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Immigration Becomes A Political Tight Rope For Scott And Rubio

The immigration reform debate is front and center in Florida as the U.S. Senate discusses an immigration overhaul.

Gov. Rick Scott’s veto of the bill creating a faster path for some young undocumented immigrants to get temporary Florida driver licenses could be backfiring, even among his supporters. Scott says the veto was based on a policy change by President Obama, not a specific act of Congress. But Jack Oliver, with the group Floridians for Immigration Enforcement, says he’s not impressed with the Governor’s reasoning:

“I think this was political posturing. Rick Scott is just another Republi-Con that conned the citizens of Florida that he was going to be serious about addressing the illegal immigration problem in Florida when he had no intention of doing so. No his election is coming up and he wants to put the perception out there that he’s a tough guy when he really isn’t.”   

Scott campaigned in 2010 on a platform largely tied to bringing tough immigration laws to Florida along with enacting an e-verify employment system to check the legal status of job seekers. But since that time, the Governor has been largely silent on the issue of immigration—until he vetoed the driver’s license bill, which received overwhelming approval by the legislature.

Also bringing immigration to the forefront in Florida is U.S. Senator Marco Rubio. As a member of the “gang of 8” Rubio has thrown his support behind a massive federal immigration bill now before the full Senate. But  that support doesn’t sit well with Rubio’s base:

“He sat down with us, looked us in the eye and said he’d never support the dream act, never support any type of blanket legalization, including amnesty. Now he’s trying to redefine the word, that this isn’t amnesty just because you pay some type of fine," said Oliver.

The bill lays out a 13-year pathway for citizenship for an estimated 11 million people already in the country illegally. It includes the payment of fines and back taxes as a requirement. The bill would also put more money toward increasing security on the border between the United States and Mexico and allow an additional 20 million skilled and unskilled workers to come into the country through the Visa program. Supporters like the AFLCIO’s Rich Templin say the reforms are overdue:

“This is the best attempt that’s been made in decades and it’s something that really needs to move forward as rapidly as possible.” 

But in recent weeks, Rubio’s support for the bill seems to be faltering. At one point he suggested he may not vote for the bill unless more provisions to boost border security are included. Templin says both sides are growing increasingly wary of where Rubio, and by extension, Governor Scott will fall on the immigration debate.

“If you look at the economics and demographics of Florida, it would be pure folly to stand in the way of this comprehensive solution.”   

When asked about the senate plan, and Rubio’s role in it, Governor Rick Scott said, "I think Senator Rubio has really done a great job focusing on the discussion, making sure we have an immigration policy that works. I'm happy that he's really focused on securing our borders and having a policy that we all understand."   

Meanwhile, the debate around immigration continues. The federal overhaul bill needs 60 votes to pass the Senate, and if it does, it will then go to the House, where it could face an even tougher road to passage. Meanwhile, a new poll done by both Republican and Democratic-leaning firms show more than 70 percent of Florida voters back immigration reform.

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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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