MIAMI _ Comprehensive and bipartisan were the buzzwords for two Congressional representatives hosting a forum on immigration reform Monday in Miami.
Immigrant advocates at the event prioritized different terms, such as humanitarian and family unification.
The two-hour session was an invitation-only roundtable to share ideas for reform with U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, whose district in part covers southeast Collier County, and U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, who represents much of Miami-Dade County.
Hours ahead of a return to Washington, D.C., for both, they heard from dozens of activists – undocumented teens, law clinic professors, social service providers – about what their constituencies want.
"The best ideas don't come from Washington, they come from our communities," Diaz-Balart told the group of about 60 people meeting at his Doral district office.
Among the participants was Estefania Pugliese, 19, the daughter of Venezuelans in political exile and a self-identified DREAMER, as young immigrants brought to the U.S. as children often label themselves.
The DREAM, or Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors act, would have given undocumented youth a path to citizenship, but failed in Congress.
"I don't want to just tug at the heartstrings of being a DREAMER," Pugliese told the legislators, "but … I want to remind you that there are people like me who are working very hard that are immigrants and (working) to be really wonderful American citizens. That all I really want to be, to be here."
"Basically, I consider myself American," added Pugliese, who came to the U.S. at age 9, graduated from a Miami high school, and now attends a four-year college.
Pugliese suggested a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants based on a tiered structure of fines according to previous legal status, time in the country and tax contributions.
Her idea piqued Diaz-Balart's interest enough that he asked for it in writing.
There was little talk of specific policies, such as the controversial 287(g) or Secure Communities immigration enforcement mechanisms with local law enforcement.
Instead, the activists focused on the stories of families going through what they – and the lawmakers – repeatedly called a failed and broken immigration system.
When pushed for the specifics of what he has labeled "comprehensive" immigration reform, Diaz-Balart noted the need to require employers to check immigration status — now only required in Florida for state agencies and those companies that have federal contracts. He told the Daily News he would like a system in place for temporary work visas, especially in agriculture.
The backlog of family visas, which for some countries is more than 20 years of a wait, also needs addressed, he said.
But Diaz-Balart stopped shortly of an amnesty like in the late-1980s under President Ronald Reagan, saying: "We need to fix what's broken, and we need to deal with the ones that are here. And I don't think it's a good policy to have a group of people in the United States that are here permanently that don't have legal status."
Negotiations for immigration reform are ongoing on Capitol Hill, though the Congressman wouldn't say if Republicans would submit one bill or piecemeal legislation to work the reforms through Congress.
During the weekend, The New York Times cited senior administration officials as saying President Barack Obama will push a comprehensive bill through Congress this session "that would include a path to citizenship for most" of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country.