Over 150 concerned Central Floridians gathered in the St. Margaret Mary Church hall in Winter Park on May 4, 2011 to celebrate the FLORIDA COMPACT document. Being once an immigrant from Ireland, Pastor Rev. Richard Walsh welcomed the group and stated his support for justice for the immigrant families. Rev. Russell Meyer, from the Florida Council of Churches, remarked that "Florida has a lot of problems. Politicians are using immigrants as scapegoats to distract our attention from the problems that they have created." He also stated that "the history of humankind is one of immigration, as peoples move across the planet in search of a better life, reflected in many stories in the Bible. Rev. Terry Niziolek, from Good Shepherd Church/Catholic Diocese of Orlando, gave a faith reflection and quoted many passages in the New and Old Testament.
The Florida Compact articulates five principles to guide Florida’s immigration discussion. The five principles speak to the need for federal solutions to immigration policy, the need to have law enforcement focusing on criminal activities, the commitment to policies that support strong families, the desire to have immigration policies that create a favorable economic environment that encourages international tourism, and the importance of a humane approach to immigration in a free society. You can read (and sign) the document at www.floridacompact.com.
Several members of the LWVOC Immigration Committee, including Lynn Paredes, Sister Teresa McElwee, Elizabeth Garcia, Nancy Rudner Lugo, Kyle Miller, and Jeannine Walsh attended. Many of the immigrants wore colorful masks symbolic of the need to not show oneself in an environment of fear for those who may be “suspected” of being undocumented. As Reverend Meyer said, they among us who look different are at highest risk of interrogation for legal papers. Dr. Rudner Lugo spoke of the core principles of the League and its positions, including the need for a clear path to citizenship, accountability of elected officials, appropriate use of resources, sound economic policies, and educational opportunities - values that are expressed in the Florida Compact.
One of the LWVOC’s most active committees, the Immigration Committee has been staying on top of the rapidly changing legislative front. In the 60 day session, several bills relating to immigration have surfaced. Requiring electronic verification of immigration status through an underdeveloped system known as E-Verify was hotly opposed by the Florida Chamber of Commerce and immigration rights groups. Adding another barrier to employment in a fragile economy, e-Verify’s errors could slow down a business by blocking the hiring of qualified personnel every time the e-Verify system misidentifies someone’s legal status. As of May 4, the Florida legislature had voted to require e-Verify to be used by state organizations hiring employees and to be a voluntary option in the private sector.
The group left the hall with enthusiasm and commitment to continue to work together to fight for justice. As one member said, “Thank you again for all your support and for never giving up. I am grateful to be part of this committee and to be part of the LWV because I got to meet all of you, who I believe that all of you have a heart of love for justice and for human rights. You are all my inspiration to continue fighting for justice and peace. I thank God for putting in my path such wonderful women that have shown me that it takes courage, confidence and hard work to continue life. Thank you for everything, and all of you are Super Awesome!!!”