Why Hofstra Is the Perfect Place To Talk About Immigration

There are at least five reasons.

ByABC News
October 15, 2012, 5:26 PM

Oct. 15, 2012— -- In both the first presidential debate in Denver and the vice presidential debate in Kentucky, questions to the candidates focused on foreign policy, the economy and healthcare.

Immigration -- a central topic in two Univision candidate forums last month -- didn't come up.

Why not?

"I guess the answer to that is the most pressing questions are those on the economy," said Rosanna Perotti, the chair of the Hofstra University political science department. "Foreign policy came to the forefront the other day at the vice presidential debate but that's probably because one of the big questions about the Romney camp is whether it has enough expertise on foreign policy."

This brings us to tonight's town hall presidential debate on Long Island, hosted by Hofstra University. In many ways, Long Island, America's first suburb, is the quintessential example of how the country is being shaped by Latino immigration. From 1990 to 2010, the Hispanic population on Long Island grew from roughly 165,000 to 442,000 -- a 167 percent increase. And Hispanics accounted for 16 percent of the total population in Nassau and Suffolk counties in 2010, exactly on par with the percentage of Hispanics nationwide.

So if there were ever a time and a place for the subject to come up, it should be tonight. Here are five reasons why.

1. A Lot of Immigrants Live There

You sometimes forget that Long Island starts where Queens, one of the most diverse places on earth, ends, and that the demographic richness carries over. Immigrants make up 16 percent of the population across the Island, and 19 percent of the population in Nassau County, according to a 2011 report by the Fiscal Policy Institute.

The top three sending countries across the island -- El Salvador, India and Italy -- account for 22 percent of Long Island immigrants, followed by immigrants from the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Colombia, Jamaica, and Ecuador.

While Latino growth is notable on Long Island, the diverse makeup of immigrant groups makes it an ideal place to touch on national issues like the DREAM Act, visas for high-tech entrepreneurs and the immigration enforcement program, Secure Communities.

2. There's a History of Racial Tension

In November 2008, a group of seven teens from eastern Long Island attacked and killed Ecuadorian immigrant Marcelo Lucero. As it turned out, the attack wasn't a one-time occurrence. Members of the group had gone out "beaner hopping" -- slang they used for assaults against Latinos -- before that night.

Similarly, the string of attacks wasn't an isolated incident: the Southern Poverty Law Center chronicled dozens of reported incidents in a decade of violence against Latino immigration in the 2009 report "Climate of Fear: Latino Immigrants in Suffolk County, N.Y."

A question about hate crime may be unlikely, but it wouldn't be irrelevant. After the shooting this August at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, it's the kind of question the candidates should be answering.

3. It's a Local Political Wedge Issue

While less so in recent years, political rhetoric around immigration was common on Long Island throughout the 2000s.

One of the most vocal opponents of illegal immigration in the country was former Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, a Democrat who became a Republican in 2010. During his tenure, he openly griped about the economic impact of people he referred to as "anchor babies" -- U.S.-born children of immigrants -- and backed a proposal to deputize police officers to enforce immigration law.