Hispanics Sue Islip for Discrimination in the Voting System

Make the Road New York and New York Communities for Change are plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed against the Town of Islip for violating the Voting Rights Act. (Photo courtesy of Make the Road New York)

On Tuesday, June 19, a group of Hispanic residents of Brentwood, officially filed a lawsuit against the Town of Islip for violating the Voting Rights Act.

The lawsuit states that Islip’s voting system violates the law by preventing members of the Latino community from electing their preferred candidates to the Town Board despite the strength the community would have by voting as a bloc under a single-member district system.

Attorneys from Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, The Law Offices of Frederick K. Brewington, and Newman Ferrara LLP filed the complaint on behalf of Ana Flores, René Flores, María Magdalena Hernández, Magali Román, Make the Road New York and New York Communities for Change against the Town of Islip and the Suffolk County Board of Elections.

“As a longtime resident of Islip, I have seen how, time and again, the Town Board has treated the Latino community as second-class citizens,” said María Magdalena Hernández, a plaintiff in the case and a member of Make the Road New York.

To Walter Barrientos, coordinator at the Long Island branch of Make the Road New York, an organization advocating for the Latino community, the lawsuit is necessary because “there is constant harassment as well as evidence of the lack of language support, which make it difficult for people to get help from competent authorities.”

This refers to another one of the complaints stated against the municipality. In it, the plaintiffs argue that the town has repeatedly failed to provide translation and interpretation services to Spanish-speaking residents, who often face hostility or indifference when they ask local authorities for help or use municipal services.

The main focus of the ongoing lawsuit is to meet the needs of the Latino community and the lack of services offered when compared to those available to neighboring communities with a mainly white population.

Brentwood residents say that the Department of Public Works ignores requests to repair or install new traffic lights and change broken ones in Latino areas. They added that street cleaning and trash collection services are inadequate in the areas where residents are mostly Spanish-speaking.

“The Town Hall handles the complaints of our neighbors in a different way than in other parts of Islip,” said Magali Román, another plaintiff. “When people from the Latino community call to report that the streets need to be repaired, the town does not respond.”

Although Latinos are nearly a third of the town’s total population, there are no Latinos on Islip’s Town Board.

Environmental negligence

The community also claims environmental negligence on the part of the Town of Islip, which the plaintiffs say started five years ago and remains unaddressed.

In 2013, thousands of tons of toxic debris (asbestos) were dumped in Roberto Clemente Park. Although two town park officials were sentenced for it, the park still has not been declared safe.

Discriminatory zoning practices and the use of land have also given way to the industrialization of large areas of Central Islip and Brentwood, often in close proximity to residential projects, affecting the health of Latino residents.

In 2015, the town ignored the health and safety of Brentwood residents by quickly approving the establishment of a scrap metal recycling and metal waste disposal plant near their neighborhood despite the opposition of the Suffolk County Planning Commission and the community.

The plaintiffs also say that an unjustifiably oversized and corrupt political system that goes unchecked is maintained, and that it allows for elected officials in predominantly white communities to remain in power.

(…)

“When I became a citizen, I never thought I would be treated as a second-class citizen in my own country,” said Ana Flores. “I was promised that, as a citizen, my vote could elect someone to represent me and my community. Here in the Town of Islip, that promise has never been fulfilled. Today, we are suing to guarantee our right as citizens of this community to elect the members of the board who represent us!”

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