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After budget politics, an impromptu gathering on immigration

In an afternoon filled with political moves and tit-for-tat over "stunts", perhaps the most unusual part of the Senate Budget Committee on Monday was what happened after its more than four-hour meeting was over.

During much of the meeting, hundreds of immigrants and their children -- largely from Central Florida -- lined the walls of corridor after corridor outside of the budget chambers.

After the meeting was over, Sen. J.D. Alexander, a Lake Wales Republican and the budget chairman, invited the people in. And he and Sen. Thad Altman, R-Melbourne, stayed for more than half an hour listening to and speaking to the visitors.

The gathering was almost hushed, compared to past, rowdy committee meetings on immigration during this legislative session. More than 200 people packed the committee room. A handful of them spoke, and asked Alexander questions. He responded. The impromptu meeting ended with prayer and Alexander shaking hands and getting a round of applause.

The immigrants pleaded for compassion and asked the lawmakers not to pass bills that could separate their families -- or turn away tourism or business. "It's going to hurt the economy," Hilario Barajas said. "It is hurting the economy already."

Alexander, who earlier told reporters SB 2040 could be heard in his committee on Thursday, told the advocates that he couldn't promise them to stall or kill the bill. "We're looking at it very diligently," he said. "I can't give you that commitment today."

"These are very challenging issues," Alexander added. "If I grew up in a land ruled by great danger and gangs and drugs, I would have done everything in my power, as you have done, to improve the lives of our children...A country can't have laws that aren't enforced...I don't know why reasonable people can't find some sort of middle ground."