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Children of immigrants give letters to Senate President Mike Haridopolos

About 50 people, most of them children, packed the office of Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos Tuesday morning to ask him to put the breaks on proposed bills cracking down on illegal immigration.

They didn't have an appointment. But Haridopolos came out to meet them. The Merritt Island Republican handled the potentially tense situation with aplomb, shaking kids' hands, kneeling to speak to them and accepting dozens of copies of their handwritten letters.

"How are you today?" he said, asking each child's name and grade level at school. Haridopolos told the children, whose parents are undocumented or deported immigrants, that his father was an immigrant too, from Greece.

On SB 2040, Haridopolos said his chamber has tried to spend a lot of time deliberating on how to tackle illegal immigration. "We want to make sure we make an informed decision, whatever we do," he said. "We're using our ears more than our mouth.

"I have a feeling the governor will weigh in," he added.

"We know you have the power to stop these two bills," said Isabel Vinent of the Florida Immigrant Coalition, referring also to HB 7089. She also repeated a call from immigration advocates and business groups that the Legislature determine how much the bills could cost Florida's economy.

Vinet said her group brought 300 people on two buses from Palm Beach County as part of a weeklong effort to protest the proposals. The kids skipped school, she said, because they felt it was more important to miss classes for a day than to risk losing their parents to deportations, which advocates say could increase under the bills.

Each person on the trip contributed to its cost if they could afford it, she added, saying her organization is also funded by local businesses and supporters -- and not the big business lobby, which also opposes the bills.