Lakeland immigration reform advocates side with U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio

05/01/13 Janelle Irwin
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Community activists are pushing immigration reform for the 11 million undocumented people in the country. During a Republican fundraiser in Lakeland Wednesday, more than a dozen people waved signs calling on the U.S. House of Representatives to support a pathway to citizenship measure introduced in the Senate by Marco Rubio, who was a speaker at the luncheon.

Rubio and 7 of his colleagues in the Senate have formed what people are calling the Gang of Eight. The bi-partisan group introduced legislation in the Senate that would allow undocumented individuals to apply for a Green Card after being in the country for ten years.

“You have to undergo a background check and a national security check. If you’re not a criminal, you’re going to have to pay a $2,000 fine. You’re going to have to start paying taxes. You’re not going to qualify for Welfare. You’re not going to qualify for Obamacare. You’re not going to qualify for food stamps. You’re going to have to pay an application fee and we’ll give you a permit to work in the United States for six years and pay your taxes and that’s it. After 6-years you have to come back again and be renewed. And when you come back again in 6-years you’re going to have to prove that you’ve been working and that you’ve been paying taxes and that you haven’t committed any crimes or done anything wrong and we’ll give you another four year permit to work here again. And only after ten years have gone by, then and only then, if you’ve lived under all these conditions, then we’ll allow you to apply for a Green Card, not award a Green Card …”

Rubio laid out two other options: round up all the undocumented immigrants or just accept things the way they are. He said neither one of those seems like a good idea.

“They’re here. Most have been here for longer than a decade. Their children are citizens, they drive in the streets without drivers’ licenses and therefore no insurance – when they get sick, they show up at the hospital. Many of them are paying taxes, but not under their name – under someone else’s social security card.”

Despite the fact that Rubio has been slow to the draw on tackling immigration issues some of his critics are siding with him on this one. Juan Sousa Rodriguez is with the Florida Immigrant Coalition.

“It’s the most reasonable compromise that we’ve had in a very long time. It’s very strong bi-partisan leadership that’s championing it.”

The legislation also includes border control measures. Both Senator Rubio and Rodriguez acknowledge that not everyone is going to be completely satisfied with the Senate’s proposal.

“From different party interests there’s a lot of contention around, what does border security look like, what does enforcement look like – employment verification? There’s some things that are very controversial and that’s part of the debate and so the bill isn’t something that everyone’s perfectly happy with.”

Protesters waved signs as members of the Republican Women’s Club of Lakeland arrived at the luncheon where Senator Rubio spoke. They were most hoping to catch the eye of Republican Lakeland Congress member Dennis Ross. Jessica Sanchez is with the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Now group. She said activists have been targeting Ross to take a stance on immigration.

“To the point that now he actually supports a pathway to citizenship, but nothing specific yet and we haven’t gotten a response for the Senate Bill either. But we’re still working here … we’re still trying to get him to do some actions here and not just say that he supports a pathway to citizenship.”

Ross has said he supports a pathway to citizenship but he hasn’t done anything to bring the measure up in the House. During his introduction of Senator Rubio, Ross hinted that he may be coming around to the idea.

“Senator Rubio has taken the lead on an issue of immigration reform that we as a party failed miserably on by not addressing. We all will have different opinions on how we need to address this issue, but if we do not bring this issue forward to the satisfaction of the American people, that no matter difficult it is, it is something that we have to face …”

The inter-faith labor group PICO United Florida is also targeting Ross. This Monday the group started hosting prayer vigils in front of Ross’s Lakeland office aimed at getting him to support the Senate’s immigration bill. They will continue the vigils every weekday afternoon through May.

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