Buckhorn questions activist on immigration proposal

  • Tampa activist Jared Hamil

On Wednesday night a group of Latino activists stood in the rain in front of City Hall, calling on local Tampa officials to support the idea of providing drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants.

Jared Hamil with Raíces en Tampa said that he has contacted Mayor Bob Buckhorn about the symbolic proposal, but was frustrated that he had yet to hear back from the Tampa leader.

But on Thursday Buckhorn denied hearing from Hamil about anything. "That guy says a lot of things. 99 percent of which are not accurate. He's the same guy who used to yammer on about Occupy." The mayor went on to say that he wasn't "conversant" on the issue Raíces en Tampa is advocating for.

When informed of the mayor's comments, Hamil said he has phone records listing his calls into Buckhorn's press secretary, Ali Glisson. But he bristled upon hearing the mayor badmouth him, and questioned whether the mayor would use his personal animus against him as an excuse for not moving forward on the issue.

"He's not going to work with anybody because he has a grudge against some people?" Hamil asked. "Is he going to use that against people?"

Hamil was frequently quoted in the local media in the year leading up to the 2012 Republican National Convention, and was a lead organizer of the Coalition to March on the RNC, which organized the biggest demonstration that took place during the convention.

Although giving undocumented immigrants the ability to apply for drivers licenses is an issue that would ultimately be decided by the state legislature, activists with Raíces en Tampa say their strategy is to create support at the local level first, before going to the state legislature.

11 states — California, New Mexico, Utah, Washington, Illinois, Nevada, Oregon, Maryland, Vermont, Colorado, and Connecticut — and the District of Columbia have passed legislation that allows the undocumented to legally drive.

And last year three states — Colorado, Minnesota, and Oregon — also passed laws that permit in-state tuition for undocumented students. A number more, including Florida, are contemplating such legislation in 2014.

That bill is being sponsored by House Speaker Will Weatherford and now by state Senator Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater), and Buckhorn said he strongly supports it, calling it "absolutely the right thing to do."

"The drivers license bill may be as well," he said, adding, "I just haven't read what they're proposing, and their method about going about it leaves a lot to be desired."

Last June, Florida Governor Rick Scott vetoed a bill that would have allowed some young immigrants who are living in the U.S. illegally to apply for a temporary driver's license in the state. The GOP-led legislature had overwhelmingly passed a bill saying young immigrants allowed to remain in the country under an Obama administration "deferred action" policy could use federal documents to receive a temporary driver's license for at least one year. But Scott said the policy had not been approved by Congress or as a federal rule, and that the administration's order could not be used to justify letting someone have a temporary license.

But the policy that Raíces en Tampa supports would transcend that measure, advocating for drivers licenses for all undocumented immigrants.

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