News that the Obama administration will stop deporting thousands of young undocumented immigrants – and allow for them to get work visas – sparked a mixed reaction on the East End,often boils over.
Southampton resident Elaine Kahl, founder of the Suffolk County Coalition for Legal Immigration/No Amnesty and Citizens Forum, said scores of people are furious over the news.
"Obama’s proposal is nothing but a political football -- he’s trying to get votes," she said. "It’s a tragedy for every taxpaying American citizen. We are outraged."
Meanwhile. U.S. Rep Tim Bishop, immigration, called the move "a positive development for fairness in our immigration policy.”
On Friday, President Obama outlined new criteria that would allow an illegal immigrant to stay in the United States – they must have come to the country when they were younger than 16, lived in the United States for at least five years, be currently enrolled in school, a high school graduate, or a member of the military, have no criminal record and pose no threat to national security, and be under 30 years old.
"It is an amazing step," said Isabel Sepulveda, founder of Organizacion Latino Americana of Eastern Long Island. "There are so many young people that are going to be blessed by this. It's a positive step because these young people have so much to give to this country. Over the years, I have seen young people dropping out of school because they are discouraged, because they don't see a light in their future. This changes everything."
Southampton Village Mayor Mark Epley has long been faced with escalating tensions over a proposed hiring site for day laborers on n the village as response to the scores of day laborers seeking work outside 7-Eleven.
Epley said on Friday he'd like to see broader reform on the federal level. "Unfortunately, I think its going to be politicized this year," Epley said. "This piece really should be brought into overall immigration reform. That's one of the things we've just failed our country on. We've got to get everybody on the same page."
Sister Margaret Smyth of the North Fork Spanish Apostolate said Obama’s efforts are wonderful but expects there are some who will find little relief in the administration's policy shift. "One of the young fellows in my church is a wonderful young man who came here at 15, but went directly to work," she said. "He has never been to school; he can’t apply."
There are many questions that still need to be answered, Smyth said, including whether young people might be able to enroll quickly in school and qualify, or if some teens who have been here less than five years can apply in the future.
Smyth said she and a number of immigrants she serves gathered around the television at her Riverhead office on Friday to watch Obama’s press conference. "It’s wonderful news," she said. "You can’t punish the kids that came here that young."
Sylvia Baruch, founder of the Hampton Bays based applauded Obama’s move. "It’s a great beginning," she said. "It’s not an end – it’s not even a middle – but’s it’s a great beginning to recognize that there are young people who have the capacity to, or have already made, enormous contributions to this country."
Mike Anthony, another NISI member, said the move was great.
"This action by President Obama is appropriate and necessary. It does neither the country of origin, nor the USA, any good to keep these young people's' lives in legal limbo. Everyone has a stake in these young people's' lives. Our taxes helped educate them; we have invested in their lives."
But others questioned Obama's decision. Amagansett resident Lynda Edwards said Obama has "overstepped his authority. This is a legislative, not an executive act. This is not something that he should be doing. He's doing so many things by executive order -- by bypassing Congress, which is wrong. I'm waiting for Congress to stand up and act like they have a backbone."
At his televised press conference, Obama was heckled by members of the crowd asking what would be done about the thousands of unemployed Americans in the country legally.
"We have drawn strength in being a nation of immigrants," Obama said. “There’s no reason we can’t come together and get this done. These kids deserve to plan their lives in more than two-year increments.”
Obama also said comprehensive immigration reform must be addressed to make sure the agricultural industries and science fields have a stable work force.
Joe Gergela, executive director of the Long Island Farm Bureau, said Obama's effort was positive. "It gives us, at least, the hope that perhaps it will lead to future policy for a guest worker visa program for agriculture."
“Not only is it the right thing to do for the economy, it’s the right thing to do, period,” Obama said.
But Kahl disagreed, especially given the timing ahead of the next election.
"I think President Obama has made a big political mistake."
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