Florida Voices for Immigration Reform, a bipartisan group based in Palm Beach County, has written letters to GOP Congressmen Daniel Webster of Winter Haven and Bill Young of Seminole, urging them to support an immigration overhaul that includes a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented people in the U.S.
The letters are part of a nationwide effort to convince a select number of Republican House members to back such legislation. The Democrat-controlled U.S. Senate already passed such a bill, but the majority of the House members are Republicans and most oppose citizenship for the undocumented. Some label it “amnesty” for lawbreakers.
The Democratic Party last week identified 23 GOP House members considered “persuadable” on the immigration issue. If a bill like that of the Senate reaches the floor of the House and all 201 Democrats vote in favor, 17 Republicans will be needed to pass it. Webster, whose district includes about 15 percent Latinos, largely Puerto Ricans, is on that list. So is Young, who has few Latino constituents but whose district was won by President Barack Obama, a Democrat, in November.
The group said later this week it will send similar letters to two other Florida GOP Congressmen: Steve Southerland of Panama City and Ted Yoho of Gainesville.
The letters identified Florida Voices as “a coalition of faith, business and law enforcement” groups which for the past four years “has been acting as bridge between Republicans and Democrats so that our Congress in a bi-partisan fashion can fix our antiquated immigration system and give our Nation a system that promotes legal migration and makes us globally competitive for the 21st century.”
The letter went on to cite a recent report by the Congressional Budget Office that said in the longterm immigration reform containing the citizenship provision will reduce the national deficit.
The letters urged each Congressman to do “all he can to help the House move forward with needed immigration reform.”
Gary Walk, a West Palm Beach attorney and registered Republican, is co-chair of Florida Voices.
“I would tell (the Congressmen) that comprehensive immigration reform would be good for this country economically because of what it would do to integrate 11 million people into the economy,” Walk said. It will also allow more high-skilled workers to enter the country and allow low-skilled workers to enter legally when needed, he said.
As for how the issue might affect the next presidential election, he said: “I also think it would be better for the Republican party in 2016 if its puts itself in a leadership position in the writing of a balanced bill on this issue.”
Pastor Mark Boykin, of the Church of all Nations in Boca Raton, also a Republican and a member of Florida Voices, agreed.
“We need this for our state, but also nationally this will hurt the party in the next round if we don’t help pass this,” he said. “If the Republicans in the House dig in their heels it will only prove that they are controlled by the far right wing and that won’t help the party overall.”
Another Florida Voices member, Austin Parris, who said he votes Republican in most elections, said he thought many Republicans had a mistaken view of the Senate bill.
“It is not a amnesty,” he said. “The persons who qualify will have to pay fines and back taxes. That is not an amnesty.”