[lg policy] New York Times editorial: Suffolk County Turns a Page

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at GMAIL.COM
Fri Nov 30 15:34:23 UTC 2012

Suffolk County Turns a Page
Published: November 29, 2012

Steve Bellone, the Suffolk County executive, signed an executive order on
Nov. 14 requiring county agencies to translate essential public documents
and forms into six languages besides English and to provide translation
services for residents who don’t speak English well.

The goal is to make government more accessible to residents, especially in
emergencies, and could be especially valuable to residents in Suffolk
County, which covers central and eastern Long Island and is far more
diverse than its bedroom-community stereotype suggests. The county has 1.5
million residents, 20 percent of whom speak languages other than English at
home. The order applies to the top six: Italian, Mandarin, Spanish, Polish,
French Creole and Portuguese.

Mr. Bellone’s order is more than a common-sense constituent service for the
simple reason that Suffolk County was, until recently, the last place you’d
expect to find such a policy. Under Mr. Bellone’s predecessor, Steve Levy,
the county had become a bastion of the anti-immigrant resentment found in
parts of the South and Southwest: the toxic mix of insecurity and hostility
that views recent immigrants as more problem than opportunity and expresses
itself through English-only language laws and police crackdowns in
immigrant communities.

Mr. Levy seized on and amplified that resentment, trying to deputize county
police as immigration agents, cracking down on Hispanic day laborers and
rarely missing an opportunity to denounce his critics’ patriotism and
sanity. The county became notorious for anti-immigrant violence and
indifferent policing in Hispanic neighborhoods.

Mr. Bellone’s election began a process of healing, and the language order
moves that process along. As residents across the island struggle to
recover from Hurricane Sandy, it’s heartening to think that county
government can reduce confusion by making things a little easier for
constituents who need help with English.



 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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