Immigration bill raises hope, concern on LI

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The immigration bill making its way to the U.S. Senate this week stoked the hopes of millions of immigrants awaiting legalization as well as the concerns of those who found its enforcement provisions lenient.

For tens of thousands of Long Island immigrants, though, the proposal represents a chance to pursue long-term goals as legal residents.

Juan Medina, 17, a Uniondale High School senior who has lived in the United States since age 10, said he doesn't mind that under the plan he would wait five years to gain full legal residency, or that his parents would pay penalties and wait 10 years, as long as they get a chance.

"It's something positive that it's going to help many of us," said Medina, a Honduras native. "The wait could have been shorter but I'll take this." He plans to attend community college while he waits, with hopes of enrolling in the Marines as soon as he has full legal status.

Wide range of provisions

The Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act -- a proposal put together by a bipartisan group of U.S. senators dubbed the "Gang of Eight" and summarized in a memorandum obtained from congressional aides -- drew fire from both camps in the legalization-versus-enforcement fight.

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President Barack Obama, briefed on the bill by Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), recognized the difficulty of crafting a workable plan. "This bill is clearly a compromise, and no one will get everything they wanted, including me," he said.

The bill includes a wide range of provisions to secure the border, grant documentation to immigrants living in the country illegally and open legal paths for future immigrants.

At the proposal's core is the establishment of a yearslong road to eventual citizenship for many of the 11 million to 12 million immigrants who overstayed visas or entered illegally. An estimated 705,000 live in New York.

Most immigrants seeking to stay legally would pay $500 registration fees, back taxes and processing costs as they become "registered provisional immigrants." After 10 years and a $1,000 penalty, they could gain permanent residency, entering the citizenship queue.

"Dreamers," those brought as minors, and agricultural workers would be exempt from the penalties and would land on faster citizenship tracks. Only those here before Dec. 31, 2011, would qualify.

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Some disappointment

The bill represents "a historic step forward," said Patrick Young, of the Central American Refugee Center, a nonprofit with offices in Hempstead and Brentwood.

Immigrant advocates are concerned about the long wait, costs, the 2011 cutoff date and the exclusion of LGBT families, but see the plan as progress.

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"We are happy and encouraged to see that, finally, we have an immigration bill," said Luis Valenzuela, of the Long Island Immigrant Alliance.

Enforcement proponent Barrett Psareas, of the Nassau County Civic Association, sees the bill as "horrible, totally horrible" because "it's unfair to the taxpayers of this nation" because it rewards illegal activity.

Ira Mehlman, of the pro-enforcement Federation for American Immigration Reform in Washington, D.C., called it "amnesty" that "provides lots more labor for business interests in spite of the fact that we have high levels of unemployment."

There also is disappointment in immigrant communities.

Janet Farfan, an Ecuadorean immigrant in Bay Shore, didn't expect the kind of reform that could cost thousands.

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"The income of many of the affected families on Long Island is very low," said Farfan, 59.

With AP

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