An Iraq War veteran who is looking to unseat U.S. Representative Tim Bishop in November made a campaign stop Saturday morning at the 7-Eleven on North Sea Road in Southampton Village—the site of ongoing anti-illegal immigration protests—to criticize the incumbent Democratic congressman for backing the creation of hiring halls.
U.S. Army Reserve Captain Lee Zeldin, a Republican and native of Shirley who is gunning for Mr. Bishop’s seat, was the invited guest of the Suffolk County Coalition for Legal Immigration and No Amnesty and the New York Patriots Association, both of which sponsored the event.
Speaking before a dozen supporters, Mr. Zeldin criticized Mr. Bishop for his support of hiring sites for undocumented workers, saying that the toleration of illegal behavior runs contrary to the Constitution.
Mr. Zeldin also attacked the Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act, a proposed law sponsored by Arizona Senator and Republican presidential candidate John McCain and Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy, that aims to secure the border and implement a work visa program for undocumented workers. Though he said he will cast his ballot for Mr. McCain in November, Mr. Zeldin said that the first step in addressing illegal immigration was securing the border, not offering earned amnesty to those who are in the country illegally.
“You can’t fix a leak until you turn off the faucet,” said Mr. Zeldin, adding that there is a difference between legal and illegal immigration. “By supporting hiring sites and accepting illegal conduct, we are disrespecting our own rule of law,” he said. He also said he rejects the idea that those who are passionate in their opposition to illegal immigrants are racists.
In a statement issued by his office, Mr. Bishop emphasized that he has never supported the use of taxpayer money to construct hiring halls in his congressional district, which includes most of eastern Suffolk County, including the towns of Brookhaven and Southampton. Mr. Bishop also said that such facilities only offer a temporary alternative to help keep undocumented day laborers from gathering in public spaces, like the 7-Eleven in Southampton Village, and off the streets when looking for work.
Mr. Bishop also said he supports strengthening border enforcement and, on the local level, he approves laws that hold accountable employers who hire undocumented workers. The congressman also said that all undocumented immigrants with criminal records should be deported, though he favors an earned path to legalization, which includes the payment of fines and back taxes, for those who do not have criminal pasts.
At Saturday’s rally, Mr. Zeldin promoted what he called a “voluntary deportation” policy whereby illegal workers who opt to return to their native country would receive priority status to get back in the United States. Such a policy, and not earned amnesty, promotes legal immigration, according to Mr. Zeldin.
The location of the rally, the 7-Eleven at North Sea Road and County Road 39—adjacent to a former proposed hiring site—attracted honks and waves from passing commuters and helped to punctuate the theme of the rally. The strip of North Sea Road attracts throngs of day laborers seeking employment; a scene Mr. Zeldin’s supporters argued creates a safety hazard and degrades the character of Southampton.
Mr. Zeldin said he developed a strong position on illegal immigration while stationed with the U.S. Military Intelligence Corps at Fort Huachuca in Arizona, near the Mexican border, where he saw first hand the work of U.S. Border Patrol agents. Mr. Zeldin, a former federal prosecutor, said the federal government is tying the hands of local authorities by not allowing them to inquire about the status of illegals, a view shared by his supporters at the rally.
Sue Grant, who traveled from Farmingville to show her support for Mr. Zeldin, carried a “Dump Bishop” sign and said the underground economy of illegal immigration was driving down wages. “I want citizens to have jobs,” Ms. Grant said. “Not illegals.”
In an interview after Saturday’s rally, Mr. Zeldin said he not only differed with Mr. Bishop on illegal immigration but on issues ranging from the Bush tax cuts to the war in Iraq.
Mr. Zeldin said he was most critical of Mr. Bishop for failing to fund the war in Iraq and charged the congressman with paying lip service to supporting the troops. “You can’t say you support the troops and then not vote to give them the ammo and equipment they need,” Mr. Zeldin said.
In a follow-up interview Tuesday, Mr. Bishop said he voted in March to fund the war, but that bill was vetoed by President Bush because it incorporated a phased troop withdrawal. “That bill gave the president every dime he asked for,” Mr. Bishop said.
“The power of the purse is the only way we can influence foreign policy,” he said. “And this president’s foreign policy has been a disaster.”
Mr. Zeldin challenged Mr. Bishop to show his support to the troops by visiting them in Iraq like other congressional leaders have done, including U.S. Representatives Peter King and Steve Israel.
Congressman Bishop said he is going to Afghanistan some time over the summer and is working on getting to Iraq. The congressman said prior trips to Iraq were interrupted by professional obligations.
Mr. Zeldin said many in Congress are vested in bad news from Iraq and fail to acknowledge what he sees as the “undeniable progress and success” of the surge.
Mr. Bishop acknowledged the success of the surge, but only in terms of reducing the violence from very high levels. “We are measuring the levels from an awful starting point,” he said.