On Thursday night Representative Peter King (R-NY) addressed a standing-room-only crowd in Brentwood, Long Island, where he spoke of his new commitment to “legalization and a pathway to citizenship.”
Speaking at a forum on immigration reform, which was packed with nearly 150 immigrants and advocates, King said there was "significant opposition in the Republican Party" to the House Republicans' recently released immigration reform principles.
The congressman admitted that reform may be possible, but "maybe not this year; I'll be honest with you on that."
Forum attendee Angel Atalaya, 59, has waited 12 years for a chance to be a legal resident.
"I have waited a long time to come out of the shadows. I have even started my own business, and to hear 'Not right now' is very disappointing," Atalaya told Newsday. "It's all a political game."
SJ Jung, president of the MinKwon Center for Community Action, which advocates for Asian immigrants in the area, said, "He clearly showed that he is committed to immigration reform, but I actually wanted to hear from him a concrete action plan of initiatives he can take for moving forward.”
The crowd applauded when King promised to urge House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to vote on the issue this year.
Javier Valdés, a co-director of Make the Road New York, a Latino advocacy group, said the meeting helped "reaffirm to him that our community wants citizenship to be a priority."
Last year, King’s district was reconfigured into one where many more immigrants reside; around the same time, the congressman adjusted his position from emphasizing enforcement and border security to favoring a path to citizenship.
Advocates for enforcement see King’s support of immigration reform as a betrayal.
"We just consider him a turncoat on immigration issues,” said Barrett Psareas, an enforcement proponent with the Nassau County Civic Association in Cedarhurst.
Psareas added that talking about reform without securing borders first was “a waste of time.”
"Until the final gavel comes down in the 113th Congress, we are not taking anything for granted," said Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a group based in Washington, DC. "Immigration reform needs to start from the perspective of why we have those laws in the first place, which is to protect the American people."