Standing under a statue of an immigrant family in Ybor City's Centennial Park, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor on Friday called for a national movement for comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
In a news conference, Castor said she believes reform is now a top priority for the Obama administration and the new Congress so chances of passage are better than during President Barack Obama's first term.
Obama was criticized by supporters for failing to act on the issue after his 2008 campaign promise to do so. Administration officials have said the White House will begin pushing for reform legislation this month.
Invoking Tampa's history as a city built largely immigrant workers in Ybor's cigar factories, she said, "Eleven million people currently live in the shadows."
"A path to citizenship not only benefits immigrant families ... it will benefit all Americans" by improving the climate for small businesses started by immigrants.
Castor said Republicans in Congress are trying to undermine the push by advocating legislation affecting only certain categories of immigrants, including those with scientific or technical job qualifications.
"We're not going to be successful if they piecemeal it, if you carve out certain sections" of the immigration population to benefit, she said. That would reduce support for comprehensive reform.
Castor highlighted probably the most poignant aspect of the issue, the so-called "DREAMers." That's a term for young people brought to the country as children by their parents who know no other country but America, but now find their educational and professional opportunities limited and fear deportation.
Appearing with Castor, Nanci Palacios of Seffner, 23, said she was brought to the country at age 6 from Mexico by her parents, migrant farmworkers.
An honors high school graduate who hopes to become a physician, she just finished a two-year health sciences degree at Hillsborough Community College, but faces difficulty getting into the University of South Florida for a bachelor's degree in biochemistry.
Palacios and her two sisters have protection under a program instituted in June that defers action by Immigrations and Custom Enforcement, or ICE, against those brought to the country illegally before age 16.
Her brother, born here, is a citizen.
But the deferment program, "a band-aid," doesn't solve her problem, Palacios said.
Her work permit and driver's license are only temporary, and if she's admitted to USF, she may have to pay out of state tuition.
"It's three times as much," she said. "There's no way I can pay for it."
Because her parents are still illegal.
"Any time, you can get that phone call that your parents have been detained or ICE raided your house."
Just that happened Thursday to a DREAMer activist Erika Andiola of Mesa, Az., whose mother and brother were detained, Palacios said. The incident has set off protests.
Castor said there's a misconception that young people like Palacios can apply for legal status.
"That pathway does not exist legally," she said.
She said congressional Democrats and some Republicans, including Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros Lehtinen of Miami, are working on legislation, which she said should reflect a statement of principles adopted by the House Hispanic Caucus.
* Providing a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who register, undergo fingerprinting and background check, learn English and civics and pay taxes.
* Protecting "the unity of the family" by keeping families together, including bi-national and same-sex couples.
* Attracting investors and skilled professionals.
* A worker verification system including "a balanced, workable solution" for the agriculture industry and ending exploitation of immigrant workers.
* Insuring "smart and reasonable enforcement that protects our borders."
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