Not so simple
Suzanne DeChillo/The New York Times
I watch for immigrants
On Lucille Avenue, the Immigration Debate
By NINA BERNSTEIN
ELMONT, N.Y. — The streets where Patrick Nicolosi sees America unraveling still have the look of the 1950's. Single-family homes sit side by side, their lawns weed-whacked into submission to the same suburban dream that Mr. Nicolosi's Italian-American parents embraced 40 years ago when they moved to this working-class community on Long Island.
But when a school bus stops at the white Cape Cod opposite his house, two children seem to pop up from beneath the earth. Emerging from an illegal basement apartment that successive homeowners have rented to a Mexican family of illegal immigrants, they head off to another day of public schooling at taxpayer expense.
"Two children are in school, and one is handicapped — that's $10,000 for elementary school, $100,000 a year for special education," he said. "Why am I paying taxes to support that house?"
Instead, unlike most people, Mr. Nicolosi joins the civic fray. A self-appointed watchdog, he tries to get local officials to investigate houses that he and his allies suspect of violations, and to crack down on day laborers spilling into front yards.
But this spring, as the immigration debate ignited nationally, the results of his crusade unfolded like a parable about being careful what you wish for — leaving the Mexican family uprooted, neighbors unhappy, and Mr. Nicolosi himself more frustrated than ever.
Elmont, just over the Nassau County line from Queens, has always drawn immigrants or their children. In the decades since Mr. Nicolosi's father, a bus driver, moved his family here from the city, families from every continent have joined the Italian and Central European generations who settled the first subdivisions. Its population of 33,000 is about 46 percent white, 35 percent black and 9 percent Asian, and 14 percent of its residents are Hispanic.
Mr. Nicolosi, a compact, animated man, says he is fighting to save the modest suburban lifestyle that these families seek, regardless of ethnicity.
Recently, for example, to the dismay of his wife, a police crossing guard, he publicly cited their children — a doctor, a teacher and a law school applicant — as examples of a generation that is being priced out of Long Island by soaring property taxes.
But even among those who echoed Mr. Nicolosi's concerns, many called him a busybody and a troublemaker. There was sympathy for the family in the basement, and for their landlords, the Cervonis, a young couple with a baby and a construction business who bought the house from an absentee landlord in 2004 and moved in.
"What could we do, throw them out?" asked Luciana Cervoni, who called the tenants hard-working and quiet. "They've lived here for six, seven years now."
"If that were the case, we would have moved a long time ago," said the mother in the basement, Ariana O., 30, allowing a glimpse of its two-bedroom finished interior that showed how homey the couple had made it for their three children: a boy of 10, a developmentally disabled girl of about 6, and a year-old baby — the last two born in the United States.
"They will never, ever better themselves," he said of the Mexican family.
And as he drove his black S.U.V. through a neighborhood where garden shrines outnumber basketball hoops, his world view darkened what he saw. Passing a small house, he shared his suspicion that it illegally harbored multiple immigrant families, because a dozen children regularly played out front.
But the homeowners later set the record straight. "We're a family here — we're no immigrants," declared Fanny Echeverria, 40, quickly adding, "What makes him better than immigrants?"
She and her husband, George, have five children between them, and their yard is a magnet for neighbors' children. Ms. Echeverria is a native New Yorker of Greek and Dominican heritage, her husband a naturalized United States citizen born in Chile. And they own one of Long Island's most highly rated French restaurants, Soigné, in Woodmere.
From the basement, what struck the Mexican couple, however, was that Mr. Nicolosi did not work.
"The man has nothing to do except look," the wife said in Spanish as her husband cooked dinner. Recalling the Latino workers she saw renovating his house, she added, "If we weren't here, who would do the work?"
But upstairs that day, their landlords were deciding to evict the family. An official had called, alerting them to a new complaint by Mr. Nicolosi, the Cervonis said. This time, with heightened public attention, it would lead to hefty fines unless the basement was vacated.
Joseph Cervoni broke the news to the tenants the night President Bush spoke to the nation about immigration. As word spread, neighbors blamed Mr. Nicolosi. Carolyn Gilbert, a retired secretary who advocates an electrified fence at the Mexican border, said he had no conscience. "People forget the human dimension," she said.
Louise Cerullo, 84, a registered Republican like Mr. Nicolosi, protested: "They're human beings. If they can work and pay their rent, what's wrong with that?"
Even his wife is embarassed by this 21st Century Archie Bunker
But the GOP has a problem. For every guy like this, there are the neighbors who want no part of his crusade., They find it repellent. A small family with a sick child evicted because of him, Nicolosi is now the pariah. Because what he did was unfair and unneighborly.
posted by Steve @ 1:54:00 AM