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Immigrant advocates: Limited legalization would leave many in limbo

Immigrant advocates on Long Island stepped ahead of the release of a much-anticipated immigration reform framework from Republicans to stress Wednesday that nothing short of a citizenship path is a good fix for the millions awaiting change.

The Republican proposal, expected soon from House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), would be the party leaders' answer to a broad bill passed in the U.S. Senate.

Such a plan likely would grant access to citizenship for younger immigrants brought to the country as minors, said Patrick Young, an advocate with the Central American Refugee Center in Hempstead and Brentwood. The youth often are known as "Dreamers," a reference drawn from the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors legislation, or DREAM Act.

But a limited legalization program would leave many immigrants in the limbo of temporary permits, the advocates said. On Long Island, that would set a clear way ahead only for an estimated 5,000 people out of about 100,000 immigrants who entered the country illegally or have stayed on expired visas, Young said.

That is "not ultimately the solution that Long Islanders are looking for in immigration reform," he said, because it leaves a large population vulnerable to policy changes, while excluding them from civic participation.

"We need to do what's good for America . . . so we don't come back to this issue every five years," he said.

Any plan is likely to face opposition from those who favor immigration restrictions.

Jim MacDonald, a Queens resident who protested outside the immigration advocacy event in Brentwood, said he may have been the only person standing in the cold, but he believes he represents many others.

MacDonald -- carrying a handmade sign that said "Illegal Means Law Breaker!" -- said "any kind of legislation that offers mass amnesty" to people who compete with legal workers is "absolute lunacy."

Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), who represents a district where many immigrants live, said the House plan will be released at a retreat this week. He expects it will lead to a mix of bills granting a citizenship path to Dreamers, increasing high-tech visas, putting in place border security enhancements and offering some form of legalization for the other immigrants.

"I still support the pathway to citizenship, but the question is what would you be able to get" in terms of a bill's passage, King said, adding that "legalization would definitely be a significant step forward, because it takes away the threat of deportation."

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