Former Republican backer Mike Fernandez joined Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings Tuesday in urging Senators including Marco Rubio and Rick Scott to support the House’s immigration reform package.
On Tuesday Fernandez, once one of the biggest Republican rainmakers in Florida, joined a Zoom meeting featuring Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee, including Demings — the Orlando Democrat seeking to challenge Rubio in the 2022 General Election.
Fernandez parted with Rubio, his then-fellow South Florida Cuban-American Republican, by 2016, backing his Democratic opponent at the time, U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy.
The Tuesday call, led by Judiciary Committee Chair Zoe Lofgren of California, was set up as an effort to pressure Senate Republicans to support committee mark ups drafted Monday. They passed a budget reconciliation package that includes pathways to permanent residency for Temporary Protection Status holders, young “Dreamers” brought to America undocumented by their parents, and essential workers.
Fernandez, chair of MBF HealthCare Partners in Coral Gables and co-chair of the American Business Immigration Council, said that council of more than 1,300 business executives approached 41 Republican senators seeking support for immigration reform, but none would do so. The American Business Immigration Council organize the call.
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.
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 “any immigration reform must first address the need to secure the border.”
Now, Fernandez said, the Democrats’ budget reconciliation package is the last resort.
“I was a Republican and became an independent because the GOP became a party that I no longer recognize. It became a party of fear. It became a party that attacked our Dreamers, farm workers, the essential workers, to score pure political points,” Fernandez said. “I asked my Democratic friends to do everything possible to get immigration done through reconciliation.”
“It is economically important, morally right, and politically smart to do so,” he added.
Like Fernandez and others on the call, who ranged from Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, to Frank Knapp, CEO, of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce, Demings pressed immigration reform as an economic issue.
“I want to thank you all for the opportunity to continue to build a stronger, safer, better, and most prosperous nation. How long have we talked about repairing our broken immigration system in this nation of immigrants?” Demings said. “The reforms we passed out of committee yesterday — actually early this morning — after 14 hours of debate are an investment in America.
“Dreamers, TPS holders and essential workers matter. One in four Floridians were born in another country,” Demings continued. “Florida has more residents on agricultural visas than any other states. Let’s ask Florida farmers about the workers who plant, cultivate, and harvest their crops.”