Primary opponent wants it too, but calls push a publicity stunt
By B.C. Manion
State lawmakers didn’t take up the Arizona-style immigration law being proposed in Florida at their special session last week, but the issue is far from over.
Indeed, it is just heating up.
Rep. Kevin Ambler, a Republican whose district includes Lutz, filed three measures aimed at making it easier for law enforcement officials to identify illegal immigrants and harder for those without proper documentation to secure public benefits or state jobs.
Since state lawmakers didn’t deal with the issue last week, Ambler said the push will continue when the legislature convenes for another special session, expected in August or September.
The issue is too important to put off until the legislature meets in regular session next year, said Ambler, who is engaged in a tough Republican primary battle for state Senate District 12, which covers portions of Pasco and Hillsborough counties.
“People are demanding something get done,” Ambler said.
“I certainly know about the fiscal costs, as well as the criminal justice costs, associated with illegal immigration,” said Ambler, chairman of the Public Safety & Domestic Security Policy Committee in the Florida House.
The Arizona law directs law enforcement officers to question people about their immigration status during traffic stops or other law enforcement actions if they have reason to suspect the person they’ve stopped is in the U.S. illegally.
With its wide-open coastline, Florida is especially vulnerable, Ambler said, estimating the number of illegal immigrants in Florida is more than twice as many as in Arizona.
Some Arizona law enforcement officials object to the law passed there, but Pasco County Sheriff Bob White wants an Arizona-style immigration enacted law in Florida.
He outlined his rationale in a prepared statement.
“Thrusting a transient and unsupported immigrant population on an already struggling economy with high unemployment and debt creates an unacceptable and unnecessary burden on taxpayers and on the quality of life in our communities,” White observed.
“When the federal government fails to protect the states, then the states must protect themselves,” the sheriff asserted.
Margarita Romo, executive director of Farmworkers Self-Help, based in Dade City, has a much different view about enacting an Arizona-style law here.
“I am very much opposed to it. I think it’s wrong. I don’t disagree that we have to fix our borders, but I do disagree with the way they are doing it.
“The farm workers only do what other people are not willing to do,” said Romo, who favors creating a system that would allow a path toward citizenship for illegal immigrants.
“We’re supposed to be a compassionate country, but I don’t see too much compassion going on these days,” Romo said.
Local residents offered a variety of views on the topic.
Harry Farner, 67, of Zephyrhills and Linsey Gregg, 27, also of Zephyrhills, were relaxing at an ice cream stand when they offered their opinions.
Farner thinks laws regarding illegal immigration should be decided at the state level – contrary to a federal lawsuit challenging Arizona’s law on the grounds that it illegally usurps federal authority.
“Not every state is the same,” Farner reasoned, so laws should be tailored to address the particular issues faced by individual states.
Gregg said illegal immigration is a complicated issue.
“I’m very torn because I feel that everybody has a right to be here – but everybody has a right to be here if they’re paying taxes,” she said.
Gregg also has doubts over whether the issue should be handled at the state or federal level. On one hand, it might be better left to state authorities, she said. On the other hand, they might not want the responsibilities of enforcement.
Vladinka “Vicky” L-Paunovic took a brief break from folding laundry at a coin laundry in Zephyrhills to offer her perspective.
She said she moved to the United States from Yugoslavia about 14 years ago, and now works two full-time jobs: at the laundry and at Walmart.
“I think we ought to take care of the people who are already here,” the 56-year-old said.
However, she thinks there should be a system that would allow illegal immigrants to work legally in the United States and earn their way to citizenship.
She envisions a system that would link Social Security numbers with work permits. After three years of working and paying taxes, without tapping into government benefits, those holding such the permits could get green cards and pursue citizenship.
“If they’re not working, send them back. If they don’t pay taxes, if they use government money, send them back,” she said.
Hillsborough County Commissioner Jim Norman, Ambler’s opponent in the upcoming Republican primary for state Senate, criticized Ambler for not taking a stand on illegal immigration sooner.
He characterized Ambler’s recent call for action on the issue as a “political stunt.”
“If Ambler was really serious about wanting to deal with illegal immigration earlier, he would have done it in his previous years in office,” Norman said. “When I’m in the Senate, I will file legislation on it that will be heard. I’m very strongly in favor of the Arizona law.”
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