The nearly 100 immigrants from El Salvador, Mexico, Ecuador and other countries at a Brentwood watch party broke into shouts of “¡Sí, se pudo!” — “Yes, we could!” — after President Barack Obama’s address on immigration.
“My friends, our fight was worth it,” advocate Maria Magdalena Hernandez, of the group Make the Road New York, shouted in Spanish, as she fought back tears. “It’s a great joy that I feel because the fight always yields fruits.”
Not all were as enthusiastic as they waited to hear more details, with advocate Walter Barrientos calling the order “a small victory” and others wondering about specific provisions.
Paola Bernal, 35, a Colombian immigrant and Brentwood resident among those who expect to get a reprieve for overstaying a visa, expressed mixed feelings. “I feel happy, but at the same time frustrated for all the people who are not benefiting,” Bernal, the mother of two daughters born in New York and one who migrated from Colombia, said in Spanish.
The Obama order exempted from deportation those who are parents of U.S. citizens and legal residents who have been in the country since at least Jan. 1, 2010. Among other reforms, children under 16 who arrived by that date also are protected.
Other reforms would expand eligibility for older immigrants brought here as minors and aim to ease waits for U.S. citizens and legal residents seeking visas for immediate relatives. However, those who crossed the border this year or do so later will be considered a priority for deportation.
Luis Mendez, general adviser of the Hempstead-based Long Island Hispanic Soccer Federation, organized a party for league players in Huntington Station to watch the president’s speech and said members consider the order a momentous occasion. Federation members also gathered in Brentwood, Farmingville, Hempstead and Westbury.
“We are a group that would have loved to have seen bipartisan immigration reform through Congress, but we have been waiting for that since Ronald Reagan put up a path through amnesty,” he said.
“There are many young folks born and raised here whose parents are in the shadows” even though “they are the fabric of the restaurant, the landscaping and the construction industries on Long Island,” Mendez said.
The Obama order will have a significant impact in Nassau and Suffolk counties, where advocates estimate about 100,000 immigrants lack legal status.
Opponents of Obama’s order, which some called “amnesty by executive order,” said his action was tantamount to rewarding lawbreaking to the detriment of others.
“We are talking about millions of people who would be eligible for a whole range of public benefits and would compete for jobs,” said Ira Mehlman, spokesman of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a group in Washington, D.C., that favors more restrictive immigration policies. “We were opposed to a legislative amnesty, but here we have a president enacting bad policy and doing it outside the constitutional limits.”
Legal scholars, however, said the president has discretionary authority under current law and noted he is far from the first president to use those powers.
“As a legal matter, I don’t think the president is trampling the Constitution or overreaching,” said Christopher Schroeder, professor of law and public policy at Duke University. “He is using discretion that numerous presidents have used under the immigration law in the past.”
Lucrecia Muñoz Cortés, a Mexican immigrant who lives in Westbury and finds work cleaning houses, had been praying for a chance to get work permits for herself and her husband, who works at a recycling factory. She has been in the country for 17 years, and her 4-year-old daughter was born on Long Island.
Having a work permit, she said in Spanish, would allow her “to look for a good job and buy a little car” to get places, rather than walking everywhere.
“I can learn to drive and go pick up my daughter at school and sign up for English classes . . . and live without worry,” she said.
New York Assemb. Phil Ramos (D-Bay Shore) encouraged the Brentwood crowd to keep fighting even if the order was not all they wished for.
“You can’t get 100 percent of what you want in one shot, but if one day we win 25 percent, we live another day to fight,” he told them in Spanish. He said the order was significant not only because it would bring “5 million people out of the shadows,” but also because “it will increase immigrants’ earning power and that will help small businesses and that will create more jobs” for everyone.
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