Rep. Castor pushes for comprehensive immigration reform

01/11/13 Seán Kinane
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Despite the fact that there are 11 million people in the U.S. without proper documentation, the U.S. Congress has not passed comprehensive immigration reform. But in a press conference this morning in Ybor City, Tampa-area member of Congress Kathy Castor said she hopes that will change.

"There is no legal pathway to citezenship that exists right now. I hear from a number of people who say: "Why don't the Dream kids just apply for citzenship?" That pathway does not exist legally. That is why it is important now for us to craft a comprehensive legal pathway to citizenship."

The comprehensive immigration reform Castor wants would be based on nine principles. It would require undocumented immigrants to register, learn English, pay taxes and submit to a criminal background check. It would try to keep families together, and expand on the new program allowing people who were brought to the country when they were young get a pathway to citizenship. Castor said it would attract students and professionals to strengthen the economy, and include these other principles.

"...Includes a balanced workable solution for the agriculture industry. 6: ends exploitation of US immigrant workers. 7: Ensures smart and reasonable enforcement that protects our borders. 8: Establishes a workable employment verification system. 9: Renews our committment to citizenship to ensure all workers pay their fair share of taxes, fully integrate into our way of life, and bear the same responsibilities as all Americans."

One immigrant who could benefit from comprehensive reform is Nanci Palacios. The honors student recently graduated from Hillsborough Community College. Last summer President Obama let young people apply for documentation if they had been brought to the country as children. Palacios received what’s known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status, but she wants a more comprehensive approach.

"My youngest sister was approved first, then my next sister, and I was like "Oh my gosh, what's going wrong? Why am I not getting approved? Why? I have everything that it takes?" Finally, a couple of months later in November I was granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. I was granted my work permit. I now have a work permit, a work social. I now have in the state of Florida a drivers license for a year, but that's not enough."

Palacios says that program is just a band-aid and comprehensive reform is needed. Lourdes Villanueva is president of the Florida Immigrant Coalition.

"I see these mothers day in and day out coming and leaving their children with us and not knowing if they're going to come back to pick them up because they don't know if down the road they are going to be at a traffic stop and then immediately leads them into deportation. We have many families that have been torn apart and I don't think that's American, I don't know what's happening."

That scenario isn’t unheard of. Last night a prominent immigration reform activist in Arizona named Erika Andiola watched as Immigration and Customs Enforcement took her mother and brother from their home. Villanueva criticized the idea of being worried about immigrants as security risks. She said they can actually enhance security.

"I know that we are all very concerned with Homeland security and I am too. But I think Homeland security needs to start with our food. Where do we want our food produced? I would rather eat Plant City grown strawberries where we know how they are grown with all of the regulations in place so that we are going to be safe. Versus importing our food from somewhere else that God knows how they are grown."

Villanueva and other immigration reform advocates stood in the shadow of a statue of immigrants in Ybor City’s Centennial Park. They were joined by the president of the Florida Council of Churches, Bishop Charles Leigh, who said comprehensive reform should be a moral imperative for people of faith.

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