York Times

October 15, 2000

Waving American flags and red, white and blue balloons, 200 Suffolk County residents opposed to illegal immigrants and day laborers in their communities held a boisterous town hall meeting in Centereach, N.Y., yesterday and called for tougher enforcement of immigration laws.

"We can either roll over and play dead, or take our flag and walk with it," said Margaret Bianculli, the president of the Sachem Quality of Life Organization, which sponsored the gathering at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4927. "This is not a drill to us. This is the real thing."

The featured speaker was Glenn Spencer the president of Voices of Citizens Together, a California group that advocates immigration law changes, and the host of a weekly radio show called "American Patrol Report." He drew noisy applause as he described efforts in California to oppose illegal immigration from Mexico.

He showed videotapes portraying the Immigration and Naturalization Service as too tolerant of illegal immigrants and warned that the government was not aggressive enough in patrolling borders. "The power elite have decided we have to be folded into the world village, we have to sacrifice our sovereignty," he declared. "You are in the biggest fight you will have to face."

The gathering came on the same day that more than 1,000 Latin American immigrants marched across Manhattan and held a rally in front of the United Nations building to demand more rights for immigrant workers and general amnesty for illegal immigrants.

On eastern Long Island, the racially charged debate over illegal immigrants has been under way for several years, as more than 1,000 immigrants, many of them from Mexico and Central America, have arrived each summer and taken work as day laborers on landscaping or construction jobs. Many wait on street corners in Farmingville each morning to be hired by drive-by employers.

Some homeowners accuse the newcomers of littering, selling drugs and molesting women. The immigrants, who say they take jobs that residents do not want, complain of harassment, abuse and overcrowded living conditions. The debate has been especially tense since the beating last month of two day laborers who were lured to an abandoned factory and attacked. One man has been arrested and another is being sought in that case.

The Suffolk County Human Rights Commission and other groups are sponsoring a candlelight unity rally in Hauppauge today to urge officials to address the problems day laborers face.

Many of those at yesterday's meeting in Centereach said they planned to attend the rally as a counterpoint, and they displayed signs reading, "Illegal aliens are criminals, not immigrants," and "Peaceful solutions through deportation."

Ms. Bianculli, the leader of the group sponsoring the rally, said detractors had misrepresented her organization and followers as promoters of hate. "We are all accused of being angry and putting out hate," she said. "How do you not be angry at those who are interfering with your right to hold the government responsible for their job to enforce the law?"