Immigration issues addressed at Hofstra conference
Local leaders and organizers stood among camera crews and flash photographers as the Long Island Immigration Summit began with opening remarks recently at Hofstra’s Sondra and David S. Mack Student Center,
The event took place just over a week following a Texas-based federal judge’s decision to block President Obama’s executive action—including the expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and creation of a new program known as Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA). The summit was aimed at starting a discussion on Long Island about how to move immigration forward.
Despite the setback to the implementation of the president’s executive action, organizers of the summit were confident that it will only be a matter of time. Maryann Slutsky, executive director of Long Island Wins and a principle organizer of the event, emphasized the timeliness of the matter at hand and outlined the goals of the summit.
“We hope to examine the opportunities and challenges presented by administrative relief, create smart solutions that make the best of opportunities,” said Slutsky. “Meet these challenges in the best way possible for all Long Islanders and develop strategies for an inclusive, integrated community that can serve as a blueprint for the rest of the country.”
Over 100 community leaders and organizers were personally invited to attend the five-hour summit that was also open to the public. The morning began with opening remarks from Slutsky, co-director of Hofstra’s Center for Civic Engagement Mario Murillo, Lawrence Levy of the National Center for Suburban Studies, and Patrick Young of CARECEN.
“These are not your mother and father’s suburbs anymore,” said Levy, detailing some of the biggest demographic changes on the island.
According to Levy, Hispanic population on Long Island has increased 57% and Asian population has increased 61%, while the white population has decreased 7.4%.
“I believe where I was raised around my dinner table, that the brains of Latino students, African students and Asian students are just as valuable as the white students who may be trickling out of our region,” Levy said.
Over the past several years, Long Island has dealt with many immigrant-related issues, including the murder of Ecuadorian immigrant Marcelo Lucero in Patchogue in 2012 and the more recent uproar over the wave of unaccompanied children coming in from Central America.
According to Young, every one in six Long Islanders is an immigrant. Young said this is the brunt of the reason so many of these children have wound up here.
“Long Island has the fifth largest Central American community in the entire U.S.,” he said. “That’s why Suffolk County is the third largest recipient of these children and Nassau County was the fifth largest. The region as a whole was the third largest recipient in the U.S. for these children.”
The day continued with seven different break-out sessions. These included panels on education, economy, health care, community organizing, governance, media and immigration law. Since all the panels took place at the same time, attendees were forced to choose only one session to attend.
Some drew very little attendance, with the economy session having as few as seven attendees, while others drew huge crowds. The law panel was easily the most populous, with many having to stand against the back wall of the room.
Throughout the various sessions panelists guided discussions and attendees expressed concerns, shared stories and asked questions. Each panel was roughly an hour long and by the end each group strategized on ways to move forward.
Denisse Giron, a Hofstra junior and peace fellow at the Long Island Alliance for Peaceful Alternatives was pleased with the event as a whole, but hopes the summit will go beyond the seven sessions of that day.
“I do hope to see an actual follow-up soon on the proposals each group made,” she said.
Nuzhat Quaderi, a Hofstra graduate student who works with the organization Erase Racism shared the similar feelings.
“I hope this is the beginning of sustainable, meaningful collaborations among diverse organizations and community leaders that will strengthen immigrant rights, decrease segregation and change the social climate on Long Island for the better,” Quaderi said.
While the event was host to largely positive reviews, the true success of the event will be determined with time. Attendees and organizers alike seem to agree that the event was an important first step.
“Immigration tends to break through in the media as a crisis, but it’s actually American experience, American history,” Young said.
“When the Irish came during the famine it was a crisis, when the Jews came it was such a crisis that we had to turn some ships back around to the Nazis, and it’s always a crisis, and yet somehow America becomes bigger and stronger the more immigrants that we get.”