Known for his harsh immigration policies and anti-immigrant rhetoric, Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy responded to the brutal murder of Ecuadorian immigrant, Marcelo Lucero, by saying that it was a “one-day story” and that the hate crime received excessive attention due to his own stance on immigration. Steve Levy has since apologized for his comments, but Suffolk County Democratic chairman Richard Schaffer is calling on Levy to serve as a “unifier” to “calm things down.”

Yet, as stated in a New York Times editorial, “The High Cost of Harsh Words,”

Mr. Levy’s past harsh words and actions against undocumented workers have now left him cornered with a tragically limited ability to lead the county in confronting a brutal act that surely pains him as much as anyone.

Over the past four years, there has been a 40% increase in anti-Latino hate crimes, which is consistent with the swelling nativist movement that has become larger and more vitriolic in recent years. Many Suffolk County community members have gone as far to say that Levy has “blood on his hands.” And Levy isn’t alone. Vicious public denunciations of undocumented, brown-skinned immigrants — once limited to hard-core white supremacists and a handful of border-state extremists — are increasingly common among supposedly mainstream anti-immigration activists, media pundits, and politicians and are surely fueling the problems that Latinos are facing. While their dehumanizing rhetoric typically stops short of openly sanctioning bloodshed, much of it implicitly encourages or even endorses violence by characterizing immigrants from Mexico and Central America as ‘invaders,’ ‘criminal aliens,’ and ‘cockroaches.’ In Virginia, a Prince William County and ardently anti-immigrant community task force appointee has suggested spending tax dollars to look into whether “illegal aliens have a preferred breeding season.” He has also referred to undocumented immigrants as “scourge that’s plaguing neighborhoods” and an “invasion of this country.”

As some are calling Levy’s apology more “tactical than heartfelt,” Schaffer is right in calling on him to go above and beyond his curt confession of regret. Now is the time for Levy to shift his rhetoric from anti-immigrant diatribe to shifting the terms of the immigration debate towards rational and comprehensive immigration reform.

Marcelo Lucero’s Mother Speaks