Democratic Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, and Republican state Rep. Rene Plasencia joined a call Wednesday urging immediate, federal immigration reform.
They called for Congress to quickly provide paths to permanent residency or citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and more assurances for “Dreamers” who came to America as children, and Temporary Protected Status holders.
In particular, IMPAC Fund officials and most of the speakers, including Fried, called on Congress to include a pathway to permanent residency or citizenship in the federal budget reconciliation process expected to be undertaken early next month.
Fried noted that Florida’s agriculture industry is the state’s second-largest sector and is heavily dependent on immigrant labor.
“In fact, over 40% of immigrants in Florida work in agriculture, ensuring every day that food is brought to the tables not only for fellow Floridians but for the entire country,” she said.
“The moment to act is now. It is beyond time to do the right thing and pass comprehensive immigration reform in our country,” Fried said. “This is why I call on Congress now to include a pathway to citizenship in the reconciliation package and finally provide the 11 million undocumented people who call the United States home with the certainty and status they deserve so that they may live without fear of being deported and separated from their loved ones.”
The forum included several business owners and workers who are immigrants, notably from Haiti and Venezuela, two countries for which the U.S. recently extended TPS status.
Republican U.S. Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar of Miami also was listed among expected participants, but she was a no-show. An IMPAC Fund spokesman said she had a last-minute conflict.
Soto noted that immigrant labor is critical not just to Florida’s second largest industry, agriculture, but also to Florida’s top industry, tourism.
“The U.S. economy has over 3.1 million unfilled jobs, with the highest rates in leisure, hospitality, accommodations, and food services. It is crippling the tourism industry here in Central Florida,” Soto said.
“We need to come together for bipartisan solutions, We need to come together with these four key bills,” he said referring to the American Dream and Promise Act, the Dream Act, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, and the SECURE Act. “If not, and if reconciliation is the only avenue we have left, then we must still succeed.”
Plasencia, a former high school teacher and coach, noted that many of his students were undocumented Dreamers.
“I remember the conversations I had with many of them, their desire to further their education at the university level, to gain gainful employment, to contribute to essentially the only community they’ve ever known,” Plasencia. said. “This immigration reform has been long overdue. It’s something that is vital to many of our communities.”
“We need our federal Congress to act now for the benefit of all of us here,” Plasencia added.