Immigrant mourned by thousands

Immigrant mourned by thousands

Immigrant mourned by thousands

Published Nov 19, 2008 6:43 PM

Seven suburban youths from Patchogue-Medford High School on Long Island decided to go out in their SUV on Saturday night, Nov. 8, and “f _ _ _ up a Mexican.” When they came across Ecuadorian immigrant Marcelo Lucero on his way to a friend’s house, they jumped him and beat him. Jeffrey Conroy, a local high school athlete, has been charged with first-degree manslaughter in the stabbing death of Lucero.

Immigrant mourned by thousands
Long Island vigil where Ecuadorian
immigrant was murdered.
Photo: Martha Rojas

On a rainy Friday night following the murder, more than 2,000 people gathered at the site of Lucero’s killing for a memorial vigil. Religious and government officials counseled peacefulness and reconciliation, but many people held signs asking for a reckoning.

Lucero was the eldest son of a poor Ecuadorian family. He left his home 16 years ago at the age of 22 to take the long and dangerous trip to the United States to find work. He traveled to Patchogue in Suffolk County, New York, a magnet for Ecuadorian families.

Marcelo Lucero worked for many years in a dry cleaning store, went to church and sent money home to his mother so she could build a house and survive. He was often sad and lonely and called his mother several times a week. (Newsday, Nov. 16)

Anti-Black and anti-immigrant history

Immigrant mourned by thousands
May 1 Coalition for Immigrant Rights
in Patchogue, N.Y., Nov. 14.
Photo: Carlos Canales

Suffolk County has a long racist history. White colonists stole the land from Indigenous people in the 17th century. The enslavement of Africans was legal there until 1827.

In the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan held rallies in full white-sheeted regalia in Huntington, originally the Suffolk County seat. The Nazi Party chose to set up “Camp Siegfried” in the Suffolk village of Yaphank in the 1930s. Lucero worked just eight miles from there.

Racist realtors have promoted “racial steering” in the growing white suburbs from the 1950s to the present, forcing Black families into designated Black communities with inferior schools and social services. Suffolk County police have been notoriously racist in these communities.

U.S. policies have created a system of forced migration for millions of people. “Free trade” agreements have devastated the national economies of most of the countries of Latin America, Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Millions have left behind their beloved families to become low-wage laborers in the capitalist world market.

Racist, anti-immigrant rhetoric from media “stars” like Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity of Fox News has labeled immigrants “illegal aliens.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy garnered votes by pandering to reactionary groups in the county and spearheading numerous anti-immigrant bills in the county legislature.

The Mexican Consulate, investigating racist attacks on Mexican immigrants in Farmingville—about 10 miles from where Lucero was killed—compared the region to the Arizona border for the abuse of immigrants. Levy did nothing in the face of fire bombings of Latin@s’ houses, attempted murders of Mexican day laborers, racist beatings, and police harassment of Latin@ residents. (AP, Nov. 16)

Levy’s policies mirror federal law, which has produced the terrible Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids on workplaces. These raids have intensified in the past year and have resulted in the deportation of 345,000 immigrants so far in 2008, up 16.5 percent from last year. (Boston Globe, Nov. 7)

Political reputations have been made or destroyed by adherence to the anti-immigrant line—from former Gov. Elliot Spitzer in New York, who dared to suggest that undocumented people should be able to get drivers’ licenses, to Sheriff Joe Arapaio of Maricopa County, Arizona, who has become the hero of the Aryan Nation, the Klan and the Minutemen as he conducts a campaign of terror and racial profiling in Phoenix and its environs.

George W. Bush’s Department of Homeland Security has spent billions of tax dollars to fund the raids and incarceration of hundreds of thousands of immigrants of color.

Anti-immigrant policies benefit corporations profiting from the immigrant-prison-industrial complex. The Border Patrol provides the best-paying jobs available for youth in the Southwestern U.S.

When the press and government conspire to demonize a specific group, that is institutionalized racism. As a result, a 40-percent rise in racist anti-immigrant attacks since 2003 preceded the murder of Marcelo Lucero. (AP, Nov. 16)

On that November night when the teenagers decided to ride around looking for a Mexican to attack, they were motivated by the rhetoric of County Executive Levy. They were inspired by public officials who confer legitimacy on anti-immigrant groups in Suffolk and across the U.S.

Foreclosures, low wages and unemployment are hitting hard on Long Island. Bankruptcies are up 77 percent. Anti-immigrant politicians promote racism to obs the real reasons for the economic decline. They inspired the adolescent killers of Marcelo Lucero.

At the vigil, a young Salvadoran man stood on a roof and held up a sign, “The murder of Marcelo Lucero is the responsibility of Steve Levy.”

Carlos Canales of the Workplace Project, an organizer of day laborers in nearby Farmingville, said, “They haven’t permitted the people to speak up and to tell our real feelings which show our anger, which shout our sorrow for the death of Marcelo. They ask us to live in peace, but we can never live in peace because there is no peace if there is no justice.”

Canales told Workers World that Steve Levy is “the spiritual leader of the doctrine of racial hatred” who promotes the “legalization and implementation of the most effective local anti-immigrant laws” in Suffolk County, the most segregated county in the U.S. (AP, Nov. 16)

During the vigil, many circulated a petition asking New York State Gov. David Paterson to call for the resignation of Levy. The May 1st Coalition plans a protest at the governor’s offices in Manhattan on Nov. 21.

Casa opens new day-laborer center in Crossroads

Day laborers struggle in tough economy

By Crystal Walker
Wednesday, and November 19, 2008 at 6:46 p.m.

Minutes before sunrise, people line up looking for work at Labor Ready in downtown Columbia.

The business offers people a day’s work and a day’s pay, but there are no guarantees.

“If they don’t have any work, I’m stuck or just out here, putting out applications,” Devante McCor said.

McCor is a brick mason by trade and says it’s tough to find regular work right now.

“But I still get out here and put out applications, you know what I’m saying, let them know that I’m looking for work, you know what I’m saying, got skills, you know what I’m saying, a lot of stuff, and well there all, if we have anything we’ll call you,” McCor said.

USC Professor Paulo Guimares says South Carolina’s construction jobs have been on a steady decline since January.

“It’s likely to shed some more jobs, because housing permits are down and they keep trending down,” Guimares said.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, South Carolina lost an estimated 16,000 construction jobs between January and September, leaving workers like McCor stuck out in the cold.

“My plans is to get myself back on my feet, go to school,” McCor said.

He says education is his ticket to a lasting employment.

Patchogue rebirth overshadowed by immigrant’s slaying

n a once-desolate stretch of Main Street in Patchogue, check local officials just two weeks ago joined business owners to break ground on a new YMCA, a $19.2 million anchor to the downtown’s western side.

County Executive Steve Levy said the project would make Patchogue “a destination place, there ” bringing energy and business downtown.

It is the latest step in Patchogue’s revitalization, a process that has seen store vacancies on Main Street shrink from about 50 percent 12 years ago to less than 20 percent today. Soon, ground could be broken on the biggest breakthrough yet: a seven-story or higher hotel on the site of the former Swezey’s department store, along with 250 housing units and tens of thousands of feet of new stores.

But in the past week, the village’s upswing was overshadowed by the killing of Ecuadorean immigrant Marcelo Lucero, 37, in what Suffolk police have labeled a hate crime.

Some members of the Spanish-speaking community, even longtime residents, have come forward to say they feel unsafe in their neighborhoods, but often are hesitant to go to the police for fear of deportation. And the village mayor has embarked on a door-to-door campaign in Hispanic districts to assure residents that the village cares about their welfare.

The Nov. 8 killing has shaken the blue-collar, bay-side community, where for decades whites and a growing Latino population have co-existed in seeming harmony.

“We are one of the few communities where the intertwining of the two communities has worked very well,” said Fernando Quinones, a deacon at St. Frances de Sales Roman Catholic Church and coordinator of the Brookhaven Hispanic Ministry. “It’s surprising to see something like this happen. It comes as such a shock.”

It is a sentiment repeated over and over in conversations with local residents, business people and officials. Unlike nearby Farmingville, which is marked by tensions between white residents and a recent influx of Mexican day laborers, in Patchogue the melding of ethnic groups seemed to be working.

“I’ve lived here 78 years and we’ve never had anything like this before,” said Abie Siegal, owner of the family-run Blum’s clothing store, where he has worked since 1951. “It’s a very diverse community that has been getting along for many years.”

Still, in the wake of Lucero’s killing, stories have emerged of Latinos who say they have been harassed, beaten, cursed or spat upon. Said Flavio Lojano, who lives near the site of the Lucero stabbing: “This is not right, fighting between Spanish and American people.”

Lori Devlin, a village trustee, said employees at Gallo Tropical, a Colombian restaurant on Main Street, have told of attacks. “We were surprised to learn how much of their employees have been beaten up,” she said. “No one should think they can’t safely walk home from work.”

Latinos started arriving in Patchogue in significant numbers with an influx of Puerto Ricans in the 1950s. They were followed in the 1980s by Central Americans fleeing civil wars in their home countries.

By the early to mid-1990s, Ecuadoreans started arriving, and today they make up the largest segment of the Latino population, said the Rev. Andrew Connolly, who used to work at St. Frances de Sales.

Census figures show Latinos have increased from 14 percent of Patchogue’s population in 1990 to 24 percent in 2000. Mayor Paul Pontieri estimates it may be 30 percent today.

Some locals note the some of alleged attackers came not from Patchogue but neighboring Medford, without a tradition of diversity and integration. But problems that some associate with the influx of Latinos – complaints of overcrowded housing, for example – anger some residents in both places.

“Main Street is like Mexico, basically,” said Nancy Tanzey, who has lived in Patchogue for 25 years. “There’s three or four families living in one house.”

Still, Quinones said Latinos and whites often mingle. He noted that St. France de Sales holds an annual bilingual Thanksgiving Day Mass, and another each year with an outdoor picnic. It’s attended by Latinos and whites, and features Spanish food along with traditional American fare.

By all accounts, the village has made great strides toward turning itself into another Huntington or Babylon with a bustling downtown and trendy restaurants. The Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts, for instance, a 1920s vaudeville theater that reopened in 1998 after being closed for more than a decade, welcomed 135,000 people last year. That is twice the patronage in 2004, when Pontieri took office, he said.

Scores of affordable apartments and condos have sprung up between Main Street and the Long Island Rail Road station – the same station that was near the site of the attack on Lucero.

Pontieri, who spent the week at rallies, vigils and church services, said he believes the 115-year-old village can overcome the tragedy, although it won’t be easy. “Will it be a temporary stain?” he said. “I’m a supreme optimist.”

Greg Warrington, 26, who in September opened another of Patchogue’s new restaurants, the Pura Vida Burrito Co., agreed. “A few idiots in the high school can’t define what Patchogue is. It’s a melting pot of different cultures,” he said. “It would be a shame if this town is depicted as having a lot of underlying hatred.”

ACLU ruffles some O.C. feathers

American Civil Liberties Union has settled 4 high-profile cases in past 2 months.



Three years ago, the American Civil Liberties Union was a distant entity with little or no connections in Orange County.

But that has changed since September 2005 when the ACLU decided to set up in a small office suite on Chapman Avenue in Orange with two attorneys and one legal assistant.

This group has handled at least 10 cases since, not counting others that were resolved before a lawsuit was filed. In the last two months, ACLU attorneys have settled four high-profile Orange County cases. They have represented a Buddhist congregation in Garden Grove seeking to build a temple in an office complex, day laborers in Lake Forest, a Christian group that was banned from feeding the homeless in Doheny State Beach and a man who was thrown out of a Costa Mesa City Council meeting.

The group’s entry into Orange County has been a long time coming, said Ramona Ripston, executive director of ACLU Southern California.

“Orange County has changed dramatically over the years,” Ripston said. “However, we continue to deal with the same issues we have dealt with since the ’70s – race, poverty and rights for the underprivileged.”

ACLU Orange County has also tackled other issues in the last three years, says attorney Hector Villagra, who heads the local office.

Villagra says one of the first cases they took on involved a controversial program proposed by the Fullerton School District, which required parents to spend $1,500 to equip their children with laptop computers. A group of parents, who believed they were being scrutinized and discriminated against by the school district over their reluctance to pay for the laptops, approached the ACLU, which was able to reach an agreement with the school district to make the program accessible to all students.

That case, in fact, was pivotal in introducing the ACLU to all segments of the Orange County population, including conservative Christians such as Sandra Dingess, who admits she had certain pre-conceived notions about the ACLU.

“I had this stereotypical notion of the ACLU, that they were always the devil’s advocate, on the wrong side of issues,” says the Fullerton parent, who at the time was faced with putting $6,000 on her credit card to laptops for four children. “But in this case, they protected my rights and my children’s rights.”

Jim Seiler, a member of Christian group Welcome INN, said ACLU was a last resort for him and other members of his group, who were stopped by state park officials in February from feeding the homeless on Doheny State Beach. The group fed at least 50 people on the beach each evening, Monday through Friday, he said.

“I’d always thought of the ACLU as representing atheists and groups of people whose ideas I don’t subscribe to,” Seiler said. “I was shocked that they offered to help us.”

Although ACLU won some hearts in conservative quarters, their most vehement critics remain local city officials and those with strong positions on the immigration issue.

The ACLU sued the city of Lake Forest and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department over a city ordinance that barred laborers from soliciting work on Lake Forest sidewalks. City Councilman Richard Dixon says his experience with the ACLU in that case left a bitter taste in his mouth. He said the city wasn’t enforcing the ordinance.

ACLU filed a frivolous lawsuit that benefited no one and cost taxpayers heavily, Dixon said.

“Maybe some of their lawsuits are beneficial,” he said. “But by and large, I find them trying to grandstand and chest-pound when they don’t need to be pounding their chests. It’s complete nonsense. In our case, thankfully, truth and justice won over stupidity.”

The protracted lawsuit ended in August when the city and the sheriff’s department agreed to allow the day laborers to solicit work on public sidewalks as long as they followed the law.

In other instances where the ACLU was involved, there were issues of conflict between local government and federal laws. The ACLU filed a lawsuit last year against the city of Garden Grove challenging their zoning laws for denying a building permit to a Buddhist temple on Chapman Avenue.

Belinda Escobosa-Helzer, who represented the temple on behalf of the ACLU, said the city violated the temple members’ rights to congregate and practice their religion. This case culminated in a settlement agreement in September with the city agreeing to give the temple another chance to apply for a permit, which would be “considered favorably.”

But Garden Grove Councilman Mark Rosen, who voted against that agreement in closed session, said the case should have gone to trial.

“As a councilman, I wanted to see the federal law challenged,” he said. “I don’t believe federal government should interfere with decisions that are made by local governments.”

Escobosa-Helzer said she found, especially during this case, that having an office in Orange County helps her interact and communicate better with clients.

In the future, Villagra says his office will continue to be involved with issues such as education, immigrant rights and rights of those in jail. Recently, his office sent out a letter to the sheriff’s department alerting them to a complaint from inmates that they were being forced to share razor blades.

“There was a legitimate concern of HIV and Hepatitis,” he said. “But that issue was resolved with a letter.”

Their goal in Orange County is also to build ties with the community, Escobosa-Helzer said.

“It helps us recognize the problems in different communities and ways to find solutions,” she said.

Contact the writer: 714-445-6685 or