Immigration reform supporters target Republican U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross

02/19/14 Janelle Irwin
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Tags: Dream Defenders, Young Dreamers, Mi Familia Vota, immigration reform, Dennis Ross, immigration


Immigration reform activists take aim at U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross (R-FL).

photo by Janelle Irwin

Pro-immigration reform groups from across the state rallied in front of member of Congress Dennis Ross’ Lakeland office Wednesday in an attempt to garner support from the Republican lawmaker. Before a press conference in front of his office, Ana Delarosa, state director for Mi Familia Vota, met with members of Ross’s staff to talk about a bill currently stalled in the U.S. House. Delarosa was told Ross would not support the bill and instead was hoping for a piecemeal approach.

“To which the response is, historically, whenever you give people their rights little by little, baby steps, we learned that it doesn’t necessarily work out the best.”

Congress member Ross’s staff declined to comment to WMNF on the meeting with activist. A bill originally proposed by Florida Senator Marco Rubio and the so-called Gang of Eight bi-partisan coalition has been floating around Capital Hill since last year. Some conservative members of Congress are opposing the bill because it provides what they call amnesty to undocumented immigrants. That pathway to citizenship, as supporters call it, isn’t any easy path though.

“It isn’t an overnight process. It is a very long process that includes things like, you have to be able to pass a citizenship test, you have to be able to speak English, you have to have not had any kind of support from any government agencies the whole entire time. For the 13 years you cannot be on Welfare, you cannot be on food stamps, you cannot have Medicaid.”

Here’s how it would work: undocumented immigrants would have to pay a fine, pay taxes, stay out of trouble, hold a job and apply for a work permit. Only after ten years could they then apply for citizenship. But securing the borders is a top priority for many opponents of the bill even though it provides additional funding for just that. And Daniel Barajas, executive director for the Young American Dreamers, claims border security has already improved.

“We currently have ten military-grade drones protecting the border that cost each, $18 million, costs $3,000 an hour to fly each and every one of them. Last year we were so successful we managed to stop 164 people.”

U.S. Rep. Ross’s piecemeal approach would address two other issues as well, including reforming work permits for agricultural labor that is difficult to find outside the immigrant community and making it easier for students to get visas to stay in the country. He talked about that plan during a town hall meeting in Lakeland last night video taped by the group Comprehensive Immigration Reform Now.

“You would see, I think, a major economic impact that would allow us to keep some of the smart people here.”

But Barajas, with the Young American Dreamers, says immigration reform is about families.

“The detention and deportations where 1,100 people are being detained and deported a day … that’s 1,100 families ripped apart on a daily basis.”

Throughout November and December supporters of immigration reform fasted in an effort to draw support for the stalled bill. Phillip Agnew, statewide director for the Dream Defenders, traveled to Washington D.C. and fasted for five days. Others went without food for more than 20-days. Agnew said the protest drew attention from the President and numerous lawmakers.

“Impactful from that experience was hearing the stories and seeing families and seeing people who have been torn apart, seeing – I remember vividly … the story of this father and his daughter and he was about to be deported in a matter of months and he had no other family and his daughter was 7-years old and she didn’t know what was going to happen. Neither one of them could figure out what was going to happen and I couldn’t imagine how you could hear a story like that and you could be John Boehner and be lighting a Christmas tree or going home to your family and kick the can down the road.”

At the beginning of the month, House Speaker John Boehner had said Congress should start making a deal on immigration reform, but a week later he changed his stance because he said Republicans lost trust in President Barack Obama to enforce provisions of the bill they support.

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