Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and leading labor and immigration advocates Tuesday called on Washington to pass comprehensive immigration reform amid a major uptick in migrants, particularly unaccompanied minors, illegally entering the country.
Declaring Long Island an "island of immigrants," Bellone said that moving people who are here illegally "out of the shadows" would unleash the region's economy, expanding the tax base and incentivizing employers to improve working conditions.
Bellone plans to send a letter to the region's congressional delegation calling for them to pass a bill that will include a pathway to citizenship while strengthening the border. Roughly one in five Long Islanders were born outside the United States.
"What we have now is unworkable," Bellone said at Pronto of Long Island in Bay Shore, an immigrant advocacy organization. "It is a failed system that is nothing short of a massive failure of our national government. Instead of a process that gives people the recognition they deserve to serve as productive citizens, we have a process that keeps people hidden in the shadows."
Roger Clayman, executive director of the Long Island Federation of Labor, said many of those who entered the country illegally pay taxes and contribute to the larger economy.
"We are a labor movement of immigrants," he said. "We want to do everything we can to make certain they have the same rights and protections as everyone else."
Maria Rivera, owner of Fifth Avenue Hair Styling in Bay Shore, came to Suffolk 16 years ago from El Salvador and holds temporary protected status, allowing her to remain in the country legally.
"Legal or illegal, we are all human and deserve to be part of this amazing country because at the end of the day we pay our taxes and do good by our community," Rivera said. "In this country we work from sun up to sundown. … We are here to make an honest living and live our dreams."