Shedding Light on Long Island’s Immigration Issues

by Mary Luz Alpizar

Ivan Pereira is a 4.0 GPA student at Suffolk County Community College. He’s applied to 16 schools and has been accepted to all, including two of his dream schools, Harvard University and Columbia University. However, due to his illegal status, Ivan is unable to attend these Universities. He is not eligible to receive financial aid nor student loans. He cannot work legally to cover the cost of his tuition, though a part time job would barely lower his $50,000 annual bills at many of the Universities he’s been accepted to.  Ivan was brought to the United States at age six when his father moved here from Bolivia.  Having spent most of his life in the USA, he only identifies with American lifestyle and culture.

Much like Ivan Pereira, there are many others affected by their immigration status here on Long Island. Immigration laws have had many changes over centuries where circumstances have been put aside along with also having many different ethnic groups based on just their appearance. Immigration is currently an issue that raises many questions and concerns amongst American citizens including cheap labor, over population, security, and unpaid taxes. Many believe it should be carefully revised and renewed, in order to give many undocumented people who already form part of the American society an opportunity to reach the American dream.

President Barack Obama passed a deferred action during his term, which is an administrative relief from deportation that has been around for a long time. He also announced on June 15, 2012 that the U.S. Department of homeland security would not deport certian uncounted youth who were dream-act eligible.

These people would be given a type of “temporary permission” to stay in the U. S. called “deferred action”, which is an action put into play upon childhood arrivals.  It is valid for two years and will be reviewed at the end of those two years, and individuals who receive deferred action are allowed to officially apply for employment authorization. This is one large step on the ladder of immigration because according to them, people who already live in the country deserve a chance to have better quality of life.

The illegal “aliens” in the USA today are those who came from outside the United States illegally and stayed to reside in the country. As a result of their illegal status, they live under the radar and work in poor conditions.

Cheap labor is another big issue in the USA at the moment.  Here on Long Island, Rioja Pawezka is a cleaning lady working for a local cleaning company. Her pay is $6.50 an hour, which is below the minimum wage. She works a twelve hour day and five days a week. She wakes up at 5:00 A.M. every day to feed her 12 year old son Darwin and gets him ready for school. On the weekends, she works her second job at the cleaners where she gets paid $ 7.00 an hour, still below the minimum wage.
She barely sees her sons Darwin and Hugo yet has to pay the rent of her one bedroom apartment and feed her children. She pays $550 a month for her one bedroom, one bathroom and a small kitchen apartment in Brentwood.
“My efforts are for my children, they will have a better future.” Riojas said.  She knows that she is being taken advantage of, but she does not have the proper papers to take action and is afraid of having no job at all. She is afraid to report the abuses of not getting paid for over time, and for working many hours without breaks.
This family is living in bad conditions and it’s not due to the lack of effort. If working this many hours with a normal U.S. salary and over time, Riojas would be able to give her family a better quality of life. Rioja’s means of transportation to her job is a work band that picks her and her co-workers up. For this, there is also a charge of 14 dollars daily. Luckily her other job is about three miles from where she lives, so she walks there because she cannot obtain a driver’s license.

Nassau and Suffolk counties are in between the wealthiest counties in the country. With that being said, how can there be people living under such circumstances?  These people came here in search of the “American Dream”, and it is not illegal to work unless they have documents.
In many cases, parents migrated to U.S. and brought their kids along. These kids went to school, grew up, and adapted to the American society. This is the case of Ivan Pereira a college aspirant in Centereach Long Island. Darwin and Paul Pawezka, Rioja’s sons, integrated in the American Society just as well as Pereira.  Although full integration does not happen until third generation, Ivan argues he is already a part of it.
According to a news report released last week, the population of  Long Island immigration has almost tripled in the past three decades, and one in five long islanders were born abroad.

New to The Island:
El Salvador 55,969
India 24,549
Italy 23,619
Dominican Republic 20,879
Haiti 18,716

About a third of all immigrants on Long Island are now Hispanic, making it the biggest group of people who were born abroad a stated by a report by the left leaning fiscal policy institute based on U.S. census data.
According to Joe Gergela, executive director of the Long Island Farm Bureau, agriculture makes up 6 percent of Long Island’s economy. It is also estimated relatively six out of ten of our country’s farm workers are undocumented (Southern Poverty Law Center). The vast majority of workers–78%, according to the most recent National Agricultural Workers Survey– is foreign-born and crossed a border to get here (NAWS, Farmworker Justice).
Farm workers are essential to the U.S. food structure, and despite our society, depend on their labor to put food on the table. These workers lack the basic rights, face exploitation, and live in fear of reporting abuses. No one else wants these jobs in factories, in farms, in kitchens, or as maids. Undocumented people cannot get better jobs due to their illegal status. All of this leads to unfair treatment in the work place such as long shift hours with no breaks, abuse of the job duties, no overtime paid, and of course no benefits. Business owners take advantage because they know the immigrants won’t report these abuses due to their fear of being deported (American Immigration Lawyers, Immigration and nationality Law Handbook).

As a result, undocumented people don’t pay taxes, but send their kids to our schools. They can’t pay taxes besides due to their low income rates. They are afraid of the government finding out about their illegal status, and also illegal working. Reforming the laws would change all of this, and would benefit immigrants and the country itself. The United States is country made out of immigrants, a multicultural country, where people with all types of background gather and become one.
Since the 1960’s, the United States has opened the door to all of those who were in need of a home and many left their native lands to go settle on this new land full of opportunities. They have left everything behind without looking back for a new start. Bringing with them their dreams, ambitions and cultures; different ethnic groups each settle on their own neighborhoods such as Little Italy, China Town, and Korean town.  Other areas on Long Island include the Pakistani settlers in Brookhaven, Koreans in the area of Oyster Bay and Glen Cove, Ecuadorians in Hempstead and Polish in Riverhead.

They slowly integrated into society learning English, and getting involved outside their own communities. It’s proven to take three generations to be fully integrated into a society. This means they didn’t come here to just work and leave, the want a life here and many doors were opened to the immigrants back then- and this is the reason why they stayed. There are many immigrants now who are struggling to give their families a better future, and a reformation of the immigration laws would benefit the country and open doors for immigrants.
As a result of this insinuation, doors will open and let everyone in. For this to happen, immigrants believe Laws need to be carefully revised, reformed and enforced. The security is another argument against immigration; there are illegal immigrant criminals, and by a social security number and license, records can be kept of these criminals’ whereabouts.
Illegal criminals are easily escaping from justice because there is no form of keeping track of them. They enter and reenter the country whenever they want making it harder to find them. However, Long Island being one of the finer places to live, the FBI’s Crime Index reports Long Island (Nassau-Suffolk) has the second lowest crime rate in the United States. New York has a one percent crime rate of “others” compared to the rest of country, while being the fifth state with more illegal immigrants.

Natasha Ruosky came to U.S. when she was twelve. She was brought by her parents who worked as musicians. When she first arrived, she hated it because she made a lot of friends in high school back home. She graduated high school and went on to a community college where she graduated with a 3.8 GPA. After graduation, she took a road trip with 3 of her friends on a bus to Miami. This was her first time traveling besides her moving to U.S. At a Fort Lauderdale bus station, immigration went on the bus looking for illegal people. That was the end of her celebration since she had no documents. They took her away in hand cuffs and humiliated her in front of her friends. That day marked her life forever. She got arrested and faced being deported. Everything her parents worked for, during all this years was about to be in vain. Natasha was determined to stay in the U.S. so she ended up marrying a much older man for papers. Her husband took advantage of the situation and used it to mentally and physically abuse her and even tried to make her his servant with threats of exposing her to immigration. Natasha still cries when she remembers the frustration and pain that she had to endure. She was afraid of reporting this abuses to the police she feared she would get sent away to Russia.
While everyone is prone to violence, experts say those immigrant women are more vulnerable especially, the illegal ones because they depend and relay on their abusers and this discourage them from getting help. Abusers are usually someone who holds a Green Card or U.S citizens they isolate them and refuse to petition for them.
Congress approved the Violence against Woman Act, which is a law that if married to U.S citizens they have the right to apply for residency on their own instead of relying on their husbands to petition for them.
Reforming immigrations laws and enforcing security of the borders would put a stop to this situation. Immigration on Long Island is a larger issue than many realize, and the foreigners who face the effects of immigration believe that it  should be attended to since it is having such large community of illegal immigrants.

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