Backed by a poll saying many Venezuelan Americans in Florida are ready to abandon support for Republican U.S. Sens. Rick Scott and Marco Rubio, Venezuelan activists urged them to support pathways to citizenship for immigrants.
The call came during a news conference organized by the Immigration Partnership and Coalition Fund, but it also included a bipartisan group of Venezuelan activists including Republican Norma Camero-Reno of Tampa and William Diaz, an Orlando radio talk show host who was prominently featured in Scott’s 2018 election campaign advertising.
Their message for Rubio and Scott: If you don’t support pathways to citizenship, don’t expect Florida’s Venezuelan community to support you.
At issue is the congressional effort, largely by Democrats, to include some sort of permanent residency for Temporary Protected Status holders who fled untenable economic and political situations in places like Venezuela, Honduras, and Haiti, and for undocumented “Dreamers,” children of immigrants, and essential workers.
The House Judiciary Committee marked up budget reconciliation legislation with the proposal late Monday. With House approval all but assured, the fight will be in the 50-50 Senate, provided the Senate Parliamentarian accepts the reconciliation proposal as in order.
At stake, they insisted, is the bulk of support from the estimated half-million Venezuelans in Florida, including about 100,000 who are now American citizens and registered to vote. They want Republicans, including Scott and Rubio, to support the reconciliation package, the poll and news conference participants said.
“Venezuelans are basically swing voters,” Diaz said. “In the past we support, in Central Florida, the Venezuelan community. We support Sen. Rubio and Sen. Scott. Even some Democrats crossed party lines and supported Scott.”
“We vote. And we are paying attention to what’s going on in Congress. We are following, and most Venezuelans in social media are asking questions, and you can see they are following what’s going on,” he continued.
Diaz recalled he campaigned hard for Scott in the past.
“I’d be glad to do it again, but against Rubio and against Scott,” Diaz said, if they do not support a pathway to permanent residence for TPS holders.
The poll, done for IMPAC by Integrated Communications and Research of Miami, found that 49% of Venezuelans in Florida would no longer support Rubio or Scott if they voted against permanent status, while 32% said they would continue to support them. The movement away from Rubio and Scott includes a sizable percentage of respondents who identified as Republicans.
Rubio’s office replied that he supports temporary protected status for Venezuelan refugees, and hopes the United States and its allies can free Venezuela from tyranny so that one day they can return to Venezuela.
Rebecca Shi, executive director of the American Business Immigration Coalition, which also participated in the call, called Rubio’s position, as the son of Cuban immigrants, the “height of hypocrisy, because Cubans have benefited from the most generous immigration policies.”
Scott’s office said he supports “legal immigration and a permanent solution for TPS and for DACA” (the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program for Dreamers), but “immigration reform must first address the need to secure the border.”
The poll also found 52% of Florida’s Venezuelans said they would support President Joe Biden more because he granted TPS earlier this year and pledged to support a pathway to permanent status for TPS holders.
ICR founder and Florida International University professor Eduardo Gamarra said the poll was taken earlier this month of 506 Venezuelans, of which 66% said they were registered voters. He said it has a margin of error of just under 4%.
IMPAC also brought out a series of Venezuelan speakers to address economic issues, including Dany Bahar of the Brookings Institution and Ricardo Hausmann, a former Venezuela economy minister now teaching economics at Harvard University, to make the case that assuring up to 8 million immigrant residents a permanent place in the United States will be a boon to the American economy. They cited statistics regarding small-business startups, and professionals. They also noted how much agriculture, particularly in Florida, is dependent upon immigrant labor.
“In this moment of truth, as Americans, I believe we need to seek a permanent solution. That is why as a conservative leader and a Venezuelan-American, I support a pathway to citizenship for TPS holders through reconciliation,” said Camero-Reno. “It is time to get it done.”