Nearly two dozen advocates of legal status for young immigrants known as Dreamers walked for hours from Bay Shore to Massapequa Park on Thursday to call attention to the deportation threat posed by the pending end of a program that shields them from enforcement.
They are calling for legislation that gives immigrants brought illegally to the United States as minors a chance to legally stay in the country.
At the end of the march, they met up with other protesters outside the office of Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), whose district is estimated to have the most people protected on Long Island under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.
“We are asking him to co-sponsor and commit to passing a clean Dream Act, free of more draconian enforcement provisions,” said Walter Barrientos, an organizer with nonprofit Make the Road New York.
Nearly 800,000 immigrants have been exempted from deportation by DACA, authorized administratively in 2012 under former President Barack Obama. President Donald Trump’s administration plans to “wind down” DACA in the next two years.
The program’s end would leave people like Eliana Fernández, a Patchogue resident, vulnerable to deportation.
“I wouldn’t want to be separated from my kids,” said Fernández, 29, a mother of two who came from Ecuador at age 14. “Thanks to DACA I was able to graduate from college, I bought a home, so . . . losing DACA would mean losing my whole financial stability and emotional stability.”
The Dream Act would grant “lawful permanent resident status on a conditional basis” to immigrants who were younger than 18 when they arrived and who have lived in the United States for four years. The bill is co-sponsored by Reps. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) and Thomas Suozzi (D-Glen Cove).
King, who is not a co-sponsor of that measure, backs the Recognizing America’s Children Act, which would give a five-year conditional status to immigrants younger than 16 at arrival.
“Some people don’t know how to take ‘yes’ for an answer,” King, in a telephone interview, said of the protesters. “Basically, my position is I want DACA continued,” but any bill will “go through a negotiating process.” He said a larger program could leave “a loophole for others to take advantage of.”
Marcy Suarez, a native of Honduras who crossed the border when she was 7, qualified for DACA. The Brentwood resident has been able to work, obtain a driver’s license and attend college, and she fears her accomplishments could be erased.
“It’s a big threat to the life I’m living,” said Suarez, 22. “It’s kind of scary that for the past four or five years, I have been working hard to build a life here and then, all of a sudden, to kind of have it ripped out of my hands.”f