NAPLES — On the heels of Arizona passing its own tougher immigration law, and the nationwide response for and against states taking matters into their own hands, no other issue has been more emotionally and politically charged this election season than immigration.
It’s no different in the race to fill Florida’s U.S. Congressional District 25 seat, with both parties’ candidates making their positions known before the Aug. 24 primary.
But political party differences aside, when it comes to immigration all five candidates aren’t that far apart.
Republican candidate Mariana ‘Marili’ Cancio said she admires Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer for her courage in taking on the federal government in defense of Arizona’s tougher immigration law.
The law was signed by Brewer in April and went into effect July 29. However, a temporary injunction by a U.S. District Court judge delayed the most contentious provisions of the law on July 28, including a section that required officers to check a person’s immigration status. However, the injunction didn’t block a provision that prohibits driving or harboring illegal immigrants and a ban on blocking traffic when people seek or offer day-labor services on streets.
“President Bush attempted to pass immigration reform in 2003 and then (Sen. John) McCain and (Sen. Edward) Kennedy were also unsuccessful addressing our national illegal immigration problem,” she said. “President Obama broke his campaign promise to address immigration reform in his first year in office and now we have a renewed national debate on the issue.”
As it stands now, Cancio said, Florida already has in place laws that check the immigration status of individuals that commit crimes and many times municipalities contact federal immigration officials to request the pickup of detainees.
“I do not believe local government should implement their own laws, which would create unfunded mandates to states and municipalities. But I do believe that our federal government must act forthwith in securing our borders and then addressing the issue of the illegal immigrants already inside our country,” she said. “I do not support amnesty and I believe those immigrants here illegally should go to the back of the line to wait their turn in becoming legal immigrants.”
One of her opponents in the Republican primary for Congress, current state Rep. David Rivera, partly agreed. However, he said he believes the Arizona immigration law has served to distract attention from what really needs to be done to fix immigration.
“First and foremost this is a federal obligation and federal responsibility. The federal government has not met that obligation, which is what has sparked states like Arizona or others to consider taking unilateral measures,” said Rivera, who represents part of Collier County in his state legislative district. “What needs to be done is secure the border. Making sure we have tall fences for illegal immigrants and wide gates for legal immigrants. But the only way we can get to the wide gate is by securing borders.”
Rivera said the government also needs to crack down on employers that hire undocumented workers, and should establish a viable and stable guest worker program.
“If we can get past those three issues, and let the American people feel comfortable, then and only then can we continue on to the next step of comprehensive immigration reform,” he said.
Securing the border is something Republican candidate Paul Crespo said he feels strongly about, but that reform needs to take place.
“It’s not just about closing borders. We have to make sure that the system works,” he said.
Crespo added that as a federal representative he wouldn’t have a say on state laws.
This is the second of two stories dealing with how national issues are impacting the race for Florida’s U.S. Congressional District 25 seat. It is one of a series of stories leading up to the Aug. 24 primary.
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- STORY: One judicial race too close to call, Mann a clear winner in other
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- STORY: David Rivera, Joe Garcia will face off in November election for Collier’s House District 25
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“My focus would be in federal issues, (however) Arizona felt the need to pass this law because the federal government has failed miserably in doing their job to control immigration and control the border,” said Crespo, calling the immigration issues facing Arizona serious and unacceptable. “The people of Arizona reacted in a way that they thought was acceptable. The solution should not be states having to take matters in their own hands. As a member of Congress I’m going to make sure the government does its job.”
The fact that reform needs to be dealt with at the federal level was something Democratic candidates Joe Garcia and Luis Meurice agreed on. The two are facing off for the Democratic Party’s general election slot in November.
“I understand people’s frustration in Arizona, but we can’t have 50 different states that have different immigration laws,” Garcia said. “The reality is this isn’t a fix. What this does is confuse issues and make law enforcement officers jobs harder, not easier.”
The government needs to do three important things, Garcia said.
“We have to secure our border to protect our citizens. We have to protect American jobs. And finally we have to find a pathway forward for those people that apply,” Garcia said. “We get them to the back of the line, they pay a fine, they pay their back taxes, they learn English and they get a status.”
Nevertheless, Garcia said what is clear is that those who want to become Americans need to pass a thorough background check.
If someone has committed any crime in the U.S., Garcia said, he or she should be deported to their country of origin.
“The Arizona law does not do any of those things. It just puts further burden on state and local government,” he said, adding that talk by some Florida legislators about bringing a similar law to the Sunshine state is just that -- talk. “Tallahassee politicians love to demagogue the issue and then pass unfunded mandates to the counties and cities. That’s a federal responsibility and we need to get this solved. Unfortunately in Congress they are doing the same thing they do in Tallahassee -- a lot of talk and no action.”
For his part, Meurice had a more straightforward opinion on the issue.
“I’m against any law that will instigate racism,” Meurice said. “I don’t think any law should supersede federal law.”
Meurice said that there should be another way for states to express their concerns, but that just making their own decision isn’t correct.
Stiffer penalties for business that hire illegal immigrants is a way to start correcting the problem, he said.
About the district
Created in 2002, U.S. Congressional District 25 covers the eastern part of Collier County, western parts of Miami-Dade County and some of Monroe.
The seat is being vacated by Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25), who ran unopposed for his brother Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart’s District 21 seat. In February, Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-21) announced his intent to retire from office.
A total of 41,858 registered voters reside in Collier’s portion of District 25, of which 13,595 are Democrat, 17,474 are Republican, 8,791 have no party affiliation, and 1,998 are registered as other.
In Miami-Dade’s slice of District 25, a total of 325,953 voters are registered, of which 117,254 are Democrats, 115,619 Republicans, 88,632 have no party affiliation, and 4,448 are listed as other.
Only registered Democrats and Republicans can vote in the Aug. 24 primary and during early voting that runs through Aug. 21.