Florida’s entire congressional delegation should listen to the recent pleas by powerful conservative voices in Florida to end the partisan stalemate over immigration reform.
Al Cardenas, the former chairman of the Florida Republican Party and head of the American Conservative Union, is leading the call for Congress to act before its August recess. In a column published in the Tribune, he made a compelling economic case for reform, saying the state’s GDP will increase by $2.7 billion within the first decade of reform, creating 35,000 jobs along the way.
He was joined by the head of the state’s powerful business group, Associated Industries, by the head of the Florida Right-Center Coalition, and by a former top aide to Jeb Bush.
These are stalwart conservative voices who think a further delay in solving the nation’s immigration mess is economically unwise and unfair to the undocumented immigrants contributing to the economy.
As millions of baby boomers leave the workplace over the next 20 years, the country will have fewer workers to take their place. “The USA cannot sustain its economic production or the labor needs of its employers without a smart legal immigration system being put into place now,” Cardenas wrote.
That means finding a way to deal with the 11 million immigrants in the country illegally, a formidable obstacle. A path to citizenship laid out in some reform plans remains a polarizing option. Cardenas, who will step down as ACU head June 1, and his fellow conservatives hope for a middle ground, one that might involve a revamped work permit process or a legalization process with penalties and conditions.
Republican immigration principles reasonably call for stronger borders and requirements that immigrants learn English and American civics. Granting undocumented immigrants legal status might be considered provided they pay fines and taxes.
This willingness by conservatives to consider reforms was on full display in Florida this past legislative session. The Republican-controlled Legislature passed measures that grant the more affordable in-state college tuition rates to the children of undocumented immigrants and that allow an undocumented immigrant to obtain a license to practice law in the state.
Both decisions reflect the growing political influence of this state’s Hispanic population. They also reveal an understanding that blanket deportation or other extreme anti-immigrant measures are unrealistic, inhumane and bad for the economy.
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican from Miami, championed reforms last year that included a path to citizenship, a provision rejected by leadership in the U.S. House. Now U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Republican representing South Florida, is working on a House measure that will attempt to strike a balance with the Republicans and Democrats.
He told the Washington Post in February that progress is being made. “We have legislative language that could potentially get the support of a majority of Republicans and a very large group of Democrats,” he said, without being specific about the language.
Cardenas and other conservatives say they are pulling for Diaz-Balart.
So should Florida’s delegation, which represents a state that stands to benefit greatly from reforms that bring our undocumented residents out from the shadows.