By Jano Tantongco
Democratic candidate for the 3rd Congressional District Thomas Suozzi held a town hall meeting at the American Legion Post 360 in Huntington last Thursday.
Suozzi brought immigration expert Patrick Young, a professor Hofstra University’s law school. Suozzi wanted to gather opinions from these meetings to understand his potential constituents.
“I still believe politics can be a noble profession, that it doesn’t have to be this dirty, nasty thing that it’s become,” Suozzi said, who is running against state Sen. Jack Martins (R-Old Westbury), the Republican candidate.
Suozzi continued, “The reason people are so discouraged is because a lot of the issues that we’ve been talking about for 30 years are the same as they were 30 years ago.”
He said immigrants from El Salvador make up Long Island’s largest population of immigrants.
“Immigration started becoming an issue in this country, with people being so divided on it back in the 80s, when people were fleeing from Central America,” he said. “People were fleeing in droves.”
Suozzi added that President Barack Obama has had the highest number of deportations under his administration, which has garnered him criticism from the left wing.
Young, also an attorney practicing immigration law, provides representation to hundreds of immigrants in many areas of immigration law, including family-based immigration petitions, political asylum and adjustment of status.
Young said that, in the 1980s, it was “extremely easy” to immigrate into the U.S. He recounted that he had performed border observations during that time, and would see immigrants cross over the Rio Grande on raft.
“There is significant border protection now that did not exist before,” he said. “We don’t have a wall, but we have a bunch of fences… [and] we also have four times as many border patrol now as we did in the 1980s.”
He also said that out of the 11 million people who are undocumented in the U.S., 70,000-80,000 of them reside on Long Island.
During the public portion, one man chimed in and asked for a common term to discuss the immigrants, referring to the dichotomy of “illegal” versus “undocumented” immigrant.
“One terminology that says, ’Hey, are they illegal or are they not illegal?’ We have to start at one point,” the man said.
“They’re referring to the same population because it’s an offensive terminology to say ‘illegal alien,’ ” Suozzi said. “I’m a very big believer that there should be a pathway to citizenship, and we have to figure out how to get people on the books, and get them to pay their taxes and try and participate in the American dream.”
Election Day is Nov. 8.