The framework for immigration reform issued Monday by a bipartisan Senate group reignited national and local policy debates, leaving immigrant advocates and those who favor strict enforcement pleased with some aspects and concerned about others.
“No one is going to get everything they want and if you want everything . . . you’ll get no bill,” said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), one of the consensus brokers among the “Gang of Eight” senators who issued the guidelines. “It’s a balanced bill with Democrats and Republicans and it’s going to be fair on legal immigration and tough on illegal immigration, and that’s what the American people, and I think Long Islanders, want.”
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The five-page document calls for improved border and port security, an “entry-exit system” to track U.S. visitors, and mandatory employer checks of workers’ statuses. And it requires that undocumented immigrants pass criminal background checks and pay fines and back taxes to earn probationary legal status before they can access a citizenship path.
The emphasis on enforcement did not sway some who oppose routes to citizenship for those who entered the U.S. illegally.
“This is going to be a long process,” Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) said. “As I see this plan now, I couldn’t support it because it would allow 11 million \[undocumented immigrants\] to stay in this country illegally .<EN>.<EN>. It’s very difficult for me to support something that allows that type of amnesty.”
Rosemary Jenks, a spokeswoman for Numbers USA, a group in Washington, D.C., that seeks reduced immigration levels, called the plan “Amnesty 2.0” and said it’s made of “meaningless enforcement measures, mass amnesty, and increases in legal immigration.”
Reaction from immigrant advocates was mixed, even as most said the plan was a step forward.
Nationally, advocates were buoyed Monday by the promise of reform as they called for a rally to take place in Washington, D.C., on April 10.
“This is truly a historic moment,” said Héctor Figueroa, a New York City-based labor leader with 32BJ SEIU, which represents tens of thousands of janitors, security officers and other building service workers in the New York region. “...We are also going to be marching, and rallying and taking the streets in support of common-sense immigration reform that can finally do justice to millions of workers.”
Luis Valenzuela, director of the Long Island Immigrant Alliance, was cautious. He said he likes the move toward a citizenship path, but questioned the need for more enforcement at a time of record deportations and security spending.
The proposal “has some of the architecture that we are looking for,” he said. “What it shows is that both parties are thinking seriously about immigration reform and the momentum has been building on this.”
Malik Nadeem Abid, political committee chairman of the Hicksville-based Pakistani American Community of Long Island, was more enthusiastic. He said plans for legalization and reducing visa backlogs could benefit thousands in his community. He also supports the proposal to grant visas to immigrants with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering and math.
“Many people here have wives, parents and kids growing up back home and they can’t even see them, so on humane grounds people should be given a second chance,” he said.
Some Long Island conservatives backed parts of the plan.
Daniel F. Donovan Jr., chairman of the Conservative Party in Nassau County, said that as the son of Irish immigrants, he welcomes a compromise with penalties for undocumented immigrants.
“I am not against that kind of plan,” Donovan said. “Everyone has to get a bite of the apple, as long as it’s done the right way.”
Frank Seabrook, a conservative Republican activist in Wading River, approved of the balanced approach.
“I support a path to citizenship for immigrants already here and we just have to go through a documentation process,” Seabrook said.
Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) said the main concern for the bipartisan plan is whether the U.S. House will stall the forward momentum.
“I am interested in fixing a broken system,” Israel said. “As long as people who came here against the rules pay a fine, pay their taxes and can hold a job, it’s not amnesty.”
With Tom Brune