Citing the conservative Florida Legislature's consideration of pro-immigrant bills providing in-state tuition for undocumented schoolchildren and allowing an undocumented immigrant to legally practice law in the state, Al Cardenas said today that House Republicans could pass a bill regarding immigration reform before it breaks for its summer vacation.
"Florida is in so many ways a depiction of the rest of the country," he said on a conference call Thursday morning. "We're a petri dish for the rest of America and we always have been. We're as demographically diverse as our country is and our opinions are just as diverse ... we're in unison when it comes to needed reform."
Cardenas is the chairman of the American Conservative Union, which puts on the CPAC convention — the annual conservative event that brings out the grassroots conservative movement — each winter in Washington. He said if Florida can pass pro-immigration reform, so can Washington.
Claiming progress on a number of fronts, Cardenas said in his discussions with Hispanic leaders in the Democratic Party and "frankly the undocumented," he believes they're open-minded regarding the type of legal status the House is willing to confer to the undocumented. "I believe everybody's hard at work coming up with the right response, and a response which may not include a path to citizenship, but a response which will be well received by the undocumented and by the Hispanic leadership in the Democratic Party."
While that may be debatable, there certainly are Democrats who have said a direct pathway to citizenship — believed to be the chief source of Republican resistance — need not be in an initial bill.
Joining Cardenas on the call was Brewster Bevis, Senior VP of Associated Industries of Florida, the powerful pro-business concern out of Tallahassee. He said immigration reform was a "very important issue for AIF," saying that with an increase in the Baby Boom generation retiring, there simply weren't enough skilled and unskilled workers to fill job openings in the state.
Justin Sayfie, former Communications Director for Gov. Jeb Bush and the proprietor of the political aggregation website Sayfie Review, said that "any true conservative" should support immigration reform. Decrying the current situation as "de facto amnesty," Sayfie trotted out the sacred name of Ronald Reagan, saying if he were around he'd be supportive of such legislation.
During the Q&A portion of the call, Cardenas said he's been encouraged by the tone of Republicans post-2012. During the presidential primary campaign that year, Texas Governor Rick Perry was booed at a debate in Orlando for saying people didn't "have a heart" if they didn't support providing in-state tuition for the undocumented, and Mitt Romney came up with his idea of the undocumented "self-deporting" back to their native countries at a debate at USF in Tampa.
"The needle has definitely [swung] in the right direction," Cardenas insisted, adding that there's been a "total dissipation of some of the toxic atmosphere that was perhaps felt a year or two ago."