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Perspectives

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SEPA Mujer shows their support for immigrants by donning yellow bracelets. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Everyone has an opinion on how to handle the border crisis. Having recently gone directly to the southwest border to talk about solutions with U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents, recent migrants and local politicians, several things are clear.

Perry Gershon. Photo from SCDC

First, contrary to some of the national narratives, most border crossers today come to ports of entry and seek asylum. They do not dart or swarm the locations between ports of entry. Yes, there are some scrambling crossers, but the entire crisis has tipped toward ports of entry, which is why more efficiently processing asylum claims is so important and increasingly difficult.

Second, while human and drug trafficking are serious issues, these individuals do not comprise the bulk of current illegal crossers, even as numbers of Central American refugees continue to rise. Our border laws are designed to deter those sneaking into the country, not managing large volumes turning themselves in — hoping for asylum.

The bulk of those at our borders are economic migrants, some of whom may be entitled to asylum, but all of whom are fleeing a part of this hemisphere overwhelmed by public corruption, poverty, violent crime, drug trafficking and general disorder. 

This suggests a need not only for better processing of asylum claims, and more systematic ways of housing asylum seekers, but finding better ways to incentivize these economic migrants to stay in their countries of origin, rather than seeking escape, refuge and opportunity here. Rather than abandoning rule of law programs in these unstable Central American countries, we should be reinforcing stability and the rule of law.

Third, agents in places like Arizona speak with one, clear, consistent voice. They are legally able to monitor and enforce our border, and capture and turn illegal crossers over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but they are not responsible for processing, long-term detention or deportation. In effect, they are a small cog in a big machine, and what they face daily is both severe and growing. What they cannot control is the process of crafting a much-needed political solution.

Finally, no one can seriously discuss the border without discussing drug trafficking. Again, a dose of reality is vital. Drugs entering the United States over the southwest border include heroin, cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine and fentanyl, as well as other synthetics. 

But these drugs are not typically hustled in the dark of night, between ports of entry, over big desert swatches. No, they are methodically trafficked through ports of entry — hidden in trucks and cars, and on rail cars. Many transporting these drugs are mules, beholden to powerful Mexican drug cartels. Poor people who desperately lack options often transport these drugs for the cartels or face death.  

Again, the answer must be multifaceted. First, we must work with the Mexican government to enforce their borders and get serious about stopping demand here. Second, we should provide more treatment for those seeking a way out of addiction. Third, and most important, we should be teaching kids to make smart and healthy choices by helping them never to feel desperate enough to turn to addiction.

What lessons can we draw from recent conversations from those on the front lines of our southwest border? Several are obvious. First, we need to have a more organized and efficient system to process the vast number of asylum seekers.

How do we do that? We need more administrative asylum judges, even if reassigned from other tasks temporarily. We need smoother, faster interfaces between CBP, ICE and the judicial system. In managing the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services treatment of unaccompanied minors, who go from ICE to HHS after 20 days, we need more effective ways of protecting and processing claims. 

We need to work more closely with the Mexican government to agree on how to house the large numbers, optimally on the Mexican side of the border, which will prevent having to place large numbers of asylum seekers across the United States to await hearings. Finally, we should be asking Mexico to consider becoming a “safe third country” for asylum seekers, which would allow Central Americans to win asylum in Mexico also, reducing pressure on the U.S. border.

Last, and most important, we need to rethink how best to restore rule of law, stability, economic opportunity and foreign investment in Central America, to incentivize economic migrants to remain where they live, and to create opportunities and security there. This requires international engagement, and sustained commitments to neighbors. 

In the end, that investment will help us all. That is what going to the border taught me.

Perry Gershon is a national commentator on business, trade, policy and politics. A congressional candidate for New York’s 1st District, he holds a bachelor’s degree from Yale and a master’s in business administration  from University of California, Berkeley.

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Voting for the 2019 village elections will take place 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the Village Center. File Photo by Heidi Sutton

The race for Port Jefferson mayor has heated up, and like an overfilled spaghetti pot has boiled over and started to burn the table we eat from.

Conversation online has started to grow toxic in several places. There is room for discussion about the past history of both candidates, but it has to be based in the realm of fact. The Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce will be hosting a meet-the-candidates night this Thursday, June 6, from 6 to 9 p.m. in the Village Center. It is the perfect time to ask the pertinent questions, but there should be a number of facts that every villager is on the same page with before the start of the meeting.

Falsehood: “[X] candidate does not live within the village!”

Both candidates live within village limits and have for several years. Mayor Margot Garant lives in the westernmost portion of the village, while newcomer John Jay LaValle lives in The Highlands at Port Jefferson.

Falsehood: “John Jay LaValle was indicted of corruption while town supervisor!” 

This one is often a confused topic. LaValle was the Brookhaven Town supervisor from 1996 to 2005, when he stepped down from his position and later moved on to be Suffolk County Republican chairman. While others in the Republican Party were indicted for corruption around that time, no official charges were ever brought against the candidate.

Falsehood: “Garant took out a campaign ad against LaValle trying to discredit him!”

The May 30 edition of The Port Times Record newspaper contained an advertisement from Taking Action Suffolk County, a nonprofit that is involved in electing Democrats over Republicans. The ad asked for people to vote for Garant, but the ad was paid for by TASC, which stated on the ad it was not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.

Falsehood: “Village officials are specifically targeting LaValle signs!”

After certain Residents First Party candidates got heated over issues involving their signs several weeks ago, acting Chief of Code Enforcement Fred Leute Jr. looks to set the record straight.

He was originally told by an official in the village that signs were not allowed on public property, which is correct according to Village Attorney Brian Egan, but he was also told that anything 3 feet from the curb is prohibited as an easement.

“They did not want me to take signs off easements,” he said, admitting it was a mistake not to ask another village official first. 

The acting chief said he uses Tuesdays to do paperwork and other administration duties, and usually dresses in plain clothes to do that work. He also takes his personal vehicle to Village Hall on Tuesdays, as he said he doesn’t wish to waste taxpayer money using a public safety vehicle.

On his way to work he drives around the village interacting with homeless populations, but he also noticed several signs along his way that were on public property, and others on residential property right next to the road near St. Charles Hospital. Another sign was in front of The Steam Room seafood restaurant in the garden facing the road, which he originally thought was public property. He said once he learned it was not village property, he took that sign and replaced “in the same holes I took it.”

He added that he did not know where the signs removed in the residential section were precisely, and those signs were instead picked up by trustee candidate Tom Meehan, of the Residents First Party. Leute said the event became a big misunderstanding.

“There was no malice against LaValle,” he added.

Garant and Leute have confirmed signs are not being taken down from private property by village officials.

The story that appeared in the June 6 edition of the Port Times Record stated Margot Garant lived near the country club. Her mother, Jeanne Garant, lives in that portion, while Margot lives in the western portion of the village.

Veterans Dan Guida, Gary Suzik and Joseph Cognitore during a visit to Rocky Point High School to commemorate Veterans Day. Photo by Rich Acritelli

By Rich Acritelli

This week marks the 63rd anniversary of the first Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 1954, as declared by President Eisenhower, an annual remembrance of national service.

“On that day let us solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly, on the seas, in the air, and on foreign shores, to preserve our heritage of freedom,” Eisenhower said.

Many North Shore residents have served at home and abroad to protect the freedom of the United States. Just recently, proud veterans from VFW Post 6249 in Rocky Point were interviewed by members of the Rocky Point High School History Honor Society about their years in uniform.

The first veteran to be interviewed was Gary Suzik, who is a resident of Rocky Point. The native of Michigan’s upper peninsula grew up playing football, hockey and downhill skiing and still has a touch of his Mid-western accent. He served in the U.S. Navy for four years and was stationed on the USS LaSalle, where he helped guide the landing craft. As it turned out, this was one of the last ships to be built locally at the historic Brooklyn Navy Yard. Suzik said he is immensely proud of his duty on a vessel that saw naval missions for more than 40 years in every corner of the world. The ship and crew even helped retrieve the Gemini capsule, a spacecraft carrying two astronauts, after it landed from an early space mission.

Suzik participated in operations in the Mediterranean Sea, where he visited ports in Italy and France. He was also deployed to Cuba and the Caribbean during the Dominican Civil War in 1965. It was common for this ship to carry about 400 sailors and 500 to 600 Marines who  utilized landing crafts to assault enemy forces in hot spots around the globe. Suzik mentioned how the ship had the honor of carrying Admiral John McCain Jr., who is the father of senator, noted Vietnam veteran and prisoner of war John McCain (R-Arizona). Veterans Day is a special moment for Suzik as he recalls not only his memories, but that of his father who fought during the Battle of the Bulge in World War II and other family members who were also in the military.

Dan Guida grew up in Nassau County and currently lives in Wading River. His mother had nine brothers, of which seven served in the military during World War II. Since his youth, Guida said he learned the importance of national service from stories that were presented to him by his uncle. After high school, Guida was granted a temporary military deferment in order to attend St. John’s University in Jamaica, Queens, but a short time later, he decided to leave school and was drafted into the Army. With some college behind him, Guida was accepted into the Army Officer Candidate School and became a second lieutenant. Today around the post, many of the VFW members cheerfully refer to him as “Lieutenant Dan,” a reference to the film “Forrest Gump.”

From 1967 to 1968, Guida served in Vietnam with the I Corps. As an officer, he was responsible to direct tanks, armored personnel carriers and the trucks that operated within the northern areas of South Vietnam, not too far from Da Nang and the demilitarized zone. Guida recalled the tanks didn’t function well within the terrain of Vietnam through the heavy rains that saturated the grounds and made it difficult for American armor to gain enough traction in the mud. He shared interesting insights into the buildup to the war with the students.

Later, Guida utilized the GI Bill to attend Nassau Community College and Hofstra University, where he majored in accounting. He held a job as an accountant for a good part of his life and he still happily holds financial responsibilities today for Post 6249. The Wading River resident said Veterans Day is a moment that our citizens should be thankful for the sacrifices that past, present and future veterans have made toward the security of this nation. Guida said he saw that gratitude as he entered the high school before the interview. He had a big smile on his face when a younger Rocky Point student personally thanked him for his service.

Rocky Point resident and local commander of VFW Post 6249, Joseph Cognitore was also asked about his time in the service by the students. While Guida saw the earlier part of the war, Cognitore, who was drafted into the Army, endured the latter phase of fighting in Vietnam. From 1969 to 1970, he was a platoon sergeant that served in the air cavalry that transported soldiers by helicopters into various areas of the country. 

Cognitore was tasked to conduct “search and destroy” missions against the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army who were situated in caves, tunnels, jungles and mountains. He also fought in Cambodia against an enemy that utilized the strength of the Ho Chi Minh trail to move troops and materials through the country to attack American and South Vietnamese forces.

Cognitore said it took a long time to put the war behind him. During the Gulf War in the early ’90s, he joined the VFW and rose to be its commander and to hold prominent leadership positions within the local, state and national levels of the organization. He said he is constantly reminded of his combat tours through injuries to his legs that have left him hobbling for years.

Cognitore views every day as Veterans Day. Each day he answers countless emails and telephone calls to help men and women that have served at home and abroad. Recently, Cognitore helped spearhead a golf outing that has raised over $200,000 to help the Wounded Warriors. One of the most important qualities the students were treated to during the interview was the camaraderie the veterans have toward each other, a dynamic likely strengthened by Post 6249’s daily mission of helping every veteran.

Rich Acritelli is a social studies teacher at Rocky Point High School and an adjunct professor of American history at Suffolk County Community College.

Reclaim NY is requesting various public documents from governments and school districts across Nassau and Suffolk counties, including Port Jefferson Village and Commack school district. File photo by Elana Glowatz

By Brandon Muir

Long Islanders deserve better than excuses from politicians, and bureaucrats. It’s time they took the lead on making government more open. That’s why Reclaim New York launched our transparency project.

Using the Freedom of Information Law to open spending records from governments across Long Island is the first step toward ensuring all citizens can hold their local government accountable.

This effort may ruffle some feathers. It seems this happened with Port Jefferson Mayor Margot Garant. Rather than just fixing Port Jefferson’s FOIL failures, we saw a smoke screen.

On March 7, we filed a FOIL request for the 2014 village expenditures, since this public record is not posted on the village website. We intend to share this information publicly to empower citizen-driven oversight of government.

The documents did not arrive.

Excuses don’t make up for not following the law’s timelines, or completing a FOIL request late. The law provides for extensions; a government simply has to ask for it. When this doesn’t happen, the FOIL is considered denied.

The mayor recently claimed we never filed an appeal and didn’t reach out to the village. Both statements are incorrect. The appeal is documented, and was sent on April 11, to the mayor’s own address, exactly as Port Jefferson asked.

We simply followed the law, as anyone can see at our transparency project portal: NYtransparency.org. If the mayor does not like FOIL’s requirements, she should attack the law, not Reclaim New York.

To be clear, the village has now sent the records. But more than 75 percent of Long Island localities fulfilled their legal obligations on time. We’d like to work with the village to improve their transparency process.

Here’s how we can make that happen: The village can post the names and contact information for the Records Access Officer, and Records Appeals Officer online. These designations are required by law, and this would clear up confusion.

When a FOIL request is denied, or ignored — as in this case — the law allows for an appeal, sent to the Appeals Officer.

If the village says the mayor fills this role, and tells a FOIL filer to use a particular email address to submit an appeal to her, the mayor should not publicly claim she hasn’t received an appeal and blame it on the sender.

Additionally, ensure village employees understand the time limits for FOIL requests.

The first response, within five days, should acknowledge receipt and indicate when the request will be completed. If you need more time, request an extension.

In the initial response to Reclaim New York, the village said they would outline production costs for fulfilling the FOIL request. Then they stopped responding to our requests without providing a clear timeline.

It’s important to note that it’s not the filer’s responsibility to follow up with calls, though in this case Reclaim New York did. But the law does require that a village respond within 10 business days to an appeal.

The ultimate transparency goal for any government: proactively posting information in a searchable format online.

Every citizen should be able to see how government is spending public money. There’s no need to wait for someone to ask. Provide this information openly, and Port Jefferson will truly be leading the way toward open government.

Brandon Muir is the executive director for Reclaim New York.

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