Rep. Peter King, a Republican representing Long Island, used to be known as one of the most vocal opponents of immigration reform. In fact, he was the main advocate for building a wall along the border with Mexico. In 2007, he objected to the path to citizenship, part of the bill sponsored by senators John McCain and Ted Kennedy.
This year, the legislator’s position on the topic seems to be shifting in favor of immigrants.
“Congressman King is recognizing that the pizzerias have become pupuserías,” said Daniel Altschuler, coordinator of the Long Island Civic Engagement Table, a civic group led by Make the Road New York, New York Communities for Change, the Long Island Immigrant Alliance, and CARECEN-N.Y.
In 2013, King’s district – which comprises part of Nassau and Suffolk counties – changed considerably as a result of electoral redistricting, which occurs every 10 years due to the census. The Latino population doubled from 73,000 to more than 159,000 in his district, according to the current data.
Earlier this year, surveys by two different organizations, including one by America’s Voice, showed that around 80 percent of Long Island residents supported immigration reform with a path to citizenship. Many believe these changes have softened King’s attitude; he is known as one of the moderate Republicans opposing illegal immigration. King is also the first Republican to announce his aspirations for president in 2016.
In the town of Islip, for example, part of King’s district and the hub of Long Island’s immigrant community, Salvadorans are the largest immigrant group at about 24 percent of the population, followed by Dominicans. There are also Puerto Ricans.
According to a report by the Fiscal Policy Institute, immigrants make up a sizable portion of nearly all occupations on Long Island, ranging from administrative to professional to agricultural positions. In fact, the report underscores that most of those families have an income of at least $80,000 a year.
King has met with pro-immigrant activists in person at least five times this year. In fact, the federal legislator changed his outlook in favor of a path to citizenship before the surveys were published, according to the activists.
King has another meeting scheduled for next month, as indicated in a letter sent to Javier Valdés, co-executive director of Make the Road New York.
“He promised to answer questions from community members on immigration reform,” said Valdés.
Repeated requests for an interview with King were not answered by the time this article was published.
Repeated requests for an interview with the congressman were not returned.