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Suozzi discusses immigration at Whitestone civic meeting ahead of special election

Jan. 19, 2024 By Iryna Shkurhan

Tom Suozzi, a Democrat and former District 3 Congressman, appeared in Whitestone Wednesday night as part of his quest to reclaim his eastern Queens/Nassau County seat in the upcoming special election.

At the We Love Whitestone Civic Association meeting, held inside Grace Church, dozens of locals heard Suozzi’s ideas as to how to address national issues such as immigration, as well as critical issues abroad. But the attendees had also expected to see his Republican opponent, Mazi Pilip.

Alfredo Centola, president of the association, said that Pilip was invited to the meeting more than a month ago, but that her team only replied two days prior to say she wouldn’t attend due to a scheduling conflict.

While Suozzi, who stepped down after three terms in congress for an unsuccessful bid to be governor in 2022, was commended for attending the meeting, he received a mixed reception.

“I would have said it with the other candidate here, when Suozzi was our congressman, we had a friend in congress. Whenever we needed something, even though it wasn’t a federal issue, the man jumped in,” said Centola. “This is not a plug. I’m just telling the facts.”

Centola recounted issues such as constant and disruptive helicopter noise above Francis Lewis Park, as well as other music noise complaints, that Suozzi’s team was able to resolve promptly to improve the quality of life in Whitestone.

But two attendees of the meeting expressed hesitation in voting for him in the upcoming special election on Feb. 13 to fill the seat that was briefly held by the scandal-ridden George Santos before his expulsion from the House. 

Suozzi fielded questions from attendees about his past record dealing with immigration. Photo by Iryna Shkurhan

A retired postal worker in attendance expressed disapproval of Suozzi’s decision to ban the U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency from Nassau County, citing that the migrant crisis has left her feeling unsafe in the community. 

Suozzi defended his decision, citing his experience as county executive of Nassau County for seven years, to not allow ICE to conduct raids in the county under his leadership because they were “terrifying our people” and “not even effective.” He claimed that the federal agents would break into people’s homes like “cowboys” making people feel unsafe.

He added that the presence of ICE in the community would discourage undocumented residents from coming forward to police if they were a victim of a crime. That fear, he said, could also lead them to turn to gangs in the area for protection, instead of officials, for help. 

Pilip, who was raised in Israel and is a member of the Nassau County legislature, has criticized Suozzi’s decision to expel ICE from Nassau County. In her 10 Point Plan, she noted that she would work with ICE and bring a stronger approach to curbing illegal immigration and securing the border.

“The fact that it’s as bad as it is right now, may be the best thing that happened to us because it may finally force Washington to make a deal,” said Suozzi on the migrant crisis. “It’s not just a border crisis. It’s a Washington DC crisis.” 

But another attendee chimed in to say that he felt that Suozzi’s approach to the immigration issue was too “ingenuous,” and ignored that the influx of new arrivals through the southern border was higher than ever before. 

“You need Congress to pass permanent laws to change the problem,” replied Suozzi, also suggesting an Ellis Island-like facility at the border to process migrants before they enter the country. “When you go through the door, you get your health check, you get your background check, and the immigration judge does the case right there. Twenty percent of the people will be accepted, and 80% will be sent back right there.”

Suozzi, who held the congressional seat between 2017 and 2023, said that he had a track record of working across the aisle.

He cited a high bipartisan index ranking by the Luger Center, which uses bill sponsorship data to calculate congressional performance. In 2021, the center calculated that Suozzi was the 75th most bipartisan member in the House of Representatives, out of 435 members. 

Residents of Little Neck, Whitestone, Glen Oaks, Floral Park and Queens Village—along with residents of northern Nassau County—will have the chance to choose between the two candidates in the Feb. 13 general election. Early voting will be held between Feb. 3 and Feb. 11. 

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