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April 24, 2001

Suffolk Day-Labor Center Appears Doomed as Veto Draws Support


HAUPPAUGE, N.Y., April 23 - Several Suffolk County lawmakers said today that they would let stand County Executive Robert J. Gaffney's veto of a bill to create a community support center for day laborers, an idea proposed after two Mexican workers were badly beaten and the racial tensions in the area were laid bare.

The Suffolk County Legislature will still vote Tuesday on whether to override Mr. Gaffney's veto. But after both Democratic and Republican lawmakers said today that they opposed the plan, it appeared likely that the 12 votes necessary for an override would not appear.

"All indications appear to show that the veto will stand," said Andrew A. Crecca, a Republican who voted to pass the bill but said he now believed the idea was a bad one.

The proposal seeks to transfer $80,000 from the county's 2001 budget to the Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Rockville Centre to start the center, which would offer educational, legal and referral services for the workers and be a place where men could wait for work each morning.

Drafted in response to the Sept. 17 beating of two Mexican day laborers, which the police said was a bias crime, the bill passed the Legislature on March 20 by a 12-to-2 vote, with three abstentions, and was described by Paul J. Tonna, the Republican majority leader, as a way to ensure public health and safety.

But Mr. Gaffney vetoed the bill on April 4 with a message that county government should not pay for anything that would foster the hiring of illegal immigrants. County officials said the center might be seen as a place that would condone helping people skirt immigration or tax laws.

Today, in announcing that he would vote to sustain Mr. Gaffney's veto, William J. Lindsay, a Democratic lawmaker who was not in office when the initial vote was held, said he was less concerned with the breaking of laws than he was about jobs' being lost, especially if the economy sours.

"The hard-working, blue-collar worker that I have represented most of my life is concerned about a legion of undocumented workers' being available in our communities to take their jobs," Mr. Lindsay, who is the business manager of Local 25 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, said at a news conference. The local has 2,200 members on Long Island.

Short of supplying specific alternatives to the bill, Mr. Lindsay said a government task force, made up of representatives of federal, state, county and local levels, should form and address the issue of laborers' lining up for work on busy roadways in Farmingville, where the center was to be located.

Mr. Tonna said any solution must have, at its core, a policy of treating all human beings with dignity and respect. And, sounding like those opposed to the center, he criticized the federal government for failing to enforce immigration laws or coming up with ways to solve Suffolk's problem.

John K. Bingham, the director of immigration services for Catholic Charities, said the notion that the charity would finance the center itself was out of the question.

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