"I feel stuck," said Melendez, 23, who is undocumented -- the estimated legal status of about 100,000 Long Islanders, according to immigration reform advocates. "I feel like a chain is holding me from looking for more opportunities."
Melendez was one of about 75 people who rallied Sunday afternoon for national immigration reform at the Brentwood office of the nonprofit immigrant advocacy group Make the Road New York. It is one of several groups participating in a bus trip to Washington Tuesday to lobby Congress.
"If we don't speak now, we don't get to influence the kind of bill that comes out of this," said Karina Claudio-Betancourt, lead organizer at Make the Road New York. "That's why we need to be very vocal about what we want now."
Advocates are pushing for worker protections and to make family reunification a "bedrock" of a reform package, according to a recent letter from the nonprofit Fair Immigration Reform Movement.
Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), has said getting immigration reform passed will be a long process. He said in January that he would not support a bill that "would allow 11 million [undocumented immigrants] to stay in this country illegally . . . It's very difficult for me to support something that allows that type of amnesty."
State Assemb. Phil Ramos (D-Brentwood) said at the rally that while the immigration reform debate should be viewed as a "humanitarian" issue, it's also economic.
"What we need to speak about is the benefit to the United States," he said.
"At a time when this country is going through an economic crisis, what this country needs is 12 million new taxpayers."
"We have an opportunity to move this forward," he said.
For Teresa Farfan, of Central Islip, a shot at American citizenship has long been a wish.
Farfan, 61, came to the United States from Ecuador in 1998, and though her brother, a citizen, has petitioned for her, she's still undocumented.
"I've been waiting many years," she said. "I'm hopeful."