Haitian-Americans in Tampa want Congress to stay focused on immigration reform

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  • Immigration advocates met up in Ybor City's Centennial Park

Tuesday marks the end of Congress' five-week summer vacation, and immigration reform advocates had been set to engage their forces to lobby the House of Representatives' to take up the bill passed by the Senate earlier this summer.

That was before Syria.

Now the issue of whether the U.S. should attack another Middle Eastern country is dominating discussion in Washington. But immigration advocates aren't shutting up.

This morning in Tampa, a coalition of activists who have been appearing all summer in support of immigration reform where joined by group of Haitian-Americans.

"[Congress] needs to start talking about things that we need," said Virginie Jules, founder and president of the Haitian Organization Network Plus. "Please help us out."

"Immigration reform is the key social justice issue of our time," said the Florida Consumer Action Network's Tim Heberlein, who mentioned that he is the son of an immigrant and the husband of one, as well. "The time is now. There is no other time for this."

But that time is quickly running out, especially if what one key GOP legislator said over the weekend is accurate.

Idaho Republican Raul Labrador said immigration reform won't happen this year, and it won't happen next year, because it's an election year. The Congressman told Univision on Sunday, "That means that we’re going to have to wait until 2015. So now, that time is — it’s becoming a lot shorter. We don’t know exactly when we’re going to be able to have this debate. A lot of us thought that the debate was going to be in October, but now, with the problems that we’re having internationally and also here in this country, I don’t see how we’re going to be able to have this debate until — until November. And I really don’t know if it will be possible to do it in November."

Actually, it's not fair to say that the GOP-led House of Representatives haven't done anything on immigration this summer. In June, the House Judiciary Committee panel approved South Carolina Republican Trey Gowdy's SAFE Act, which seeks to make illegal immigration to the U.S. a federal crime.

"We don't want the SAFE Act," said Joyce Hamilton Henry, Mid-Florida Regional Director of the ACLU of Florida. "The SAFE Act would further criminalize individuals. It would further deport and separate families. It would force local law enforcement officers to act as ICE agents, and we would certainly not relegate this population of individuals as second-class citizens."

"It is very important for our policy makers to understand that the immigrant sweat and labor is what has built America," said Pye Young with the St. Petersburg branch of the NAACP. "And it's important that we take the right stand now and support this legislation in immigration reform. So that the immigrants that are here now won't have to be unjustly profiled, discriminated against, abused, federally detained and deported back home to suffer and abandon their families."

The Associated Press reports that there are only about two dozen GOP lawmakers who support an eventual path to citizenship for millions of people who are living in the U.S. illegally at this time.

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