As the national debate on immigration reform has become a political game of chicken, organizers gathered outside of Julie's Mexican Restaurant in Clearwater Wednesday morning to state their displeasure with U.S. Rep. David Jolly (R-Indian Shores).
Their big criticism? Jolly's January vote to defund President Barack Obama's December executive order extending the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) to an extra four million undocumented immigrants. The order gives many who were brought to the U.S. as children a better chance of not getting deported.
Jolly and his Republican colleagues said at the time their beef wasn't with the reform itself, but that the President is overextending his authority.
“We passed a responsible measure that continues to fully fund each of our domestic security agencies while also including a provision stating that none of the funds provided to the President and his Administration may be used to carry out the President’s executive order granting amnesty to over four million people who came here illegally,” Jolly said in a written statement following the January vote.
Wednesday's press conference, held by Comprehensive Immigration Reform Now (CIR NOW), an organization founded in 2012 that encourages collaboration amongst immigrant community advocates, said such a position is alienating a large portion of his district, which includes most of Pinellas County. Florida, after all, is a state where many of its leading Republicans — including former Governor and current presidential contender Jeb Bush — take a more moderate approach to the issue. Activists are calling on Jolly to do the same.
“The actions by the Congressman show that he does not support comprehensive immigration reform,” the group said in a press release ahead of the event. “The community wants comprehensive immigration reform that creates a fair system that keeps families together, pulls people out of the shadows and increases economic opportunities for everybody.”
Speakers included Ed Quionones of LULAC and the Democratic Hispanic Caucus; Salvador Cruz, a worker that has struggled to gain citizenship despite living in the U.S. for twenty years; Rev. Victor Ramos, the pastor at La Pisadadas Del Maestro; and Rev. Dr. Anthony Johnson, a minister at Unitarian Universalists of Clearwater.
The majority of the press conference was in Spanish, but those involved were available to make their points clear in both languages.
“We've had a chance for the House and Senate to come forward and give us a bill,” said Quionones speaking on the failure of Congress to create a bill for immigration reform. “There is no bill on their part, so we are getting worried now as to what is going on in our Congress. They have a bill before them now from the Senate which they haven't acted on. They've had every opportunity to have a bill that could be worked on and we're not getting it.”
Quionones also decried what he felt was an extreme position for Jolly to take.
“My hope is that he abandons his loyalty to extreme conservatives and comes to a more balanced outlook that represents everyone in his district," he said. "He's not representing a good portion of people's interests. We hope that he will come to represent more people rather than the extreme group he is voting with at this time.”
The only elected official in attendance was Seminole City Councilwoman Patricia Plantamura, who criticized Jolly along with House Republicans for their failure to bring a bill addressing comprehensive immigration reform.
“As a representative of the people I think it's important to listen to what people in our community are saying, and this is a good number of people asking, 'Where's the bill?' We're in a changing society, we see many of our cities having a larger percentage of foreign born and to see our representatives not representing the people we now have in our communities, it is very short-sighted.”
The next move for CIR NOW is a personal meeting with Jolly in the coming weeks while members in other House districts organize similar events in an effort to achieve their goal of comprehensive immigration reform.