Several dozen immigrants exuded a newfound confidence as they gathered Friday in Brentwood to watch President Barack Obama’s address on immigration — only a day after he issued an executive order exempting millions in the country illegally from deportation.
They laughed, clapped and hooted as he delivered his speech.
“The truth is, I have been waiting for this opportunity for many years,” Brentwood resident Lucy Castillo, 41, a mother of two Long Island-born boys, told the crowd in Spanish. “I feel happy, but happy is not even the word to explain it. I need a bigger word.”
Advocates reminded them this was “a temporary victory” that has yet to be implemented.
Immigration attorneys and the federal government also spoke more cautiously of the path ahead, as an estimated 5 million people are expected to become eligible for a variety of programs to obtain “lawful presence.” Included are some immigrants living here illegally whose children are U.S. citizens or legal residents; others brought to the United States illegally as minors; immediate relatives of U.S. citizens; and legal residents with pending cases.
“We really have to look at this as several different programs that happened to be announced at the same time,” said Patrick Young, an immigration attorney who is program director of the Central American Refugee Center in Hempstead and Brentwood.
Most experts are counseling immigrants to gather their documentation but not rush to notarios — consultants unauthorized to practice immigration law — and not to pay fees before the government starts accepting applications.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency expects to accept applications from immigrants brought as minors in about 90 days and from adults who qualified for deferred action in about 180 days, but does not have processing dates for other programs.
Even attorneys are “really just muddling through it now” to understand the order, said Michael Kohler, an immigration lawyer in Melville. “The initial next step I would honestly say is for people to take a step back, don’t do anything yet and give it a few days, weeks or months to sink in.”
Opponents of Obama’s reprieve signaled greater resistance and renewed criticism ahead.
Ira Mehlman of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a Washington, D.C., group that advocates for restrictive immigration policies, said the order will spur lawsuits, political debate and even an effort to defund immigration agencies. “It’s going to be hard even for Democrats to stand up with an unpopular lame-duck president defending an unconstitutional policy,” he said.
Many like Magdalena Carias, 46, a Bay Shore resident who came to the U.S. illegally from El Salvador and works at a factory, are left out of Obama’s order.
“I felt sad,” she said in Spanish, “but what’s happened has given more of us a motivation to keep fighting . . . so we are all seen as deserving human beings.”
Dan Altschuler, Long Island coordinator of Make The Road New York, said he and other advocates will be “helping the people who qualify” to seek relief.
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