In Ybor, immigration advocates cautiously optimistic

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Joining Medrano in Ybor's Centennial Park were a variety of other immigration advocates, including several from various parts of the Tampa Bay area who are working to persuade GOP members of Congress like Vern Buchanan, Dennis Ross, Bill Young and Gus Bilirakis to support laws that help undocumented immigrants find a path to citizenship.

One of the more outspoken speakers was Russell Meyer, executive director of the Florida Council of Churches.

"Focus on enforcement on immigration is not the solution, it is the problem," he said, mentioning how families are being separated due to immigration agents arresting and ultimately deporting undocumented people.

"The family is being destroyed by the current immigration policies on the ground. That needs to change. That needs to change right away," he bellowed.

In his speech on Tuesday, President Obama said that undocumented immigrants must first pass a background check, learn English, pay a penalty, and then get "in the back of the line" behind people trying to come to America legally.

The ACLU's Mike Pheneger said that before Congress votes on an immigration bill (not expected until later this summer, or perhaps not until fall), President Obama could work to restore due process of law to all aspects of immigration laws that currently exist.

"Every person here in the U.S. is entitled to the due process of law," he said.

Elena McCulloch served in the Coast Guard for 24 years. She lives in Pasco County where she's working on trying to persuade Gus Bilirakis to support immigration reform.

"When you look at the demographics, you can't help but accept the fact that in Pasco County, we've had an increase of over 50,000 Hispanic residents since the last Census, and it keeps growing," she said.

Kofi Hunt with the activist group Awake Pinellas said that he and his allies hope to get some time to talk with Pinellas Congressman Bill Young. But throughout the past year, Democrats have complained that they can't book any time with the congressman. Hunt said they'll soon hold their own "conversations" about Young's voting record on immigration.

"He favors voting for walls between the U.S. and Mexico," Hunt said of Young, also referring to Young's vote against the Dream Act back in 2010.

Hunt added that hopefully there will be a large group of people who ultimately ask, once again, for a meeting with the venerable representative.

Adriana Cerillo's assignment is to work on Sarasota area Congressman Buchanan to support immigration reform.

"He has been a very anti-immigrant individual. But when the numbers change from 5,000 new voter registrations that say Latino names, he, or the person who is in that position, will listen to us. And that's the power that we are building," she told the crowd.

Several of the advocates then held a roundtable discussion with Congresswoman Kathy Castor, a strong supporter of comprehensive immigration reform.

  • Elena McCulloch was one of the immigration advocates who spoke in Ybor City on Wednesday

On Tuesday, President Obama dedicated the first trip of his second term to calling for an overhaul of immigration laws, making clear that it is one of his top domestic priorities.

His speech in Las Vegas came a day after a bipartisan group of eight senators, including Marco Rubio, held a news conference in Washington to announce their own plans for moving forward with similar legislation.

Such events have instilled new confidence in comprehensive immigration reform advocates. At least that was the vibe given off by a group of activists in Ybor City this morning. But they warn that indeed (as the cliche goes), the "devil is in the details."

Lydia Medrano with the League of United Latin Citizens said big questions lie ahead, such as how long it will take Congress to come together on the diverse issues that go into such reform.

"The electorate spoke (last year), and the politicians are responding," she said of the energy the new Congress is expending on the issue.

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