April 27, 2014

Weatherford v. Gaetz in immigration feud reflects broader GOP divide

Geatz and WeatherfordSenate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford stood before the conservative James Madison Institute last week and offered up their view of the world.

Gaetz, who at age 66 is nearly twice as old as Weatherford, seeded his talk with quips about the “communists” in the Democratic Party and the untrustworthy ways of the “liberal media.” Weatherford, 34, was a 10-year-old when the Berlin Wall fell and grew up long after the communist threat. He spoke of his hope for the Republican Party, and urged the crowd to be bolder and more compassionate.

“The state of Florida is changing, the demographics of this state and, as conservatives and people who believe in free enterprise, our message has to be a little bit stronger and maybe a little bit more inviting,’’ Weatherford said. His greatest regret, he added: “We don’t do a good job of fighting for people who are stuck in generational poverty.’’

Florida’s two Republican presiding officers not only represent the Legislature’s two chambers, they are a reflection of the generational and ideological differences that make up today’s Republican Party. As legislators enter the final week of the session, those differences will be manifest in the debate over the most divisive issue this session — whether to extend in-state tuition to the children of undocumented immigrants.

Weatherford, the second oldest of nine children who once credited society’s “safety net” for helping his struggling family, has spearheaded the bill as a “fundamental element of our American character that we don’t punish children for mistakes made by their parents.”

But for him, it is more than an issue of fairness, it is also practical politics.

“As a policymaker, it’s my job to help foster upward mobility through higher education by making a university degree more accessible for all of Florida’s children,’’ he wrote in an op-ed in the Tampa Bay Times before session began.

For Gaetz, a self-made millionaire who founded the nation’s first for-profit hospice chain, the proposal, SB 1400, is too broad, and too dangerous.

“It casts a blanket of approval over non-citizens who are in this country without proper legal status from anywhere in the world, including countries which are caldrons of terrorism and anti-American violence,” Gaetz wrote in an email this month to constituents.  Our story here.

Photo: Associated Press

April 24, 2014

Senate backs non-citizen's petition to practice law

A closely-divided Florida Senate Thursday championed the unprecedented case of Jose Godinez-Samperio of Largo, a law school graduate who has been denied a law license because he's not a citizen. Hours after senators rejected the idea on a 19-18 vote, they clearly approved it on a voice vote, but a final vote was delayed.

Senate Rules Chairman John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, changed his vote from no to yes and said in an interview he was distracted and voted the wrong way by mistake. "I think the kid deserves it. I think he's worked hard," Thrasher said. "I don't think we ought to punish kids who were brought here by their parents."

That's the same argument proponents are using to give discounted in-state college tuition to undocumented immigrant students living in Florida. But opponents said helping Godinez-Samperio was a serious mistake.

Likening Godinez-Samperio to a "lawbreaker," Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, asked: "Does being an American matter any more? ... We are making an illegal citizen an officer of the court."

"If they're here illegally, they need to get in line and do it the right way," said Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla.

All 14 Democrats and seven Republicans debated in favor of Godinez-Samperio or voted yes the first time, enough to pass the bill in the 40-member Senate.

The Senate will send the bill (HB 755) back to the House, where Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, has said he would like to find a way to help the would-be lawyer, a graduate of Florida State University law school.

Gov. Rick Scott issued a statement that said "this case demonstrates how broken our federal immigration laws are," but he did not say whether he would sign the bill if it reaches his desk.   

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously in March that it cannot admit Godinez-Samperio unless directed by the Legislature, and it called on lawmakers to "remedy the inequities" in the case. Godinez-Samperio's effort to gain Bar admission and become a Tampa Bay immigration lawyer was before the state's high court for more than two years and drew the interest -- and opposition -- of the Obama White House. His volunteer attorney is one of Florida's most prominent lawyers, Talbot (Sandy) D'Alemberte, a former FSU president and American Bar Association president who served as a Democratic legislator in the 1960s, along with his wife and co-counsel, Patsy Palmer.

D'Alemberte has noted that Florida routinely licenses doctors and many other professionals who are not U.S. citizens. He has questioned why lawyers are treated differently, and said he expected to receive strong support in the House.

Godinez-Samperio, 27, is in the U.S. legally but temporarily as a "dreamer" under the 2012 presidential directive known as DACA or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which enabled him to get a Social Security number, work permit and Florida driver's license.

The Senate amendment was sponsored by Sens. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, and David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs. It reads: "Upon certification by the Florida Board of Bar Examiners that an applicant who is an unauthorized immigrant who was brought to this state as a minor and who has been a resident of this state for more than 10 years and has fulfilled all requirements for admission to practice law in this state, the Supreme Court of Florida may admit that applicant as an attorney at law authorized to practice in this state and may direct an order be entered upon the court's records to that effect." The phrase "unauthorized immigrant" was lifted from the Supreme Court's opinion.

Miami: land of the ignorant

@MarcACaputo

Idea for immigration reform: A pop quiz to remove the citizenship status of those who can't pass a U.S. citizenship test.

The Immigrant Archive Project, dedicated to telling the story of immigrants, has helpfully identified a few candidates for us. And (surprise, surprise) they just happen to walk the streets of Miami-Dade County. All of us, including every immigrant struggling for citizenship, should be appalled.

How do you not know who the vice president is?

April 21, 2014

In early Hispanic outreach, Rick Scott unveils Spanish-language TV

@MarcACaputo

Gov. Rick Scott airs his campaign's first Spanish-language TV commercial, an earlier-than-usual Hispanic outreach effort that reflects Florida’s changing demographics as well as the depth of the Republican’s aggressive $6 million ad blitz .

No other Florida governor has advertised so heavily — especially in Spanish — nearly seven months before his election.

The ad’s title and message, “Oportunidad,” jibes with two English-language positive spots Scott began running in mid-March. It’s all about jobs, which have increased on his watch.

" Yo no soy un experto en la política pero yo sé el valor de un trabajo," Scott, looking into the camera, says in the new commercial ("I’m not an expert in politics, but I know how valuable a job is").

The rest of the 30-second ad, voiced-over by a woman, tells Scott's rags-to-riches story.

Of the nearly $5.4 million Scott has spent so far, the governor has run two negative ads that attack Democrat Charlie Crist for his support of Obamacare, described in a misleading way. The negative ads underscore Scott's relatively poor poll numbers compared to Crist.

Scott's supporters point out, however, that he's not just defensively going after Crist. The governor is going on offense by quickly reaching out to the fastest-growing segment of the state's electorate, Hispanics, who account for roughly 14 percent of the voter rolls.

Scott's campaign says the $500,000 Spanish-language television and online ad buy will start Wednesday in four major markets for Spanish media: Miami-Fort Lauderdale, Tampa-St. Petersburg, Fort Myers-Naples and the Orlando area.

Full story here

April 08, 2014

Jeb's 'pandering' on immigration, says Rep. Labrador

From the Shark Tank Blog

During the Heritage Foundation’s monthly “Conversation with Conservatives” meeting with right-of- center Republican congressmen on Capitol Hill, a reporter asked the panel to opine on Jeb Bush’s recent “act of love” comment regarding immigration reform.

Idaho congressman Raul Labrador (R), who pulled out of the House bipartisan immigration reform effort, said he disagreed with Bush’s comments, and added that “Comments like Jeb Bush’s and other Republicans, what they do is pandering to a certain group of people.”

Here's the rest of the post and the video:

March 22, 2014

After Pelosi presser, SEIU activist gets arrested outside Diaz-Balart's office in immigration demonstration

@MarcACaputo

A national union organizer and immigration activist was arrested after refusing repeated police requests to demonstrate farther away from a Doral building that houses U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart’s office.

The Friday arrest of 68-year-old Eliseo Medina is the latest sign of the increasing pressure from Democrats and their allies to get U.S. House Republicans to schedule an election-year vote on immigration reform.

“This is brilliant. This is brilliant,” one activist, whose identity is unclear from a YouTube video, said after Doral police busted Medina, a Los Angeles resident who’s the international secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees International Union.

Medina’s arrest and subsequent release from jail – on trespassing and nonviolent resisting of arrest charges -- made local English- and Spanish-language television.

Continue reading "After Pelosi presser, SEIU activist gets arrested outside Diaz-Balart's office in immigration demonstration" »

March 13, 2014

Immigrant tuition bill ready for House floor

The House Appropriations Committee on Thursday approved a proposal that would allow some undocumented immigrants (as well as the children of military personnel stationed on Florida bases) to pay in-state tuition rates at colleges and universities.

The 19-7 vote was closer than some observers expected.

Voting in favor of the measure: Republican Reps. Dennis Baxley; Marti Coley; Steve CrisafulliErik Fresen; Eddy Gonzalez; Ed Hooper; Seth McKeelMarlene O'Toole; Jimmy Patronis; and Dana Young; and Democratic Reps. Joe Gibbons; Janet Cruz; Reggie Fullwood; Mia Jones; Mark Pafford; Hazel Rogers; Darryl Rouson; Cynthia Stafford; and Alan Williams.

Voting against: Republican Reps. Ben Albritton; Richard Corcoran; Jamie Grant; Matt Hudson; Clay Ingram; Charles McBurney and Greg Steube.

The bill had changed considerably from its last committee stop.

On Thursday, Rep. Jeanette Nuñez, R-Miami, added language that would prevent colleges and universities from raising their tuition rates more than six percent above the rate set by the Florida Legislature. It would also eliminate the automatic tuition increase meant to account for inflation. 

Nuñez said she added the provision to make the House proposal more like the one in the Senate. That bill prohibits colleges and universities from raising tuition above the rate set by lawmakers, and already has the support of Gov. Rick Scott.

Expect the Senate version to begin moving soon.

On Thursday, Senate Education Committee Chairman John Legg said he and Latvala were working on revisions to the proposal. For example, instead of allowing undocumented students to be considered "residents for tuition purposes," the bill would grant partial tuition waivers to undocumented students.

Explained Legg: "Giving 'resident' status could open undocumented students up to benefits like need-based financial aid, and benefits even outside the realm of education." (Legg added that there was a "finite pot" of need-based financial aid for Florida students that would otherwise be diluted.)

Legg and Latvala were also working on language that would make sure no Florida residents were displaced by undocumented students.

Still, the bill may be a hard sell to some Republican lawmakers.

Some Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee said Thursday's vote was challenging.

"I struggled voting for this," said Baxley, who represents a conservative district in Central Florida. "But if you live in Florida, you should pay in-state tuition."

Baxley said he was also convinced by Nuñez's reading of Ezekiel 18:20: "The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child."

Grant, of Tampa, said he voted against the proposal over concerns it might preclude some Florida residents from being able to pay in-state tuition rates.

"I think there is a fix," Grant said. "We are all trying to get there."

 

March 06, 2014

Court says state law prevents Tampa immigrant from being admitted to Florida Bar

In a long-anticipated decision, the Florida Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Tampa immigrant and FSU law school graduate Jose Godinez-Samperio cannot be admitted to the Florida Bar.

But the court called on the Florida Legislature to intervene quickly to correct what it called an "injustice." When a similar set of circumstances occurred in California, that state's Legislature changed the law to allow non-citizens to become members of the Bar.

"The Florida Legislature is in the unique position to act on this integral policy question and remedy the inequities that the unfortunate decision of this Court will bring to bear," the justices wrote.

The Florida Board of Bar Examiners had asked the state's high court for an advisory opinion on the question. The court concluded that an immigrant's legal status is determined solely by federal law, and a 1996 federal law prohibits undocumented immigrants from receiving certain state "public benefits," including a professional license — in this case, to practice law — issued by an agency that receives state money, in this case, the Florida Supreme Court.

Continue reading "Court says state law prevents Tampa immigrant from being admitted to Florida Bar" »

March 03, 2014

Wasserman Schultz: Obama ‘looking’ at Venezuela sanctions, should act on immigration

@MarcACaputo

President Barack Obama’s administration is considering imposing sanctions on Venezuelan officials culpable in that nation’s repression and who travel to and hold bank accounts in the United States, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz said Monday.

“There should be sanctions on individuals. ... The administration is looking at those,” said Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic National Committee chairwoman, citing an unnamed “high-level” state department official she spoke with earlier in the morning.

A measure to impose individual sanctions on Venezuelan apparatchiks was introduced last week in the U.S. Senate by Republican Marco Rubio and co-sponsored by Florida’s other senator, Democrat Bill Nelson.

Wasserman Schultz said she’s also speaking to the administration about Obama taking executive action to clear up the immigration status of some Venezuelans in the United States.

Continue reading "Wasserman Schultz: Obama ‘looking’ at Venezuela sanctions, should act on immigration" »

March 02, 2014

Marco Rubio on Russia's 'lies,' Venezuela's repression and gay vs. religious rights

@MarcACaputo

The crisis in Crimea and the violence in Venezuela are making Marco Rubio a hot-ticket again on cable news.

After fading somewhat from view after the conservative blowback over his immigration bill, Florida's Republican senator is back to being a must-book for the 24-hour news beast, in great part because of his role on the Senate's foreign-relations committee.

Rubio called on the Obama Administration to further "isolate" Russia for its invasion of Ukranian-held Crimea, suggested we help bolster Ukraine's military capabality as well as its government and to restart a missle-defense shield plan that has troubled Russia and, before it, the Soviet Union for decades.

"You’re dealing with a government that lies as a matter of course, and it’s very difficult to enter an understanding with them on anything when they are willing to lie and cover things up in this way," Rubio told NBC's Meet The Press host David Gregory.

Continue reading "Marco Rubio on Russia's 'lies,' Venezuela's repression and gay vs. religious rights" »