Immigrants and their advocates on Wednesday rejected what they said was a divisive State of the Union speech by President Donald Trump, saying it will not help efforts at bipartisan compromise on immigration policy.
Nearly 20 people gathered in Brentwood, the community put in the spotlight by the president’s focus on brutal acts of gang violence on Long Island, which he linked to a porous southern border.
At one point, they chanted, “What do we want? Dream Act!” followed by “If we don’t get it? Shut it down!” The call-and-response referred to legislation that would give legal status to young immigrants who came illegally to the country as children and the possibility of another government shutdown.
Invited to the address Tuesday night in the nation’s Capitol by the president were the parents of Nisa Mickens, 15, and Kayla Cuevas, 16, who were killed in Brentwood in 2016 in an alleged attack by members of MS-13, a criminal gang with ties to El Salvador.
“Many of these gang members took advantage of glaring loopholes in our laws to enter the country as illegal, unaccompanied alien minors, and wound up in Kayla and Nisa’s high school,” Trump said in his speech before a joint session of Congress.
He proposed a combination of immigration-related actions: legalization for the young immigrants known as Dreamers, curtailment of visa programs, “a great wall on the southern border” and increased deportations.
France Duffoo, 24, a Dreamer who lives in North Bay Shore, said she’s not interested in an offer of legal status and eventual citizenship if other immigrants such as her parents will be persecuted. She was born in Peru and was brought to the United States when she was 6.
“It’s high time that we have a fair system of immigration, a comprehensive immigration reform that could benefit everyone, without give or take for a wall that separates people,” Duffoo said.
Saying her parents have worked hard for years, they all deserve “to have a pathway to citizenship without playing political games and using us, Dreamers and immigrants, as little pawns in these games.”
Several speakers from immigrant, labor and community advocacy groups said they resented that Trump connected the fight against the violent MS-13 gang with the complicated immigration debate, which was at the core of the recent federal government shutdown.
The advocates also complained about the president’s lack of mention of Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, a protection from deportation that is set to expire under his administration and is expected to affect tens of thousands on Long Island and in the metropolitan New York region.
“We are outraged and disgusted,” said Blanca Villanueva, a Brentwood native of Salvadoran descent who is an organizer with the Long Island Progressive Coalition. “We need solutions, not to be blaming our community members.”
While some in favor of stricter immigration enforcement praised Trump’s speech, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, based in Washington, D.C., did not like his proposal to legalize Dreamers. Dan Stein, the group’s president, said Trump is “offering too little to the American people and too much to the people who break our laws.”
Barrett Psareas, an immigration enforcement proponent and vice president of the Nassau County Civic Association, said he can live with Trump’s compromise to secure a deal.
“It’s astronomical what’s going on across the border — the smuggling, the actual people and the amount of drugs flowing,” he said.
Advocates said they want nothing more than a citizenship path, but the prospects of compromise concern them.
Walter Barrientos, Long Island organizer for the advocacy group Make the Road New York, said his members will continue denouncing Trump’s policies as damaging to immigrant communities. “There is no negotiating with hatred,” Barrientos said.