William E. Gibson - SunSentinel.com
WASHINGTON Jeb Bush Jr. and like-minded moderate-to-conservative activists from across the country say the time has finally come to transform the nation's immigration system and legalize millions of undocumented immigrants in Florida and around the nation.
Sensing a new opportunity in the wake of the Nov. 6 election, Bush and 250 would-be reformers descended on Washington on Tuesday to encourage Republicans in Congress to join a growing consensus for comprehensive reform.
They are preachers, prosecutors and employers — a loose coalition dubbed the "Bible, badge and business
" brigade. They include the Bush family, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and many Republicans in Florida, who long have argued that the GOP should embrace rather than vilify recent immigrants struggling to improve their lot in life.
The broken immigration system "is just a huge problem for a business that wants to hire people and expand," Bush, a 28-year-old Miami businessman and the son of former Gov. Jeb Bush, told fellow activists at a strategy session.
"Hopefully," he added, "President Obama will provide the leadership to get this done, because our country needs it."
The activists plan to complete their strategy sessions Wednesday before fanning out to meet with members of Congress on Capitol Hill. Leaders, including some in Florida, plan to keep pressing for legislation next year.
While stressing moral and business imperatives to help
poor immigrants and meet labor needs, leaders of this center-right faction think they now have politics on their side.
Republicans in Congress have signaled a new willingness to consider a broad immigration overhaul — and maybe even legalization of the current population — as the GOP reaches out to Hispanic voters after losing the presidential race and a string of close U.S. Senate races.
About 71 percent of Hispanics nationwide and 60 percent in Florida voted for President Barack Obama, and polls show that most of this huge and growing voting bloc expect him and Congress to legalize the undocumented.
"If they [Republicans] want to be a contender for national leadership in this country, they are going to have to change their ways on immigration reform," said Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention.
"There are those on the right who will continue to try to sabotage immigration reform, because in their regional locations fomenting anti-immigration sentiment continues to have short-term political advantage," Land said. "And there will be those of the left who will attempt to sabotage this effort because they want to continue to use the issue to inflame Hispanics to vote in overwhelming numbers for the Democratic Party."
Prospects for passage of a comprehensive bill next year have raised expectations among the 11.5 million people living the shadows of the law, including about 825,000 in Florida.
Opponents of legalization say foreign arrivals are competing for scarce jobs, while proponents contend that a more orderly system that clears up the legal status of a huge undocumented population would be a boon for business.
"We have major problems in Central Florida," said Peter Vivaldi of Orlando, Florida representative of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, which includes 5,000 churches along the East Coast. "Just speaking to some of our citrus farmers, they are saying something needs to be done. These folks come in, humbly work for their money
, and they need to be helped."
Most of these activists also seek a temporary foreign guest worker program to meet seasonal labor needs, tougher border controls and enforcement at U.S. workplaces. Unlike some reformers on the left, the moderate/conservative activists resist what they call ideological "fringe" groups as well as labor unions that oppose temporary guest worker programs.
They generally want to allow the undocumented to earn their way to citizenship but might settle for legal status without citizenship.
"Hispanic people want legalization; that's what we want," said the Rev. Luis Cortes Jr., president of Esperanza, a faith-based organization devoted to helping
Mexican and Central American workers. He cited estimates that the Hispanic electorate will double by the year 2030.
"One of every five Latinos knows someone who has already been deported," Cortes said. "And those are members of our extended family."
READ MORE: http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/2012-12-04/news/fl-immigration-reform-p...