Long Islanders say they are watching closely the political debate surrounding a bill - now held up in the U.S. Senate - that offers a path to citizenship to children of some undocumented immigrants.
Friday, several supporters and opponents of the DREAM Act offered their insight into the legislation's potential impact on the Island.
The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act would grant conditional legal resident status to undocumented students who graduate from a U.S. high school, have lived in the United States for five years or more, entered the country at age 15 or younger, and have "good moral character." Another part of the measure would enable thousands of youngsters to gain legal status if they enroll in college or join the military.
The House passed the bill Wednesday night but the Senate moved Thursday to delay a vote on the legislation. Following the delay, Senate Democrats put the bill aside but have said they'll try to push it forward before the session ends.
Luis Valenzuela, executive director of Long Island Immigrant Alliance, an advocacy group, said he hopes the bill will pass. "It's morally outrageous to hold hostage a population of Americans who are willing and able to contribute to our country for political posturing," he said.
Rev. Allan Ramirez, another supporter of the bill, said he thinks opponents will most likely defeat it. "We are basically saying we are willing to throw away a whole generation of young people" should the measure fail, he said, adding not passing it would effectively create "second-class citizenship."
Some opponents of the DREAM Act have said the legislation rewards criminals and would cost the government money because certain rights would have to be extended to beneficiaries of the program.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy questioned prioritizing spending money on this instead of other initiatives Friday. "It is a case of mixed priorities when Congress can find millions in funding for students who are not here legally, yet fails to find adequate funding to help our senior citizens heat their homes," he said in a statement.
A spokesman for Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano said Mangano is still reviewing the legislation.
Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) said while "well-intentioned," the bill would "provide amnesty and send a mixed signal." "There should be no amnesty of any type for illegal immigrants until our borders are secure . . . That is why I oppose it," he said through a spokesman.