Florida Chamber, other diverse intersts want immigration reform, now

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The Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops joined with human rights activists and academics Wednesday to call for congressional action on immigration reform.

The Tallahassee news conference was part of national Day of Action with proponents scheduling news conferences in 60 congressional districts. The effort included the release of a poll indicating an overwhelming majority of respondents want Congress to resolve America’s immigration problem with a solution involving a path to legal residency for the undocumented immigrants already here.

“When a silent majority stays silent, an issue can be taken hostage by a very passionate minority,” Rudy Fernandez, a University of Miami professor and former assistant to President George W. Bush, said in response to a question about anti-immigration protests in California.

“That silent majority is not going to stay silent any longer and you are going to see business groups and faith groups and other civic leaders step up and demand action,” said Fernandez.

A Partnership for a New American Economy poll of Floridians found that 67 percent of respondents either strongly supports or somewhat support an immigration reform plan that secures borders and increases the number of visas for immigrants.

Seventy-six percent of respondents reject House Republicans’ explanation that cites President Obama’s lack of enforcement of current laws as a valid reason not to act.

“The Obama administration has been responsible for more removals, deportations than any other administration,” said Mark Schlakman, of the Florida State University Center for the Advancement of Human Rights. “To assert that there is no enforcement of U.S. immigration law is completely unfounded.”

It is generally accepted that there are about 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. The issue played a significant role in the 2010 gubernatorial election when Gov. Rick Scott hammered then-Attorney General Bill McCollum in the Republican primary with an ad portraying McCollum as soft on immigration violators. The Pew Hispanic center estimated there were 800,000 undocumented immigrants living in Florida in 2010.

The issue has flared again in recent days with anti-immigration protesters blocking buses of undocumented women and children from entering a California processing center.

Schlakman and Fernandez stress that immigration reform is complicated and affects security, economic and humanitarian issues as well as international law.

“There is an obligation under both international and U.S. law to ensure that the United States is not sending these children back into harm’s way,” said Schlakman.  “It’s not as easy as just, quote simple narrative, send them back. “

National business groups taking part in the effort include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Business Roundtable, The American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Association of Manufacturers.

“The problems with our immigration system have grown and multiplied to become an emerging threat to the current and future productivity and competitiveness of key industries in Florida, including agriculture, housing, manufacturing, tourism and a growing tech industry,” said Leticia Adams of the Florida Chamber, speaking at the Tallahassee news conference.

Adams and the others said immigration reform is an essential building block for renewing America’s competitiveness.

“When you analyze the immigration issue from any one of the vantage points, whether it’s the economy, the Florida farmer that needs workers and the visa system simply doesn’t do, or the  high-tech sector and the fact that we’re educating our competition and allowing them to go away, with the passage of time that gets worse” said Fernandez. “You know those 11 million undocumented? Guess what? You do nothing and they will continue to come here illegally and soon there will be 20 million.”

When asked in the poll about the 2016 presidential election, 70 percent of Republican respondents and 78 percent of Democratic respondents, along with 62 percent of independents, said they would support a candidate who backs immigration reform.