February 28, 2017

At least one Miami Republican is 'ready' to work with Trump on immigration reform

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@PatriciaMazzei

When news broke Tuesday that President Trump had told television news anchors he might be open to comprehensive immigration reform legislation -- including granting legal status to some of the unauthorized immigrants already in the country -- one Miami Republican steeped in the issue quickly praised the president and offered to help.

"I am very encouraged by President Trump's recent comments on immigration reform," Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart said in a statement.

In 2013, Diaz-Balart helped lead the effort to pass immigration reform in the House, but the legislation was never taken up for a vote.

"It is no secret our country has a broken immigration system," Diaz-Balart continued. "I have said many times that we must come together from both sides of the aisle to find a commonsense solution on immigration reform. It is extremely disappointing that many from both the left and right extremes are quick to criticize the President's willingness to work with Congress to fix our immigration system. This kind of political gimmickry is unnecessary and unhelpful to a bipartisan, legislative solution.

"I continue to believe this legislation must strengthen our borders, adhere to the rule of law, offer a permanent and humane solution to those living in the shadows, bolster our economy, and modernize our antiquated visa system. I remain committed and ready to work with the White House and congressional colleagues from both sides of the aisle."

Photo credit: Matias J. Ocner, Miami Herald

February 27, 2017

Worried about potential deportations, Miami Venezuelans write to Trump

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via @jimwyss

An association of Venezuelan exiles in Miami on Monday asked the Trump administration for “migratory relief,” saying that sending their members back to Venezuela could be “condemning them to death.”

In a letter sent to President Trump and to the U.S. departments of State and Homeland Security, the organization, called Politically Persecuted Venezuelans Abroad, or Veppex, said Venezuela’s political situation needs to be taken into account when considering deportations.

“The chaotic situation in Venezuela, where human rights are not respected and criminals control the institutions, has turned Venezuela into a failed state whose authorities are the main threat against its citizens,” Veppex Vice President Henry Clement wrote.

Clement also asked the Trump administration “to study the possibility of a migratory relief for the thousands of Venezuelans who are in the United States seeking refuge and asylum fleeing from the ferocious dictatorship that rules the country.”

As of 2013, some 248,000 Venezuelans lived in the United States, according to the PEW Research Center, amid a migratory wave driven by that nation’s economic, political and social chaos. Since then, the economic crisis in Venezuela has worsened, with continuing food and medicine shortages. And earlier this month, the Trump administration slapped sanctions on Venezuela’s vice president accusing him of being a major drug trafficker.

More here.

Photo credit: Jose A. Iglesias, el Nuevo Herald

February 26, 2017

Here's why it's so difficult to be a Syrian refugee in South Florida

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@PatriciaMazzei @NickNehamas @karadapena

For decades, South Florida has welcomed wave after wave of people fleeing political and economic unrest in their home countries. Cubans. Haitians. Nicaraguans. Colombians. In a region awash with exiles, you would think it would be easy to accommodate the latest swell of refugees.

Tell that to a Syrian.

The number of Syrian refugees coming to Florida has spiked in recent years, as the U.S. has started to accept more people escaping the war-torn Middle Eastern nation. But resettling these newest immigrants has proven challenging for aid agencies, charities and volunteers who help the new arrivals. Syrians don’t have a large community of their countrymen awaiting them — or many Arabic speakers with whom they can communicate.

“Life without language is very hard,” Kamar Byrkdar, a 27-year-old Syrian refugee who arrived in Broward County five months ago with her husband and two children, said through an interpreter. “We want to be able to improve our English so that we’re able to stand on our own two feet.”

When the Byrkdars arrived, after a three-year wait in Lebanon, they had work permits, Medicaid and an apartment west of Fort Lauderdale. But it took three months, Byrkdar said, for anyone to show them how to enroll their kids in school. She and her husband didn’t know how to buy bus fare, much less how to navigate routes. Byrkdar learned where she could sign up for English classes only three weeks ago. Her children remain anxious around the police, whom they associate with war.

Now they have to contend with the emotional stress of President Donald Trump’s travel ban, which barred entry into the U.S. for 90 days for citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. It also indefinitely suspended the admission of Syrian refugees, and prohibited refugees from all other countries for 120 days.

More here.

Photo credit: Patrick Farrell, Miami Herald staff

February 24, 2017

PolitiFact: A look at Trump's progress on immigration promises

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via @miriamvalverde

In his administration’s earliest weeks, President Donald Trump has worked to deliver on major campaign promises that could impact millions of immigrants living in the country illegally.

Trump’s immigration policy as commander in chief has mostly been in line with his campaign rhetoric. A flurry of executive orders cast a wide net for people who will become deportation priorities and authorized the construction of a border wall with Mexico.

But Trump has held back on at least one promise for which he pledged prompt action: Recipients of a deferred action program Trump said he would terminate immediately for now have seen no changes.

Here’s a rundown of some major issues outlined in Trump’s executive orders and in implementation memos issued by Homeland Security, the department tasked with enforcing immigration laws.

Border wall planning in early stages

Trump’s promise to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border is In the Works. An executive order signed Jan. 25 directs the DHS secretary to "take all appropriate steps to immediately plan, design, and construct a physical wall along the southern border, using appropriate materials and technology to most effectively achieve complete operational control of the southern border."

In an implementation memo issued Feb. 20, DHS Secretary John Kelly instructed U.S. Customs and Border Protection to consult with other executive departments and agencies on the immediate planning, design, construction and maintenance of the border wall. The memo directs the use of materials originating in the United States "to the maximum extent permitted by law."

Border Patrol is assessing priority areas where a wall or similar physical barriers can be built, DHS said. The department has identified locations near El Paso, Texas; Tucson, Ariz.; and El Centro, Calif., for wall construction as the fencing in place is "no longer effective."

Currently, there are 702 miles of fencing along the nearly 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border. It includes 652 miles of primary fencing, 36 miles of secondary fencing and 14 miles of tertiary fencing, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Keep reading Miriam Valverde's story from PolitiFact.

Miami-Dade and Broward schools to keep transgender protections

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via @KyraGurney

The Miami-Dade and Broward school districts plan to keep protections for transgender students in place despite a change in federal policy.

On Wednesday, the Trump administration announced an end to federal protections that allowed transgender students to use school bathrooms and locker rooms based on their gender identity. The administration is now leaving it up to states and school districts to determine such policies, lifting Obama-era federal guidelines that directed schools to treat students according to their gender identity, rather than their biological sex, or risk losing federal funds.

In South Florida, school administrators say LGBTQ students do not need to worry. Transgender students in Miami-Dade and Broward are still protected under the districts’ anti-discrimination policies, which were put in place before the Obama administration issued its directive last year.

More here.

Photo credit: Elaine Thompson, Associated Press

February 23, 2017

Trump labor pick Acosta espoused moderate immigration views

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@PatriciaMazzei

About a month before Donald Trump — then merely a celebrity real-estate mogul — completed the purchase of the Doral Resort & Spa, the hotel hosted a conference of the Hispanic Leadership Network, a fledgling Republican group created to grow the party’s Latino outreach.

A discussion titled “Immigration Policy and the Hispanic Workforce” featured four prominent Republicans urging lawmakers to pursue comprehensive immigration legislation. One of the panelists was the dean of Florida International University’s law school, Alex Acosta.

“We need someone that’s going to say we have to enact comprehensive immigration solutions,” Acosta said at the Jan. 27, 2012, conference. “Part of that means figuring out what we do with all the individuals that are already in our nation. We need them here. They provide construction jobs. They provide agricultural jobs. We need to figure out a way to address that.

“We need to figure out a way to then have a pathway to further future legal immigration. And if we don’t take it all at once, we’re not going to solve it, because you can’t solve part of it without solving the other part. You can’t address immigration without answering what do you do with individuals that are already in the United States.”

Acosta is now President Trump’s second nominee for labor secretary. And if the experience of Andy Puzder, Trump’s first nominee, is any indication, Acosta’s moderate immigration views could be problematic ahead of his confirmation hearing.

More here.

Photo credit: Roberto Koltun, el Nuevo Herald

February 22, 2017

Senators endorse harsher penalties for criminal undocumented migrants

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@ByKristenMClark

A controversial plan to impose more prison time on undocumented immigrants who commit severe violent crimes in Florida narrowly passed its second Senate committee on Wednesday, but it’s unlikely to advance much farther without buy-in from the House.

The measure (SB 120) has drawn a litany of criticism and questions about its constitutionality from Democratic lawmakers and immigrant advocate groups, because it would impose harsher penalties on undocumented immigrants than U.S. citizens or legal residents would otherwise face for the same offenses.

“What is it about their immigration status that makes the crime more heinous?” asked Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth. “The fact that somebody is here without papers, how does that make the rape or the murder worse?”

“Because they should not be here, and they are now committing these crimes,” replied Sen. Travis Hutson, R-Elkton, who is sponsoring the proposal for the second year in a row. Last session, it wasn’t considered at all.

MORE: “Plan would treat undocumented migrants more harshly in criminal court”

Members of the Senate’s criminal and civil justice budget committee were divided along party lines, with Republicans advancing it on a 3-2 vote. The bill has only one other committee to clear in the Senate before it could reach the floor.

But a similar measure in the Florida House — where some members also have constitutional concerns — hasn’t been taken up at all yet, and it’s not a priority for House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes.

More here.

February 21, 2017

Miami-Dade mayor to take part in Fox News town hall on immigration

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@PatriciaMazzei

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez is in Jacksonville Tuesday to participate in a televised Fox News town hall on immigration.

Gimenez is one of a handful of listed "newsmakers" at the event, including White House Senior Adviser Stephen Miller and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach. Immigration attorneys, law enforcement and an academic will also be on hand.

The mayor gained national attention after directing local jails to fulfill federal immigration detention requests of Miami-Dade inmates following President Trump's executive order threatening to cut funding from cities and counties that didn't fully comply with the feds.

The detention requests are voluntary and non-binding, but Gimenez -- and later, a majority of the county commission -- feared being labeled a "sanctuary" would risk funding for big-ticket public-transportation projects.

Fox will air the town hall, moderated by Martha MacCallum, at 7 p.m.

Photo credit: C.M. Guerrero, Miami Herald

'You are not the enemy of the American people,' Ros-Lehtinen tells Miami media

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@PatriciaMazzei

No reporter asked Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen on Tuesday morning about President Donald Trump's tweet last week blasting the news media as "the enemy of the American people."

But Ros-Lehtinen chose to kick off her first public appearance of the congressional recess by addressing the president's comments anyway.

"To the members of the press, I want to say thank you," Ros-Lehtinen said. "You are not the enemy of the American people."

The row of reporters lined in the wall in front of her at downtown Miami's Venture Hive, an entrepreneurship accelerator, remained silent. Ros-Lehtinen continued.

"You have a central role in our republic," said the congresswoman, who was born in Cuba. "We thank you for it -- even when you criticize public officials."

At the White House later, Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked if the president would consider revising his characterization of democracy's Fourth Estate.

"Certain outlets have gone out of their way to not be completely accurate and fair in their coverage," Spicer said. "He has a deep respect for the First Amendment, for the role of the press."

Photo credit: Jose I. Iglesias, el Nuevo Herald

Miami lawmakers on Trump deportations: ‘You’re going to catch a lot of good people’

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@PatriciaMazzei

Two Miami Republicans in Congress immediately questioned on Tuesday the Trump administration’s new policy exposing nearly all immigrants in the country illegally to deportation.

U.S. Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen were speaking at an event highlighting the contribution of immigrants to Miami’s fledgling tech industry when the Department of Homeland Security announced its rules expanding the categories of people prioritized for removal — a reversal from the Obama administration, which had focused on deporting criminals.

“I worry that when you cast a wide net, you’re going to catch some criminals — but you’re going to catch a lot of good people who don’t have papers but they have not committed violent crimes,” said Ros-Lehtinen, who was born in Cuba. “This is a community that has been immigrant-friendly.”

Curbelo agreed, saying there is “broad consensus” to deport “people who are here with the goal of doing us harm.”

“I’d like to encourage the administration to keep the focus on deporting dangerous criminals,” said Curbelo, the son of Cuban immigrants. “Also, I would encourage the administration to try to keep families together as much as possible.”

The congressman did thank President Trump for not pushing to undo the protections offered to people brought into the country illegally as children by the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

More here.

Photo credit: Jose I. Iglesias, el Nuevo Herald