Executive orders issued by President Barack Obama to protect immigrants from deportation could benefit about 290,000 people in the metropolitan area that includes Long Island, New York City and Westchester County, according to a study released Thursday.
An estimated 32,000 of 76,000 immigrants on Long Island who came to the United States illegally or who overstayed visas -- about 42 percent -- will be eligible to apply for the programs, according to the analysis by the Migration Policy Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank based in Washington, D.C., that studies migration trends and policy around the world.
The number of immigrants affected nationally is about 5.2 million, or 46 percent of the 11.4 million people who lack legal documents, the institute found.
Immigration experts and advocates believe the programs could lead to better conditions for immigrants and would affect the regions where they live as many move to start working legally rather than "off the books."
"It's a pretty large impact," said Randy Capps, the institute's research director for U.S. programs, estimating the orders could affect nearly half the population of unauthorized immigrants in the United States. "Some of them will get better jobs and will make more money," he said, "and some will be able to pay a little bit more in taxes."
Patrick Young, program director of the Central American Refugee Center in Hempstead, said lawful presence is a boon to immigrants and their communities.
"What we see is people with papers live lives dramatically different from undocumented people," he said. "They buy cars, they buy houses, they put down deeper roots in the community."
The new figures reflect the number of immigrants who could qualify under two programs. One is an expanded deferment of deportations for "childhood arrivals" or so-called "Dreamers," immigrants brought to this country as children. The other group is parents of U.S. citizens or legal residents in the United States as of Jan. 1, 2010.
Obama issued the latest executive order in November, after an immigration reform bill passed the Senate but no matching proposal had been considered in the House.
The estimates are being released as the issue heats up again in Congress, with 234 Republicans and two Democrats in the House voting in the majority Wednesday for a bill that would derail implementation of the latest executive order. The bill faces uncertain prospects in the Senate.
The House vote split along partisan lines among Long Island's representatives, with Reps. Steve Israel (D-Huntington), Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) and Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans) voting against defunding the program and Reps. Peter King (R-Seaford) and Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) backing the bill.
King said that while he supports reform, including enhanced border security and a citizenship path, he couldn't back Obama taking action by executive order. "I feel strongly that it's the wrong way to do it and that it could be a bad precedent," he said.
However, King opposed taking away the deferred deportation from young immigrants because canceling a program would be "mean-spirited."
Barrett Psareas, an opponent of legalization programs who is vice president of the Nassau County Civic Association, hopes that resistance in Congress and court challenges will delay implementation of Obama's orders.
"Everybody has to step back, and they just have to do piecemeal [reform] and can't just force this through like that," Psareas said.
Immigrant advocates said hundreds of people on Long Island and New York City who want to take advantage of deferred deportation have called and visited their offices to prepare for the application period, expected to start this spring.
"The magnitude of people coming forward and wanting to apply is huge," said Javier Valdés, co-director of Make The Road New York, a Latino advocacy group in Brentwood and New York City.
Jorge Garrido, a Dominican immigrant who lives in Brentwood and does construction work, said he has gathered documents to show he has lived in the United States for 15 years and has three daughters born here.
"This is going to help parents like me have a stable job," said Garrido, 60. "I have my children here and I have to care for them."