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Know Your Rights
Subject: Immigration
Type: Media Coverage

On Staten Island, immigration debate is both personal and political

There is a political component to the immigration debate: Republicans are looking to shore up their number of Hispanic and Asian-American voters, more than 70 percent of whom went Democratic in last year’s presidential election.

And an economic one: The Congressional Budget Office estimates an immigration reform bill would boost the economy by 3.3 percent over the next decade.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, a chief architect of the bill, put it this way in his floor speech last month, during a final push for Senate passage: “Immigrants have always been the greatest engine of economic growth, innovation and renewal that this country has ever known.”

Yet, as the focus now shifts to the House of Representatives, Staten Island supporters of immigration reform will tell you their desire for passage is far more personal.

The other day, during a coalition meeting on the North Shore of immigrants pushing for the legislation, Nancy Pedro described the “challenges” she faces daily as the mother of “two undocumented children and one citizen.”

Even that struggle, Mrs. Pedro said through a translator, paled in comparison for a time after Hurricane Sandy hit.

“We lost everything,” said Mrs. Pedro, who was born in Mexico and has lived in Midland Beach for a decade. “Everyone suffered; the storm did not discriminate.”

Sri Lankan native Naflan Doole of Richmond, a recent Curtis High School honors graduate, said he despaired over his undocumented status: “I thought, what’s the point of studying, I have no future. I couldn’t get work authorization, a learner’s permit to drive, financial aid for college. Every day, when I said the Pledge of Allegiance, I’d say, what makes me different? A piece of paper? I feel like this is my home.”

When a guidance counselor suggested he explore the Department of Homeland Security’s Deferred Action process, aimed at undocumented young people, Doole did and then formed the Dreamers Club at Curtis.

“I thought, I know I can’t be the only one at Curtis who is undocumented,” said Doole, who helped steer 35 of his classmates through the Deferred Action maze.

“There is talent like me that is being wasted,” added Doole, who will attend college in the fall, majoring in political science, has obtained his working papers and has begun driving lessons. “There are youth who are scared, scared of being deported, scared of just not knowing. I hope to form clubs in other high schools. The biggest obstacle is getting the information out there.”

Dan Coates, who heads the Port Richmond-based Make the Road New York Staten Island, and organized the coalition meeting, said the push must remain on creating a “path for citizenship and family reunification.”

Noting “historic” passage of the bipartisan bill in the Senate “at an unprecedented time of gridlock in Washington,” Coates said the focus now is on seeking support in the House and creating law.

Is immigration good for the economy?

“Our system is broken,” Schumer (D-N.Y.) told the Advance. “We turn away people who create jobs and we let people come across our border who take away jobs from Americans. Our bill fixes both those problems. The underlying theme is, Americans will accept common-sense solutions that create a pathway for citizenship for 11 million people and create future waves of immigration — if we close down illegal immigration, which this bill does.”

“I do not countenance the way the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in our midst got here,” said Schumer during his floor speech. “But they are here now, and deporting all of them is simply too impractical, too unrealistic, to consider. Our bill will tell these individuals that if they are willing to keep their end of the covenant, their road may be harder and longer than everyone else’s road — including a 10-year probationary period with no benefits or assistance of any kind — but it, too, can end with being given the chance to earn American citizenship if they work hard, pay taxes and play by the rules.”

Rep. Michael Grimm (R-Staten Island/Brooklyn) remains undecided.

“I do not, nor have I ever supported blanket amnesty,” Grimm said in a statement to the Advance. “I do believe that we must have a comprehensive plan that first closes our borders, mandates E-Verify so that we don’t have illegal workers, and fixes our broken visa system so that we can track those overstaying their visits. Most importantly, we need triggers that guarantee enforcement of these provisions. Only then can we begin to address the underlying issue of 11-12 million undocumented individuals in the United States.” there must be enforceable triggers — such as securing the border and fully implementing E-Verify (which matches a worker’s employment eligibility to government records). If these benchmarks are not met within a timeline, then citizenship should not even be considered as a result of this bill. I believe it is important that any final immigration bill contain strong and enforceable triggers — an area in which the Senate bill falls short.”

“Congress is a bicameral body by design,” Grimm noted. “With an issue this big and important, we should not be expected to simply pass the Senate bill without question. The House should be given the opportunity to work its will and give our constituents a voice as we draft our own bipartisan bill. Only then can the House and Senate negotiate to reconcile differences.”

“My House colleagues and I are working diligently on a comprehensive solution,” Grimm added. “However, since it is still being drafted, I cannot say whether or not I will support it until I have a chance to read the final version. That being said, we must not lose sight of the ultimate goal of immigration reform — which is to implement a comprehensive policy that strengthens the economy and security of the United States and makes it a stronger and better place to live.”

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