LI immigration reform advocates back bill

People rally before a press conference about the

People rally before a press conference about the immigration bill in Wyandanch. April 18, 2013) (Credit: Ed Betz)

Immigration reform advocates on Long Island may not be pleased with all aspects of the bipartisan bill in the U.S. Senate, but they came together Thursday behind what they say is a workable compromise.

Two coalitions of civil rights, labor, religious leaders and immigrants spoke at separate events to say that they back the effort.

The 844-page bill proposed by the "Gang of Eight" carries myriad provisions to overhaul the immigration system, including changes to secure the border, allow for the legalization and eventual citizenship of millions of immigrants, and increase the legal flow of workers in key industries.


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Luis Valenzuela, director of the Amityville-based Long Island Immigrant Alliance, called the effort "a great moment in our history." He spoke at a gathering of nearly 50 people outside Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Church in Wyandanch.

"It's a great occasion, in that for the first time in so many years we have the structure of a plan that has bipartisan approval," he said.

At a later event in Brentwood, dozens of advocates chanted in Spanish, "The immigrants united will never be defeated."

The bill would benefit not just the estimated 100,000 people without permanent residency or citizenship on Long Island, or the 11 to 12 million across the nation, they said.

"This isn't just something that is going to help undocumented immigrants," said Patrick Young, program director of the Central American Refugee Center in Hempstead. "They also become taxpayers and put roots down in the community," buying houses and spurring industry.

While there hasn't been organized opposition to the bill on Long Island, national pro-enforcement groups characterize it as a giveaway.

"Nearly every section of the Gang Amnesty bill seems to add more foreign workers to compete with unemployed and underemployed Americans," Roy Beck, president of Numbers USA in Washington, D.C., said in a statement.

The senators behind the plan, who were led by Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), defended their approach as "common-sense."

"The current status quo on immigration makes no sense," Schumer said at a briefing in Washington. "We turn away people from entering the country who could create thousands of jobs, and let people cross our borders who take away jobs."

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