Kevin Berrezueta has been a resident of Roslyn since he was 7 years old. He attended Harbor Hill Elementary, graduated with AP credit from Roslyn High School in 2012 and is currently a senior studying international business at Baruch College. In six months, he could be forced to return to his home country of Ecuador, a place that has not been home for 15 years.
“It’s hard for me … I felt like crying,” he said. “I’m like, wow, this is real. In a year I might have to be deported back. It’s scary.”
Berrezueta is one of thousands of Long Island residents who are part of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and could be forced to leave the country after March 5, 2018, unless Congress extends the program.
He was one of three local DACA recipients who spoke at a news conference Monday held by U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi at his office in Huntington. The 3rd District Democrat said he would do everything he could to keep DACA recipients in the United States.
“Let’s figure out a way to do the American thing here, to treat all men and women as though they’re created equal,” Suozzi said. “Let’s do the human thing.”
DACA does not make recipients citizens of the United States, nor does it lead to citizenship. Berrezueta and Nelson Melgar, another DACA recipient in attendance, spoke of the difficulty they had in paying for college as they were ineligible for student aid. Recipients cannot receive federal welfare.
To be eligible for DACA, an immigrant must have arrived in the United States before his or her 16th birthday, have lived in the United States since June 2007, been born after June 16, 1981, have no criminal record and have a high school degree or served in the armed forces. Over 800,000 immigrants met these guidelines, and New York has approved over 90,000 DACA requests as of March 31, 2017. After President Donald Trump repealed DACA on Sept. 5, recipients will be deported after March 5, 2018, if they do not receive an extension.
Suozzi said that the focus on Capitol Hill at this moment is to protect DACA. But he said the ultimate goal is to pass the Dream Act, which would grant permanent residence to those who had entered the country before age 18, had not committed a crime and have a high school degree. If passed, two million immigrants would be eligible for residency.
“Most Americans, if you talked to them, would agree that [the Dream Act] is perfectly reasonable,” he said. (A poll from the Public Religion Research Institute showed that two-thirds of Americans would support such legislation). “DACA by itself is just a Band-Aid.”
Immigration is not a new issue for Suozzi. He mentioned during the news conference that as the mayor of Glen Cove in the 1990s, there was an issue with day workers gathering on the street corner.
“We set up the first day workers site anywhere on the east coast of the United States,” he said.
As a congressman, Suozzi has called for bipartisan solutions to the country’s problems. But he admitted that it would be a difficult fight to extend DACA in the House.
“I know that if they put this bill to extend DACA … in front of the United States Congress, it would pass overwhelmingly,” he said. “The problem is that [House Speaker] Paul Ryan has a hard time putting this before the Congress because he would be challenged by members of the Freedom Caucus, the far right of the Republican Party.”
The uncertain future of DACA recipients is what spurred Berrezueta, Melgar and Carlos Diaz Lezama to speak out and attend Monday’s news conference. Melgar, a Glen Cove resident, said he realized after Trump was inaugurated that his DACA status would be revoked. But he has refused to give up his dream of becoming a citizen and he said other recipients should not either.
“What I urge all DACA recipients to do at this moment is not be afraid, to not give into uncertainty,” Melgar said. “But to instead hold on and hold true to their aspirations and dreams, because I find that is the one thing that truly makes us American.”