MIAMI (AP) — Political and business leaders in Florida held a video call Thursday that included well-known elected officials and at least one federal lawmaker to send a message that there has never been better time to reach consensus in Washington to overhaul the immigration system.
The virtual summit featured people from both parties such as former Florida Republican Party chairman Al Cardenas, Florida’s agriculture commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democrat, as well as Republican congressman Mario Diaz-Balart, a Republican.
“Never in our history … has there been as good a chance to do this as there is now. Some people that are pessimists because of the past failures,” said Cardenas, adding that former president George W. Bush told him he had waited too long and that former president Barack Obama had prioritized health care reform.
The immigration summit takes place just days before former President Donald Trump makes his first post-presidential appearance at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, where he is expected to criticize President Joe Biden’s efforts to undo his immigration policies. Between 2011 and 2014, Cardenas chaired the American Conservative Union, the group that hosts CPAC.
Participants on Thursday’s video call spoke of a bill that reforms the guest worker program by extending seasonal visas and offering some farmworkers a path to residency. The bill was proposed to fix a labor shortage in the agriculture industry.
Diaz-Balart, one of the sponsors, said those backing a more comprehensive immigration reform need to be “willing to accept not getting every single thing that we want” to gain a lasting solution.
“It is the only way it will be a lasting fix to the immigration system,” said Diaz-Balart, who has been the target of protests by immigration advocates for supporting some of Trump’s immigration agenda. “It will require rolling up our sleeves and grinding out a bipartisan legislative proposal that the vast majority of the people want and will support.”
Many agreed that there is broad support to help young immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children either illegally or whose parents overstayed their visas.
Biden and congressional Democrats proposed an immigration overhaul last week that would offer an eight-year pathway to citizenship to the estimated 11 million people in the country illegally.
Comprehensive immigration legislation has failed in Congress for decades and some Republicans are already expressing opposition, saying the proposal would put more Americans out of work at a time when unemployment is high due to COVID-19 restrictions.
But the summit participants pointed out the timing for legislation was right because the pandemic has also shown how crucial some workers have been in these past few months. Some have no authorization and others have work permits but are here on Temporary Protected Status, which largely shields them from deportation after their countries were ravaged by natural disasters and civil conflict.
“Farmworkers stepped up in the pandemic to keep the food supply secure at risk of their own well-being,” said Fried, the agriculture commissioner. “Our economy, our culture, our society needs to celebrate immigrants.”