Taking Action after Patchogue

The death of Marcello Lucero is – we hope – a death knell for the vile anti-immigrant rhetoric that has ballooned over the past several years.

It’s no accident that Latinos are the top-ranked victims of hate crimes, representing 62.8 percent of cases nationwide.

But if the Lucero tragedy inspires a change in dialogue, it should also inspire a change in laws. Now more than ever we need a government that all immigrants – both documented and undocumented – can trust.

Earlier this year, I introduced a bill (S.6738) that would make it the policy of New York State to keep immigration status confidential when, for example, an individual wishes to report a crime to police. This is especially important for undocumented immigrants, who are forced to live in fear of deportation.

According to news reports, the group of teens that allegedly killed Mr. Lucero may have previously attacked other Latinos. We need to make sure that crime victims feel safe enough to approach police in order to prevent more heinous crimes in the future.

I did notice that the Suffolk County Police Commissioner has asked any prior victims to come forward, and that immigration status would not be an issue. But this after-the-fact empathy is clearly not enough. We need to cement it in stone. We need to make it the law of the land.

After all, lack of reporting is actually a two-fold problem. As I’ve seen here in the city, the police rely on statistical data to identify high impact zones, where they pour additional resources to reduce high crime. If the police cannot actively engage with the immigrant community, those stats are not painting an accurate portrait.

The whole irony is that the anti-immigrant crowd thinks of itself as “tough on crime.” But the opposite is true. When people live in fear – be it from their neighbor or their local police – it reduces government’s capacity to fight crime.

And in a tough economy, which can often act as an incubator for hate, now is the time to increase our crime-fighting abilities.

In short, out of tragedy comes momentum for change. My colleagues and I must draw upon that momentum to restore immigrant confidence in our government. We can do it on the legislative front (passing S.6738) and also in the budget (by protecting the New York State Citizenship Initiative from devastating cuts).

Our mission is clear. Mr. Lucero’s death must not be in vain.

Senator José M. Serrano represents the 28th District, which includes parts of the South Bronx, Highbridge, University Heights, East Harlem, Yorkville, and Roosevelt Island.