Newsday: GOP rejects call for change in Nassau redistricting process

GOP rejects call for change in Nassau redistricting process

The Nassau County Legislature's Republican majority has rebuffed a call by good-government groups to overhaul the disputed process for redrawing lawmakers' district lines.

A coalition of local nonprofits had released a 28-page report in January recommending more participation by nonaligned voters in the once-a-decade redistricting. The groups argued that limiting influence of political parties and county workers would eliminate gerrymandering and protect minority voting rights.

But after months of meetings with the activists, Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) said last week that she sees no need to move now on the coalition's calls to revise the county charter on redistricting. The lines will next be redrawn beginning in 2021.

"After hearing the proposals and discussing it with the caucus, we feel the timing is premature," Gonsalves said in a statement, adding that she's still willing to hear coalition proposals.

Coalition leaders said they will hold a rally this week in New Hyde Park in an effort to show the GOP, which controls the county legislature with an 11-8 majority, that a wide range of residents desire its action.

"This is really the right moment, because the people who have to be involved in the change are more removed from possible political electoral consequences," said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, a nonpartisan citizens group with the Nassau redistricting coalition.

"By acting now," Lerner said of lawmakers, "it's not the sense of looking down the barrel of a gun and saying, 'OK, I'm up for re-election next time and whatever I do is going to impact where I have to stand.' "

Opponents of the current maps, approved by the GOP majority in March 2013, said they divided and disenfranchised minority communities and greatly limited competitive races. Republicans have denied that the maps improperly split communities, and said they were drawn "blind to incumbency."

After a series of meetings with staff and lawmakers from both parties, the coalition in March presented draft language of a potential charter amendment that would take the drawing of maps out of lawmakers' hands and overhaul the independent advisory commission on redistricting that had deadlocked on each party's submitted maps in 2012. The new commission would draw the maps.

The commission was split between GOP and Democratic appointees; the coalition recommends replacing some of them with citizens without ties to county staff or party leaders.

Gonsalves said she was willing to continue speaking with the coalition, whose members also include the League of Women Voters, which seeks to expand voter participation; the Long Island Civic Engagement Table, which works to involve voters in issues; and La Fuente, which promotes immigrant community participation.

"We're at the point of having gotten in the room with legislators, and that means that we can now start doing things like engaging more members of the public," said Benjamin Van Dyne of the Civic Engagement Table. "We're pretty confident that we can make clear to them this is both politically in their interest and the best thing for Nassau County on the merits."

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Joye Brown: A simple to-do list for Hempstead schools

A simple to-do list for Hempstead schools

May 21, 2014 by JOYE BROWN / joye.brown@newsday.com [Original article here]

Hats off to the Hempstead school district. On Tuesday, residents almost doubled previous numbers at the polls. And while results remained muddy Tuesday night, the board got one new member, Ricky A. Cooke Sr., who could be joined by another after an absentee ballot court challenge.

What happens now? Actually, some 350 residents who met over a series of weeks to talk about schools have some idea. They're looking for greater community oversight for the board, along with fiscal transparency.

For children, they're looking for better parent-school communications and smaller class sizes. And for Hempstead overall, they're looking for stronger community-school ties.

The list seems so simple, -- mundane even. But what makes it extraordinary is that it's rising up from Hempstead. From teachers, parents and community members; African-Americans, immigrants and the district's majority Latino student population.

It's a bottom-up, active, engaged coalition that Hempstead -- consistently, one of Long Island's lowest performing districts -- hasn't seen in decades. One that could -- and should -- seed clones in other segregated, low-performing districts.

The narrative in Hempstead is that school board president Betty Cross needed to be replaced. That's wrong. Because much of the decades-long systemic dysfunction in that and other majority-black-and-Hispanic school districts does not rise from one personality. Or bad boards.

In fact, forget about viewing them as purely education-related entities at all.

Instead, they might be better understood as fiefdoms, with the ability to gift jobs and contracts -- potent power in neighborhoods lacking solid economic development and a strong tax base.

They act like political machines because, well, they're machines -- which, sadly and far too often, makes self-survival trump the fortunes of students they serve. In Hempstead, for decades, Cross has been Boss.

Hempstead's abysmal school graduation rate would not be tolerated, excused -- or shielded from view by manipulation of grades -- by parents anywhere.

But in Hempstead, parents complained about being cut out of the process. And, in some cases, ignored or asked to leave board meetings.

And Hempstead -- along with other districts -- also had to grapple with the region's changing demographics. As schools became mostly Hispanic, it was inevitable that Latinos would push for power -- no matter how hard entrenched African-American leadership pushed back.

The conflict was compounded by the fact that, for decades in many segregated Long Island neighborhoods, districts were the only seats of power in town.

But change comes. And, in Hempstead, it started at the public library -- long before Tuesday's raucous election. Beginning in March, the Long Island Civic Engagement Table [with New York Communities for Change and the Nassau County Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union] pulled together 16 local organizations -- from the local Classroom Teachers Association to The Corridor Counts, a political advocacy group -- to talk about schools.

Cross went to the first session but left before the group drafted its first suggestions for pulling up Hempstead schools. No matter the final results, Hempstead's new coalition must stand up, and stay together, to get that work done.

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Public News Service: "Do I Have to Draw You a Map?" - Poll Says Yes

"Do I Have to Draw You a Map?" - Poll Says Yes

December 12, 2013 [Original article here]

NEW YORK – Advocates are using a newly released poll to press for changes in the way voting maps are drawn up in Nassau County. 

Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, says some public officials have resisted change by arguing that voters don't understand the redistricting process. 

But she says the newly released poll shows 81 percent of randomly selected voters are up on the issue, and they want citizens or community leaders to draw the next set of county maps rather than politicians.

"Nassau County voters are aware of how bad the process was,” Lerner insists. “The public absolutely understands the need for reform. And the public wants to see improvement – not necessarily perfection."Critics say the poll relied on a relatively small sample, but Lerner says it reflects what Common Cause is hearing from the community. 

The poll was conducted by the Long Island Civic Engagement Table at the end of November and had a margin of error of 6 percentage points.

Ana Dighero lives in Hempstead and works with New York Communities for Change. She agrees with the poll findings and says more accurate political voting lines would make politicians more responsive to the needs of her community.

"It's very important to us because the community can get better schools, education, better opportunity, because it is making a difference in the number for the voters," she says.

Lerner adds now is the perfect time to bring up the issue, because politicians can take action in the coming year in a way that is unlikely to impact their own political future.

"So, they can be dispassionate and come up with a better, nonpartisan, independent process that will be a fair redistricting process," she says.

The maps aren't scheduled to be redrawn again until after the 2020 Census.

Copyright © 2013 Public News Service

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Public News Service: NY Immigration Reform Supporters "We Need Pete - and More"

NY Immigration Reform Supporters: “We Need Pete – and More”

NEW YORK – Now more than ever, New York supporters of comprehensive immigration reform say they need U.S. Rep. Peter King of Long Island to turn up the volume with the Republican leadership. [Original article here]

Pat Young, program director with the refugee advocacy group CARECEN, says King deserves credit for being outspoken in his support, but with the clock winding down on this year's Congress, the group is urging King to do just a little bit more.

"We don't just need Pete, we need the Republican Party in Congress to come out in favor of comprehensive immigration reform,” Young explains. “And he's somebody who is really ideally poised for doing that nationally."

Young says King can draw additional courage from a new America's Voice poll, which shows 82 percent of voters in his district support comprehensive reform. 

House Speaker John Boehner has said he doesn't intend to let the plan passed by the Senate come up for a House vote. 

Daniel Altschuler, coordinator with the Long Island Civic Engagement Table, says one of the most remarkable numbers in the latest poll is that 85 percent of Republican voters in King's district now support comprehensive reform. 

"What this poll shows is that across all parties, across all demographic groups, support is strong,” he says. “And the notion that Republicans don't support immigration reform is flatly wrong."

Young is convinced that King is the right person to persuade fellow Republicans who are looking for real solutions rather than bumper-sticker slogans. 

"He's an expert on homeland security,” Young points out. “He's a bona fide conservative. He's also running for president. Those are things that we hope will be persuasive to other Republicans to support immigration reform."

Some argue it's too late to address the issue this year, but Altschuler disagrees. 

"The notion that there is not time is preposterous,” he says. “Speaker John Boehner needs to give us a vote, because we know that we have the votes for comprehensive reform."

Copyright © 2013 Public News Service

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Newsday: Poll: Voters in Peter King's district back immigration reform

Poll: Voters in Peter King's district back immigration reform

Most voters in the reconfigured 2nd Congressional District held by Republican Rep. Peter King support immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship, according to a poll released Thursday.

The survey by America's Voice, an immigrant advocacy group in Washington, D.C., found 82 percent of likely voters in the district support "legislation that would significantly increase border security" while allowing immigrants to register for legal status and apply for citizenship.

The findings put King, of Seaford, in a position to be a national leader on immigration policy, advocates said. They're hoping he will push his party on the issue as he did when he fought efforts to block Sandy aid.

"Immigration is right in the mix with exactly the kinds of populations that the Republican Party needs to repair their image with: women, Latino voters, independents," said Patty Kupfer, managing director of America's Voice.

The poll, conducted by Colorado-based Magellan Strategies on Nov. 13 and 14, surveyed 673 likely voters in the South Shore district that stretches from Seaford to Bayport.

King's was one of 17 "Republican swing districts" in six states that America's Voice identified to conduct polls. The results in the 2nd District were the highest in favor of immigration reform among the districts polled, including Rep. Chris Gibson's 19th District in the Hudson Valley and Catskills.

King, who had said he opposed any amnesty program for immigrants in the United States illegally, has shifted to say he would back a bill offering legal status and citizenship if it includes border security and enforcement measures.

He said Tuesday he is waiting for the right time to put his name on a bill. Reform efforts stalled in the House of Representatives after the Senate passed its bill in June, but advocates said they hope the effort would be revived next year.

Sponsoring the bill now "would serve no purpose," he said. "It would be counterproductive and would almost take me out of the bargaining."

King said he is "surprised" that support for a comprehensive bill is as high as the poll indicates, but agreed "there is a growing consensus that something has to be done."

His district became a focus of immigrant advocates after redistricting last year made his constituency more diverse. He went from a district with a largely white population to one that includes more black and Hispanic communities in Bay Shore, Brentwood, Central Islip and Wyandanch.

A bill with a citizenship path "should be a no-brainer from the perspective of Long Islanders" because of changing demographics and growing support, said Daniel Altschuler, coordinator of the Long Island Civic Engagement Table, a Brentwood group backing reform.

Proponents of increased enforcement said voters would also accept a plan that more strictly penalizes illegal immigration. "A convincing case could be made to voters in general, even Hispanics, that as long as we have mass immigration to the United States, that is going to affect you directly," said Ira Mehlman, spokesman of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a group in Washington, D.C., that favors enforcement.

It's unclear how much political traction the issue has in the district. In King's district, 62 percent of those polled said the failure to pass a reform bill would not keep them from voting for a Republican.

"For me, it's not high on the priority list," Joan Donnison, president of the Bay Village Civic Association and a resident of King's district, said of immigration reform. "I hate to see more people falling in between the cracks, but there has to be some coordinated way" to reach a compromise.

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City & State: Suffolk County and Immigrants: Changes for the Better Five Years After a Hate Crime

Suffolk County and Immigrants: Changes for the Better Five Years After a Hate Crime

Written by Steve Bellone & Javier Valdes on November 19, 2013. [Original article here]

Five years ago this month, Marcelo Lucero was killed in the Village of Patchogue by a band of hate-filled teenagers.  These teens, who regularly went “beaner-hopping” (their offensive term for riding around and attacking people they took to be Mexican immigrants), surrounded Lucero, an Ecuadorian immigrant.  When Lucero sought to defend himself, one teen, Jeffrey Conroy, stabbed him, causing Lucero’s death.

Lucero’s death brought Suffolk County into the state and national spotlight as a hot spot for anti-immigrant politics and sentiment. The Southern Poverty Law Center, one of the nation’s pre-eminent anti-hate-group organizations, described a “Climate of Fear” where toxic politics—fueled and driving fears of demographic change at a time of economic uncertainty—rendered such violence permissible, and Latinos throughout Suffolk lived in fear.

 Five years later, what have we learned, and where do we stand as a county and a region?

Demographic change has continued, and Suffolk is more diverse than ever.  According to the 2010 Census, roughly one out of four Suffolk residents are people of color. And roughly one out of seven was born outside of the United States. This diversity is a boon for our county—bringing with it rich cultural traditions and exchanges, not to mention the economic contributions of immigrants to our local economy.

 Thankfully, we seem to be learning from our past, and this continued demographic change has not provoked another anti-immigrant surge. Instead, it appears that the dawn of a new era is upon us. Instead of vilifying immigrants, many of Suffolk County’s elected officials are now working hand-in-hand with immigrant communities to begin identifying and addressing their needs.

For instance, one year ago, Suffolk’s new administration (which one of us leads) adopted Executive Order 10, which guaranteed that residents with limited-English proficiency (LEP) would be able to access free translation and interpretation services in all county government offices. And county government has since worked closely with community organizations to ensure the effective implementation of the order, which took effect on November 14th.

 Moreover, during this year’s debate on comprehensive immigration reform, the loudest voices across Suffolk County, and all Long Island, have been those of immigrants and their allies. The marches, rallies, forums and other actions that have occurred have all supported a path to citizenship. Long Island’s congressional delegation has taken note, with all of the region’s House of Representatives members publicly supporting comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

In short, the toxic “climate of fear” is slowly but surely being replaced by a climate of tolerance and respect, in which immigrant communities have entered into a productive dialogue with their elected officials. In this new dialogue, scapegoating immigrants is unacceptable, and we have opted instead to work together to identify points of commonality and work towards solutions that work for all Suffolk’s residents.

 Quite some time has passed since the days of extremist anti-immigrant groups rallying in Suffolk County, in some cases with the support of national anti-immigrant groups. And, mercifully, we have not recently seen the same type of violence that tragically took Marcelo Lucero’s life.

This does not mean that all the animus that fueled that violence has been eliminated; we must, of course, remain vigilant.

 But we feel confident that a new chapter in Suffolk County’s history has begun—one in which our communities and leaders embrace diversity and the contributions of all residents. This would be the best possible conclusion to a tale that began with unspeakable tragedy.

Steve Bellone is the Suffolk County Executive. Javier H. Valdes is the co-executive director of Make the Road New York, the largest participatory immigrant rights organization in New York.

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Public News Service: No More Lives Lost in Translation? New LI Language Policy

No More Lives Lost in Translation? New LI Language Policy

NEW YORK - A new policy that requires interpretation and translation for vital public services in key languages is now in effect in Suffolk County, covering central and eastern Long Island. [Original article here]

According to Karina Claudio, lead organizer for the group "Make the Road New York," the policy for non-English-speaking residents of the area went into effect Thursday, and she believes it will likely end up saving lives on Long Island.

"When immigrant women are reporting domestic violence incidents to the police, sometimes it's even a difference between life and death," she declared. "So, it's making the county a more welcoming place for immigrants, and a safer place for immigrants."

Under the policy, Suffolk County must translate vital public documents and provide translation services in the six languages most common to the local community. The Long Island Language Advocates Coalition is holding a conference today in Central Islip to help non-English speakers get the assistance they need.

Cheryl Keshner, senior paralegal and community advocate, Empire Justice Center and coordinator for Long Island Language Advocates Coalition (LILAC), said today's conference is geared to helping policymakers and advocates reach out to non-English-speakers on Long Island in their native language.

"We're addressing a lot of different issues, ranging from immigration to voting rights, to social services, to helping families with children with special needs," she said.

Keshner stated that Nassau County, just to the west of Suffolk, will enact a similar policy next summer.

"It's really for all of our benefit, because if somebody can report a crime, it makes us, our communities, safer," she said. "If someone can get the health care that they need, it makes us all healthier."

She said the Empire Justice Center won these changes along with Make the Road New York, Sepa Mujer, the Long Island Civic Engagement Table and the Long Island Language Advocates Coalition. 

More on today's conference is at LongIslandLanguageAdvocates.org.

Copyright © 2013 Public News Service

       

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Long Island Press: Suffolk Starts Offering Translations at County Offices

Suffolk Starts Offering Translations at County Offices

By Timothy Bolger on November 13, 2013. [Original article here]

Suffolk County will begin making language assistance services available at its offices Thursday to accommodate the estimated more than 100,000 eastern Long Island residents with limited-English proficiency (LEP) when they need government services.

County Executive Steve Bellone signed last year an executive order mandating free translation and interpretation services in all county offices for anyone who speaks Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Chinese, French Creole and Polish.

“I can’t promise perfection, but I can promise that you’ll have all the tools,” Assistant Deputy County Executive Luis Montes said Wednesday in Spanish to a crowd of nearly 100 at a community meeting in Brentwood.

The meeting was organized by the Long Island Civic Engagement Table, New York Communities for Change and Make the Road New York, three nonprofit advocacy groups that termed the move the first new pro-immigrant policy in recent memory as well as the only one of its kind in suburban New York.

Advocates also noted that the policy is a welcome change after the recent five-year anniversary of Ecuadorian immigrant Marcelo Lucero’s slaying by a group of teenagers in Patchogue—one of several high-profile hate crimes that drew international headlines.

“Now, instead of turning the immigrants into something they’re not, we’re working with the community,” said Daniel Altschuler of the Long Island Civic Engagement Table.

Several people at the meeting shared their experiences in which language barriers made it difficult or impossible to receive help from police, health care and social service providers.

Marcia Estrada recalled how she once waited three hours for a translator to help her file a police report, but she had to leave the station house before one arrived.

“I had to take care of my child,” Estrada said in Spanish. “They said they were going to send an officer, but they never arrived.”

Before the new policy and in response to such criticisms, Suffolk police in recent years have set up phone lines that allow police to contact translators by phone if one is not available to assist LEP residents.

The new policy also codifies that anyone seeking services at county government offices will not be asked about their immigration status—a question that can have a chilling effect in the immigrant community.

“Even my parents have to this day,” Legis.-elect Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood) said in Spanish, “when they go to get services…I have to go with them.”

For more information about the program, the Long Island Language Advocates Coalition will be hosting a conference, “Navigating a Roadmap for Language Access: Celebrating Our Successes, Addressing Our Challenges,” from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Friday at Touro College in Central Islip. Tickets are $30.

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The Associated Press: Immigrant-police relations on Long Island improve

Immigrant-police relations on Long Island improve

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The Christian Science Monitor: Latino voters in Nov. 5 elections could push House to pass immigration reform

Latino voters in Nov. 5 elections could push House to pass immigration reform

Republicans are learning: Latino voters are a rising force to be reckoned with. High turnout of Latino voters at state and local elections today will increase pressure on the House GOP to pass comprehensive immigration reform.
By Daniel AltschulerOp-ed contributor / November 5, 2013 at 9:42 am EST [Original article here]
Hempstead, N.Y.

Today, Americans go to the polls for municipal and state elections at a time of intense speculation about whether comprehensive immigration reform can pass Congress. What many may not realize is that voting trends at the state and local level this year are critical for the prospects of federal reform. 

Twelve months ago, comprehensive immigration reform (reform that includes a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, changes to the US visa system, and strengthening of border security) was dead – an issue with no chance of the bipartisan agreement necessary for a bill to pass Congress.

Then an election happened. And not just any election, but the first election in which Latino voters comprised 10 percent of the votes cast and voted overwhelmingly for President Obama ­– what many have called the decisive factor in his re-election. The next day, many Republicans who had previously stood behind candidate Mitt Romney’s “self-deportation” rhetoric on undocumented immigrants came out in favor of immigration reform to solve their “Latino problem” – that is, Republicans’ poor appeal among Latino voters.

Even conservative pundit Sean Hannity said his position had “evolved” on the issue, and he announced support for a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants along with changes to America’s legal immigration and border security systems.

Since then, the Senate’s bipartisan Gang of Eight came together to hammer out a bill that included the path to citizenship. With support from a super-majority of their colleagues, the bill passed the Senate.

But the Republican House leadership, led by Speaker John Boehner (R) of Ohio and under pressure from the tea party, has now dragged its feet by refusing to take up the Senate bill, with the key sticking point remaining the path to citizenship.

Now, once again, election season is upon us. And while those elected to municipal and state-wide posts this year will not be voting on comprehensive immigration reform, increasing Latino turnout in key races will up the pressure on members of Congress to support reform. 

For years, the conventional wisdom about communities of color has been that their turnout is much higher in presidential years than in mid-term and municipal/state years, reducing their potential impact on the composition of the House of Representatives and more local races. But, as a recent Latino Decisions analysis pointed out, turnout among all demographics is lower in non-presidential years. And with the Latino and immigrant population continuing to grow, their political strength this year and next is likely on the rise.

This uptick will increase pressure on the House to act because it will demonstrate that Latinos and immigrants are a rising force that will also have an impact in mid-term elections in 2014, when House members will again be up for election.

Several key races this year on the East Coast will provide a useful indicator of the state of play with Latino voters.

In Virginia, the hotly-contested governor’s race between Terry McAuliffe and Ken Cuccinelli could be decided by Latino voters, whose share of the population has more than doubled since 2000.

In New York City, Latino voters now comprise more than 20 percent of registered voters, according to my analysis of Voter Activation Network data. With a mayoral election between Bill de Blasio and Joe Lhota that has attracted national attention, Latino turnout could prove critical.

The same is true in another New York area where my organization works, Nassau County on Long Island, which offers a microcosm of the nation’s demographic change. Once considered the realm of lily-white suburbs, residents of color now represent over 30 percent of Nassau's voting-age public, up from just over 20 percent in 2000. And the Latino and Asian-American populations have grown by approximately 50 and 70 percent, respectively, during that span. With a contentious County Executive election between the current and former occupants of that seat, Tom Suozzi and Ed Mangano, the Latino and immigrant vote may determine the outcome.

In all of these races, members of increasingly-diverse districts in Congress will be watching, including Long Island’s Rep. Peter King (R), New York City’s Rep. Michael Grimm (R), and Virginia's Frank Wolf (R).

Republican House members like Mr. King, Mr. Grimm, and Mr. Wolf are critical for the success of comprehensive immigration reform for two key reasons. The first is that they represent the new America – districts in which Latino, Asian, and immigrant communities are an increasingly large share of the population and the electorate, as opposed to the less-diverse districts of many House Republicans.

Second, these representatives can emphasize the urgency of comprehensive immigration reform to their party’s leadership, which will ultimately determine whether immigrant communities get the House vote they deserve.

Some, like Rep. King, have already earned immigrant rights advocates' praise by publicly supporting immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship. Now, King, Grimm, Wolf, and other Republican members of Congress in similar districts should stand up and support a vote on a comprehensive bill in the House this year. In fact, they should support HR15, the comprehensive House bill that already has three GOP co-sponsors and would likely win majority support if House leadership were to allow it to come up for a vote.

If for no other reason, House members like these must communicate to their leaders that Latinos’ growing electoral power will pose a threat to them in 2014 if their party maintains its anti-reform persona.

The imperative to make sure immigrant voices are heard by elected officials on immigration reform and other issues is precisely why organizations like mine are paying every bit as much attention in 2013 as we did in 2012, and as we will be in 2014. On Long Island, we registered more than 7,000 voters in Latino, immigrant, and African-American communities this year and will mobilize 25,000 members of these communities to the polls today. Allies around the country are doing similarly impressive work.

Ultimately, the path to reform requires making members of both parties understand that comprehensive immigration reform is smart policy and smart politics.

Supporters demonstrate the merit of the policy with strong arguments about the need to keep families together and help the US economy and tax base grow. These arguments have attracted business, labor, faith, and civil rights advocates to our cause.

Supporters demonstrate the political merit of immigration reform by ensuring that Latino and immigrant communities cast ballots each and every year in growing numbers. Election Day 2013 will offer another golden opportunity to do just that.

Daniel Altschuler is the coordinator of the Long Island Civic Engagement Table, a nonpartisan coalition to foster civic participation led by Make the Road New YorkNew York Communities for Change, the Central American Refugee Center, and the Long Island Immigrant Alliance. He is also a visiting scholar at the Milano School of International Affairs, Management, and Urban Policy at the New School for Public Engagement.

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