Yesterday, more than one hundred and fifty people turned out for a town hall on immigration policy at the Mid-Island Jewish Community Center in Plainview. Speaking at the event were Long Island Congressional Representatives Tom Suozzi and Peter King. With Donald Trump’s crackdown on both documented and undocumented immigrants causing panic in immigrant communities throughout Nassau and Suffolk, the audience was supportive of both comprehensive immigration reform and fixes for groups like those about to lose protections under DACA and Temporary Protected Status (TPS).
Congressman King said that TPS should be the no-brainer in the immigration debate. He noted that those with TPS have often been in this country for many years, and he acknowledged that his district may have among the largest number of TPS holders of any Congressional District in the United States. Approximately 15,000 Salvadorans with TPS live on Long Island, as well as 5,000 with TPS from other countries. King said that he had written letters and statements calling for TPS to continue and that he supported efforts to legislate on behalf of those who will begin losing TPS in 2019. He also said that he is not optimistic that anything will be done “in the short term.”
King said that he also supported legislation to assist those with DACA. He was more optimistic about action for those with DACA. The Massapequa Park Congressman claimed that the President has expressed a willingness to “amnesty” those with DACA in exchange for “more border security.” He did not mention that the president also wants to slash legal Family-Based immigration nearly in half as part of any DACA deal. King said, to applause, that if those with DACA are the beneficiaries of legislation, it should offer a path to citizenship.
King also repeated many earlier statements in favor of comprehensive immigration reform to legalize most of the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. He drew frowns from audience members when he said that he would not want a legalization program to proceed until the border with Mexico was secured. He invoked the spectre of MS-13 in support of his insistence that border security take precedence over legalization.
King represents Brentwood and Central Islip, where much of the violence associated with MS-13 has taken place. He said that he supports the actions of the Suffolk Police in its partnership with ICE to crackdown on the gang. He also alleged that some of the MS-13 members had entered the United States as Unaccompanied Children, while acknowledging that “95% are good kids.”
Suozzi spoke next. The North Shore congressman reminded the audience that immigration is not a new issue on Long Island. When he was first elected mayor of Glen Cove more than two decades ago, it was a controversial issue then. He said that in approaching immigration, he always relies on the principle that “All men and women are created equal” whether they have a “green card” or not. “All human beings are created equal,” he repeated to audience applause.
Suozzi said that Long Island’s immigrants included many refugees from places like El Salvador where they had fled the death squads and gang violence. Most Americans support solutions for the different sub-groups of undocumented immigrants. Based on his conversations in the House of Representative, majorities of legislators in both Houses of Congress support legalization for those with DACA, but the Speaker of the House will not bring a legalization bill to the floor for a vote. Suozzi said that he is working with several House Republicans to try to put some limited immigration reform bills on the floor of the House for debate and possible votes.
Suozzi disagreed with King on an enforcement-only approach to countering the gangs. He said that his experience as a mayor and as Nassau County Executive was that the gangs were helped in their recruiting “when people are forced underground.” If immigrants “are afraid of government…because of the things the president is Tweeting out,” Suozzi warned, “where will they go for protection?” He reminded the audience that Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy had alienated immigrants from the Suffolk Police and that legacy had created recruiting opportunities for MS-13. That may be one reason that Suffolk has experienced more violence.