Florida business leaders (again) call on Congress & Obama to come together on immigration reform


Speaker of the House John Boehner has gone back and forth over the last year about whether he'll ever bring up the Senate's bill on comprehensive immigration reform that passed last summer. Some analysts say the legislation could pass if a a certain number of Republicans join the majority of Democrats who support the bill. But that hasn't happened, and most D.C. pundits have declared such reform dead for the year, even before the recent humanitarian crisis broke out in Texas, with tens of thousands of mostly young immigrants walking across the Mexican border.

But today a group of Florida business, political and education leaders held a conference call where they seemed to ignore that reality, instead blandly saying that it was past time for President Obama and Congress to come together to pass comprehensive immigration reform. 

"Far from being dead, this project should be front and center as a top priority of this White House and this Congress," said Al Cardenas, former chairman of the American Conservative Union. He rejected the White House's request this week for $3.8 billion for emergency funding to deal with border issues, "when the real answer lies in comprehensive immigration reform that will result in these expenditures not being necessary to begin with when fully implemented."

Cardenas added Congress to his list of people in this country who want the issue resolved, but again, the GOP House remains extremely divided on the issue, something that none of the speakers on the call would acknowledge.

Today's conference call was part of a National Day of Action for immigration reform called for by business groups who want some legislation passed now.

It's been widely noted how Marco Rubio walked away from the comprehensive bill that he strongly supported last year in the Senate, arguing since that it's better to pass smaller pieces of immigration law vs. a larger bill. When asked if she agreed, Leticia Adams with the Florida Chamber of Commerce essentially said how could she go against her own Senator. 

"I would certainly take the advice of the Senator on how he sees a path forward on how to get immigration reform done," she responded. "This is a very complex issue and has a lot of pieces — everything from border security to employment issues and verification and other issues, so it has a lot of pieces that may need to be taken one-by-one."

When asked if the members of the Florida Congressional delegation had done enough, former special assistant to George W. Bush Rudy Fernandez said they were supportive of reform. "House rules require the Speaker to allow the process to move forward," he said, essentially ducking the question. 

"This is beyond the crisis stage," said Dr. Ed Moore with Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida. He called the current situation in Texas "horrendous and intolerable," but said the entire immigration system needed to be reviewed, especially when it came to meeting the needs of employers across the country.

For Steve Johnson from the Florida Farm Bureau, the issue is all about perishable crops and getting the labor to pick those fruits and vegetables. "We gotta deal with the undocumented guys who are here. They're mostly here to earn a living, and they want the freedom to come and go, whether it's a visa plan or an ability to be here a short period. But because of the problems at the border they're scared to go back and forth. So they're forced to stay here and travel up and down as the crops go." He called the current H-2A and H-2B visas for such workers too cumbersome and expensive to operate.

The President's emergency funding request is just over 10% of the $30 billion in proposed border security funding included in the Senate-passed immigration reform bill that House Republican leaders have stalled.

According to CNN.com, It seeks $1.6 billion for the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice to bolster customs and border efforts as well as cracking down on smugglers, and $300 million for the State Department to help Mexico and Central American governments counter what officials called "misinformation" by smugglers about what immigrants will face on the journey to the U.S. border and once they arrive. And it calls for $1.8 billion for the Department of Health and Human Services to provide care for unaccompanied children crossing the border.

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