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'Nuns On The Bus' Urge Rubio To Stay The Course On Immigration Reform

Florida U.S. Senator Marco Rubio a one of a bipartisan group of senators backing an immigration overhaul bill in Congress. But Rubio is trying to balance the wants of immigration reform supporters, with members of political his base: who largely oppose things like a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

Outside  Rubio’s office in Tallahassee, a touring bus painted with waving hands. One by one, a group of women step out, to cheers and applause. The Catholic political lobby group called Network, is the sponsor of Nuns on the Bus. During Tuesday’s stop, Sister Mary Ellen Lacy outlined the groups desire to see Congress pass a comprehensive immigration bill.

“It will enable all our brothers and sisters to be treated with equality. We right now have a sub-class. We have a group of people living in our country, contributing to our country...being our friends, neighbors and co-workers, and yet they are not equal," she said.

A few blocks away from where the nuns gathered at First Presbyterian Baptist Church, the AFLCIO held a statewide conference call also promoting immigration reform.

In a teleconference, Legislative Representative Andrea DiBitetto said recent polling data shows 70 percent of Florida voters support “a tough but fair roadmap to citizenship.” 

“This is something that Americans want to see, they want to see this bill passed, they want to citizenship, they want to see people brought out of the shadows and become part of our community.  These are people who are Americans in everything but papers only.”

DiBitetto says immigration reform is especially important in Florida where immigrants make up 23 percent of the population.

While immigration reform supporters like Sister Lacy see the proposal as a human-rights issue. Those who oppose it see immigration reform as a bad deal economically.  John Oliver, with the group Floridians for Immigration Enforcement, says such a proposal puts American workers at a disadvantage: Oliver’s brother in-law is an engineer, and Oliver says his brother has seen big changes in that industry.

“Engineers used to make about $70,000 a year. He’s telling me now these kids are lucky if they get a job or $18/hour. with no benefits because we’re importing engineers on a sub-contractor basis, they get no benefits, and these engineers are willing to work for about $40,000 a year.” 

The immigration bill congress is considering would tighten boarder control enforcement, and provide a pathway to citizenship for people already in the country illegally. It would also revamp the way the United States grants visas to workers from outside the country.  But Oliver says he believes Senator Marco Rubio, Republicans and Democrats are using immigration reform as a political tool to raise their profile and get votes, and he points to a lack of desire by even state leaders to take actions to curb illegal immigration.

"No one is against immigration, but immigration should benefit the country. In this bill there’s something for everybody. Democrats are going to get more voters out of it. Republicans get their continued source of cheap labor. What’s in this for the American worker?”  He said.

The immigration overhaul is still in the Senate and Senator Rubio Rubio is crafting an amendment to allow Congress to draft rules for tighter boarder control. But it isn’t clear whether the proposal has enough votes to get out of the chamber, let alone pass the House, where it faces an even greater uphill battle for passage.

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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