Immigration reform will affect a large population in Queens.
How many exactly is uncertain.
Seven out of 10 of about 2,300,000 people living in Queens are foreign-born, according to the advocacy group Make the Road New York, with no definite number of how many people entered the United States illegally.
The Pew Hispanic Center estimated 625,000 illegal immigrants lived in New York State in 2010 — or about 3.2 percent of all residents and 4.7 percent of the workforce.
The national numbers fluctuate as well, with an estimate of 11 to 20 million living in the country.
The decision on Thursday that 14 Republicans and all Democrats in the Senate supported — if passed in the Republican-controlled House and then signed into law by President Obama — would allow this hard-to-track but large and impactful population to apply for a 13-year path to legalization.
In exchange for legal status the bill would double the number of border patrol officers along the Mexican border and require 700 miles of fencing there. Border fortification and unmanned drones to track illegal border crossings would cost billions of dollars. The bill would also require the Department of Homeland Security to put a tracking system in the country’s 30 largest airports.
Additionally, employers would have to use the government’s E-Verify program to ensure those on their payroll can legally work.
Newly legal immigrants would also pay back taxes as well.
Immigration and related problems have been tackled for about eight years. This time around, a 120-page package was crafted by a bipartisan group of senators called “The Gang of Eight,” including Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY).
“Our system is broken; 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,” Schumer said.
Schumer said on the Senate floor that newly legalized immigrants would add $150 billion to the economy in the next 10 years and $900 billion in 20. The Senator also touted 6.6 million new jobs.
“This will have a tremendous impact,” youth organizer for Make the Road New York Natalia Aristizabal-Betancur said, adding the organization is against the border control measures.
“Border enforcement and all these other add-ons, we find is a misuse of state and national tax money,” she said.
“It’s not a perfect bill, but it is very well rounded,” Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Bronx, Queens) said.
“My district is very diverse and has a lot of interest in this issue. I see the suffering from this,” Crowley said. “It gives these people who live in this subculture a vehicle to bring them out into the open.”
“This is a good thing. This is a wonderful thing,” said Agha Saleh, a legal immigrant from Pakistan and the founder of the nonprofit Sukhi in Jackson Heights.
“Those working illegally are not going to get proper pay,” Saleh said. “I call it immigrant slavery when these undocumented workers need jobs, but don’t get paid as they should. You see it in these restaurants’ basements.”
He would like to see these businesses and people paying taxes as well as illegal immigrants with criminal records deported.
“It has some good things and some bad,” said Immigration Advocacy Services Executive Director Tony Meloni, who has seen a spike of interest at his office.
Along with passage of the bill there will be a component describing qualifications, Meloni said. Many of these will be similar to the Obama policy directive, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which the president created a little over a year ago. The directive allows illegal students to apply for two years of deferred deportation.
DACA and the immigration reform do and would require a clean record, application fees and a baseline of years the individual had to be living in the States.
Unlike DACA the bill would not have an education requirement or age, which expands the opportunity for legalization from about 1.5 million people to an estimated six times that.
Last time legalization bills were introduced in 2007, they required a measure of “good moral character” Meloni said. “They will probably use that template.”
The idea is that the bill will cast a wider net not just for family members of citizens or just educated individuals.
“Whether it is highly skilled immigrants inventing new technologies or lower-skilled immigrants toiling in our fields — or all those in between — immigrants have been an essential component to our American success story,” Schumer said.
The bill introduces a merit point system, a tool countries such as Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand employ. Age, occupation, education and family ties would be given different numbers of points. Unlike the 2007 proposal, the new one has two tiers, with one for highly skilled and the other for less-skilled workers, according to the Immigration Policy Center.
All the specifics aside, the bill’s next step will be difficult.
“I’m not holding my breath,” Crowley said of the legislation’s future in the House. “I’m skeptical right now because I think Republicans think it’s in their political interest not to pass the legislation, but it is important for our country to move forward.”
“Mark Twain once said if you like sausages or laws, don’t watch either being made,” Meloni said. “We have seen this bill morph two or three times so we always wait until the end.”
“Inaction is going to make them lose votes and party control,” Aristizabal-Betancur said. “We need to continue to voice our concerns and demand that our Council and Congress members are our champions.”