Advocate: GOP immigration plan "a glass one-quarter full"

Lorraine Jackson, of Central Islip, addresses the audience

Lorraine Jackson, of Central Islip, addresses the audience on immigration reform during a press conference at Make The Road New York in Brentwood on Jan. 29, 2014. (Credit: Heather Walsh )

Immigrant advocates on Long Island Thursday were cautiously optimistic, at best, as the first details emerged of a much-anticipated immigration reform framework by Republicans in Congress.

The document outlining reform "standards" holds the promise of citizenship for younger immigrants, but takes a harsher stance with others who have violated immigration rules and need to "get right with the law."

"It's pretty much a glass one-quarter full," said Patrick Young, an advocate with the Central American Refugee Center in Hempstead and Brentwood. "On the broader question of the undocumented population, we really need to see a solution to the immigration issue, and it seems as if it's going to leave people hanging for years and years."


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The GOP leaders' principles, circulating after the start of their annual retreat in Cambridge, Md., promised changes but left key details to be worked out, advocates said.

The draft plan emphasizes the need for significant enforcement mechanisms at the borders and in the workplace to curtail illegal immigration, while offering legal residence and citizenship to young immigrants brought to the United States as minors.

But no special path to citizenship appears to be in the cards for others who entered the country illegally or overstayed visas, they said.

Advocates rallied Wednesday in Brentwood as they sought to get ahead of the debate, stressing that nothing short of a citizenship path is acceptable.

Political buzz on the issue also brought out the voices of those who want immigration restrictions, such as Jim MacDonald, a Queens resident with New Yorkers for Immigration Control and Enforcement who was the sole protester outside the Brentwood event.

MacDonald -- carrying a handmade sign that said "Illegal Means Law Breaker!" -- said "any kind of legislation that offers mass amnesty" to people who compete with legal workers is "absolute lunacy."

For the immigrant advocacy community, the main concern is that a limited legalization program would trap many in the limbo of temporary permits.

On Long Island, Young said, that would set a clear way ahead only for about 5,000 of the roughly 100,000 immigrants who entered the country illegally or reside here on expired visas.

"We are encouraged that the Republicans have presented principles, and we do hope that it's a good-faith effort to keep moving forward, but it's only a first step," said Daniel Altschuler, coordinator of the Long Island Civic Engagement Table, an advocacy group.

Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), who represents a district where many immigrants live, said the House principles are a starting point for discussion.

"I still support the pathway to citizenship, but the question is what would you be able to get" in a bill, King said, adding that "legalization would definitely be a significant step forward, because it takes away the threat of deportation."

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