Immigrants waiting to be processed at Ellis Island, sometime around the turn of the last century. Photo: Library of Congress

Imagine a reality where elected officials confronted complex and difficult real-world problems with thoughtful deliberation with the goal of developing rational, effective public policy that seeks to solve those problems.

It’s hard to even imagine that in today’s environment.

What passes for “government” today is little more than partisan chest-beating, finger-pointing and pandering to our basest instincts. This is nowhere more clear than it is in our nation’s utter and complete failure to effectively address a “border crisis” that, over centuries, U.S. economic interests and the foreign policy that protected them helped to create.

Instead of actually working on the issue in a sincere attempt to fix what’s broken — something that hasn’t been accomplished in nearly 40 years — Congress has been content to sit back and let the problems fester, confident that the problems can be used to incumbents’ political advantage, if they play their cards right.

And play they do. It’s all a game and it’s been little more than a game in Washington — a profitable partisan game — for decades.

It was inevitable that Washington’s poisoned politics, which has wrought a colossal partisan stalemate on just about every significant legislative issue one can think of, would eventually infect state and even local government.

And here we are.

It’s 2023 and the supervisor of the Town of Riverhead, out of thin air, manufactured a crisis looming for our town in order to justify a headline-grabbing “state of emergency” late in the evening of May 16. Her “justification” for doing so evolved with each subsequent media interview. It was clear there was no evidence — or, as the town’s chief of police put it, “no credible information” — supporting Aguiar’s alleged “high influx” of Riverhead-bound asylum-seekers. “Just rumors,” he said.

SEE PRIOR EDITORIAL: Rumors, half-truths and lies may grab ratings on talk radio and cable TV, but it’s no way to govern

Nevertheless, the entire Town Board, apparently faithful partisan foot soldiers all, didn’t hesitate to jump on Aguiar’s bandwagon — with Councilman Tim Hubbard parroting former President Trump’s June 2015 announcement speech conjuring the types of people Mexico is “sending” — criminals, rapists, etc. Hey, this plays well to “the base,” as we have seen. So why bother with something as trivial as actual facts?

Does it matter? In our opinion, it damn well should.

This political game — a war waged with highly charged, inflammatory rhetoric serving no legitimate purpose — is dangerous. It’s divisive. It demonizes people based on national origin and skin color. By doing so, it promotes hate rather than tolerance and anger rather than compassion.

This from a board that makes a show of inviting a parade of Christian clergy members — with an occasional appearance from the local rabbi — to pray before every Town Board meeting.

Funny how Christians-of-convenience cherry-pick biblical teaching to avoid parts that don’t fit the current conservative “Christian” narrative. They’re only willing to ask that pesky “What would Jesus do?” question when they know the answer falls within their comfort zone.

“I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,” Jesus tells the righteous on Judgment Day.

They ask: “When did we see you, a stranger, and welcome you?”

He answers: “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”

So, keep praying, fellas. But prayer, without action, is nothing but a bunch of empty words. Not too unlike all the political rhetoric being spewed.

We’re now almost three weeks into this cockamamie “state of emergency.” The supervisor has extended it three times. Yet, its factual and legal underpinnings are as nonexistent and weak, respectively, as they were the night Aguiar announced the stunt. Make no mistake. That’s all it was.

There were no migrants boarding buses to Riverhead that night. They didn’t materialize in the days that followed. That’s because it was a fiction propagated by a talk-radio host, admitted liar and failed NYC mayoral candidate who has a history of loving to hate on Riverhead.

COVERAGE:Hotel/motel operators in Riverhead deny contact with NYC about housing homeless migrants, as Aguiar’s state of emergency draws praise, scorn
Riverhead supervisor extends and expands emergency order, drawing fire from Latino advocacy group and NYCLU
Other supervisors dispute Aguiar’s claim that Suffolk County Supervisors Association supports her emergency order on asylum-seekers

You’d think our local elected officials, who profess to be so concerned about “defending” Riverhead, would want to defend the honor and reputation of this town — and its police — from the onslaught of verbal attacks by Curtis Sliwa, who without evidence paints our community as “gang infested” and plagued by gang crime merely because of the ethnic composition of its residents and the proximity of the county jail. But facts don’t matter to Sliwa, as long as what’s being said makes for good sound bites and scores political points. Speaking of political points, it pays to state the obvious here: Sliwa is on a constant fact-free tirade attacking the man who defeated him in the mayoral election in 2021. Is his 2025 campaign already underway?

Apparently facts don’t matter to the Riverhead Town Board, either, and frankly that’s more of a concern to us and all Riverhead residents than the nonsense coming out of any talking head.

Because when all is said and done, this is about people. Real people. People who were born in Riverhead. People who are naturalized citizens. People who are permanent legal residents. People who were brought here as children by desperate parents looking to escape political repression, crime, poverty and hunger. People who fled violent gangs, violent governments and natural disasters. People desperate for work. People desperate to feed their children or find a doctor able to help them cure a childhood disease. People who want the same things for their families that we all want, the same things 25 million of our ancestors wanted when they huddled in steerage “accommodations” for a roiling, two-week trans-Atlantic steamship journey to America, the land of freedom and opportunity. And the 15 million or so who came here in the decades before those big ships sailed for New York Harbor.

Cue the chorus of: “But my ancestors came here legally! I’m not opposed to legal immigration. Just come here legally like my ancestors did.”

Come here legally — like my ancestors did!

Female immigrants being inspected at Ellis Island c. 1911 Photo: Library of Congress

First, asylum-seekers entering the U.S. today are, in fact, entering legally. U.S. law allows them to enter the country while waiting for their asylum claims to be decided by a court. That law was suspended by the Trump administration during the pandemic, requiring asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico for their asylum claims to be decided. The order suspending the law expired May 11 — leading to the present panic.

Second, unless your ancestors were Black or Asian, sit down and be quiet. Because other than those racial barriers, the only restrictions on immigration — which were first put into place in 1875 and expanded in 1917— were prohibitions against criminals, people with contagious diseases, polygamists, anarchists, beggars, illiterates and importers of prostitutes. In NYC, arrivals at Ellis Island (or Castle Garden before Ellis Island opened) were interviewed and (beginning in 1892) given a physical exam. The process took, in total, three to five hours, according to the Ellis Island Foundation.

The 1875 restrictions, by the way, coincided with the advent of steamship transports from southern Europe and the Slavic nations. Until then, the vast majority of the millions of immigrants were fair-skinned northern Europeans who looked more like the colonists who made the earliest journeys to the new world.

The 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act established a system favoring family reunification and immigration of skilled workers and also, for the first time, imposed limits on immigration from other nations in the Western Hemisphere.

There’s an annual cap on the number of immigrants for each type of visa based on family preferences (which are limited to: spouses and children of permanent residents aka green card holders; unmarried children 21 and over of permanent residents; unmarried children of U.S. citizens; married children of U.S. citizens; and siblings of adult U.S. citizens.) The wait time for an interview varies by country in each preference category and as of this month, ranges from two years, nine months to 25 years, depending of family relationship and country of origin.

The 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act granted legalization to millions of unauthorized immigrants, mostly from Latin America, who met certain conditions. It also imposed sanctions on employers who hired unauthorized immigrants.

That’s the nutshell version of the history of U.S. immigration law. The information is readily available online for anyone who cares to actually learn about it. That does not seem to include a majority of people these days, at least around here, who keep pushing the “my ancestors came here legally” trope — including, curiously enough, our town supervisor.

Aguiar, the Bronx-born child of Puerto Rican parents, claims her parents were immigrants who ‘did it legally’

During a May 19 appearance on Newsmax — with Sliwa, no less — Aguiar, who according to her past public statements is the Bronx-born daughter of Puerto Rican parents, claimed her parents were immigrants.

“I’m a Latina. I’m a first-generation immigrant,” Aguiar said. “I know what I — what my parents went through to get me to where I am. And we did it legally,” she said.

“No one is against legal immigration. I’m against illegal immigration. And we gotta set that record straight.”

Problem is, Aguiar’s parents were not immigrants. Anyone born in Puerto Rico after March 2, 1917 was born a U.S. citizen, under legislation signed that date by President Woodrow Wilson. According to publicly available records, the supervisor’s parents were born in the early 1930s. Her parents did not have to “immigrate” to the U.S. at all.

Either the town supervisor doesn’t understand the difference, or she’s just making things up as she goes along. Either way, it’s scary that this level of misinformation enters into the decision-making process of a person empowered to impose a state of emergency on a community. But then, this is the same supervisor who kept repeating a proven false report that veterans were evicted from an Orange County shelter to make room for asylum seekers. (See the above Newsmax segment.)

Enough already with the rhetoric, the pandering, the fear-mongering and misinformation. Supervisor, let the “emergency” order expire tomorrow and let’s end this sorry episode in our town’s history.

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