CLEARWATER — Whoever wins the 13th Congressional District special election will face a slew of controversial national matters, not the least of which is immigration reform.
A group of pro-comprehensive immigration reform advocates says passions run high on the issue in Pinellas County, and it plans to highlight the positions of five candidates to boost voter turnout.
“This is a bipartisan issue,” said Tim Heberlein, an activist and spokesman for the Florida Consumer Action Network. “It’s something that constituents in this district care about.”
Public Policy Polling surveys conducted last year suggest most Floridians support a path to legal citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Heberlein is part of a pro-immigration reform coalition that will target voters likely to support reform and try to turn them out on March 11 for an election likely to have low turnout and be won by a small margin.
“It could be an issue that sways the election,” he said.
It’s an issue that sparks passion on the left as well as the right.
Pinellas County Republican Party Chairman Michael Guju said the Affordable Care Act is going to be the biggest driver for GOP voters, but anger over illegal immigration also may inspire Republicans to vote.
“I think that immigration is an issue that’s of interest to the general population,” Guju said. “In some ways it’s very polarizing.”
Not everyone thinks candidates’ stances on immigration will spur a flurry of votes.
Regardless, each of the candidates has outlined positions on immigration, and here are some highlights:
Mark Bircher, Republican: “Almost any measure that doesn’t first secure the borders is specious in my view,” Bircher said at a candidate forum Monday. He later elaborated in a written statement: “I think our laws should be respected. I think a person that’s in our country illegally should go through the legal process to come. I do not believe that amnesty is a good way to go.”
David Jolly, Republican: “I think all of us are in favor of diversity, legal immigration,” he said at a forum. “The concern is, with illegal immigration, the cost of resources that are being expended on those who have broken the law.” Jolly added he would not support Sen. Marco Rubio’s immigration reform bill and wants to enforce the current laws, including holding accountable businesses that employ undocumented workers.
Lucas Overby, Libertarian: Overby has said he supports the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ reform principles, including requiring all undocumented immigrants, some 11 million of them, to register with the federal government and allowing those brought to the U.S. illegally as children to remain in the country. He said he does not support a bill the Senate passed last summer because “the Republican side of the Senate snuck in a ton of unnecessary spending and undirected spending.”
State Rep. Kathleen Peters, Republican: “The one thing the country hasn’t done is secure our borders,” Peters said. “My ancestors all emigrated here, and I think we need to continue to allow people to come to the greatest country in the world. ... What I would say is that everybody who wants to come to this country should have a pathway. They should have a way to legally come into this country and become citizens.”
Alex Sink, Democrat: “I support the principles of the bipartisan immigration reform legislation that was passed in the U.S. Senate last year,” Sink wrote in an emailed statement. “It is time to fix our broken immigration system and the House of Representatives should stop dragging its feet and take action to enact this commonsense compromise into law.”