Suffolk County Turns a Page

New York Times

Steve Bellone, the Suffolk County executive, signed an executive order on Nov. 14 requiring county agencies to translate essential public documents and forms into six languages besides English and to provide translation services for residents who don’t speak English well.

The goal is to make government more accessible to residents, especially in emergencies, and could be especially valuable to residents in Suffolk County, which covers central and eastern Long Island and is far more diverse than its bedroom-community stereotype suggests. The county has 1.5 million residents, 20 percent of whom speak languages other than English at home. The order applies to the top six: Italian, Mandarin, Spanish, Polish, French Creole and Portuguese.

Mr. Bellone’s order is more than a common-sense constituent service for the simple reason that Suffolk County was, until recently, the last place you’d expect to find such a policy. Under Mr. Bellone’s predecessor, Steve Levy, the county had become a bastion of the anti-immigrant resentment found in parts of the South and Southwest: the toxic mix of insecurity and hostility that views recent immigrants as more problem than opportunity and expresses itself through English-only language laws and police crackdowns in immigrant communities.

Mr. Levy seized on and amplified that resentment, trying to deputize county police as immigration agents, cracking down on Hispanic day laborers and rarely missing an opportunity to denounce his critics’ patriotism and sanity. The county became notorious for anti-immigrant violence and indifferent policing in Hispanic neighborhoods.

Mr. Bellone’s election began a process of healing, and the language order moves that process along. As residents across the island struggle to recover from Hurricane Sandy, it’s heartening to think that county government can reduce confusion by making things a little easier for constituents who need help with English.