Immigration reform should have citizenship pathway: Rep. Peter King

Congressman Peter King (R-Seaford), left, joined Long Islanders Congressman Peter King (R-Seaford), left, joined Long Islanders from Make the Road New York and other allied organizations in Brentwood on Friday, Feb. 21, 2014 for a discussion about the prospects of passing immigration reform this year. Photo Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

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It was an evening of good news and bad news for nearly 150 immigrants and advocates who packed a forum on immigration reform last night with Rep. Peter King.

The Seaford Republican told the standing-room-only crowd in Brentwood that he remains committed to "legalization and a pathway to citizenship" in a package of measures to fix a broken immigration system.

But he also said there was "significant opposition in the Republican Party" to proposed reform principles that were recently issued. Reform may be possible, the congressman said, though "maybe not this year, I'll be honest with you on that."

The political reality check landed with a thud for some, including Angel Atalaya, 59 and waiting 12 years for a chance to be a legal resident.

"I have waited a long time to come out of the shadows. I have even started my own business, and to hear 'Not right now' is very disappointing," Atalaya said. "It's all a political game."

Other advocates saw the progress report from King as a sign they at least have him on their side.

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"He clearly showed that he is committed to immigration reform, but I actually wanted to hear from him a concrete action plan of initiatives he can take for moving forward," said SJ Jung, president of the MinKwon Center for Community Action, which advocates for Asian immigrants in the region.

King drew applause when he promised to write to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), urging a vote on the issue this year.

Javier Valdés, co-director of Latino advocacy group, Make the Road New York, said the forum sought to "reaffirm to him that our community wants citizenship to be a priority."

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Those advocates have sought King's support, even though he has espoused policies that emphasized enforcement and border security.

King's district was reconfigured last year to one where many more immigrants reside, in communities including Bay Shore, Brentwood and Central Islip; at about the same time, he shifted his position to also favor a citizenship path.

Barrett Psareas, an enforcement proponent with the Nassau County Civic Association in Cedarhurst, said, "We just consider him a turncoat on immigration issues." King, he said, is following the GOP's leadership, particularly Boehner who introduced "standards" that would back citizenship for immigrants brought to the United States as minors.

"It's a waste of time" to talk about reform without securing borders first, Psareas said.Advocates for enforcement also are continuing to lobby.

"Until the final gavel comes down in the 113th Congress, we are not taking anything for granted," said Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a group based in Washington, D.C.. "Immigration reform needs to start from the perspective of why we have those laws in the first place, which is to protect the American people."

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