Bob Sparks: Most Floridians support the right immigration reforms

An international scandal is playing out before us on our televisions, radios and newspapers. Not Benghazi, the IRS or Fast and Furious. This one involves children.

Each day the media report on the tens of thousands of undocumented Central American children pouring across our border with Mexico. To be certain, thousands of adults are crossing at the same time.

The thought of so many of these kids traveling alone is abhorrent. How desperate must one be to ship a child or children across Mexico with human coyotes, or in hot vans or perhaps even on foot? Those individual stories are likely compelling and waiting to be told by enterprising journalists.

The numbers are alarming. In the past nine months, the number of unaccompanied children entering the country illegally through the Rio Grande Valley of Texas rose 178 percent, according to the federal government. How many of these kids eventually make their way to Florida?

The daily sights and sounds of this weaponless invasion provide fodder for commentators and analysts. Some blame President Obama’s Executive Order on “Dreamers.” Others cite former President George W. Bush’s signing of a well-intentioned law passed by a Democratic Congress designed to address human trafficking.

Floridians and Americans are in no mood for a blame game. They seem to want solutions.

Last week, The Partnership for a New American Economy, the Business Roundtable and the National Association of Manufacturers released a poll indicating a strong mood for reform.   The poll, conducted by the Republican polling firm Harper Polling, asked likely voters in 26 states, including Florida, their views on immigration.

Of those Floridians polled, 76 percent believe it important or somewhat important for Congress to act on immigration reform this year. A similar percentage disagreed with a Republican argument that reform should not occur without strong enforcement of existing law.

Barring a miracle akin to the 1980 Olympic Hockey team victory, immigration reform is dead for 2014. Nonetheless, the issue will be with us for some time.

The poll, to no one’s surprise, reveals large majorities agreeing the system needs fixing. We know all too well that agreeing on fixing is not the same as agreeing on the fix.

We also know the overwhelming majority of Democrats in Congress believe in legalizing the 11.5 million people already in the country illegally. Most of this majority also believes in a path to citizenship for these individuals.

Earlier this year, House Republicans released a set of principles for immigration reform. Among them was a path to citizenship for those brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents or relatives (nicknamed “Dreamers”).

For adults who make the conscious decision to cross our border illegally, Republican leadership believes the best outcome for that group is legalization without citizenship.

According to the poll, 67 percent of Floridians approve of this concept, in addition to securing the borders, expanded work visas and mandated employee verification. Border security is gaining ground since the tsunami of undocumented kids hit this country.

The right wing considers legal status, let alone a path to citizenship, the same as offering “amnesty.” The left is adamant about the pathway to citizenship.

This poll seems to provide us with a framework for a deal. Not that we should govern by polls, but it shines a light onto what the governed might accept from those they elect to do the governing.

If enough Republicans can swallow legal status for undocumented adults and citizenship for “Dreamers,” then Democrats would seem to have little choice but to accept immigration reform on those terms. Otherwise, they would be holding up reform. It would be nice to contemplate such a scenario.

Immigration reform will remain a divisive issue in the 2016 elections. Both sides would be well served by getting something done whether in one bill or piecemeal as some Republicans demand.

A significant piece of our country’s future rests with the solutions developed regarding future residents. Our country, as well as the safety of Latin American children, will be enhanced with the right reforms.

Bob Sparks is a business and political consultant based in Tallahassee. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Bob Sparks

Bob Sparks is a former political consultant who previously served as spokesman for the Republican Party of Florida, Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Attorney General. He was a senior adviser to former Gov. Charlie Crist. Before entering politics, he spent nearly two decades in professional baseball administration. He can be reached at [email protected] and Twitter @BobSparksFL.


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