By Matt Wiley
New Tampa’s U.S. Representative Dennis Ross (R-Lakeland) has been making the rounds around the 15th Congressional District and getting an earful about tough issues, especially immigration.
During July 2 town hall meetings in both Lutz and Brandon, a total of more than 300 District 15 residents listened to and asked questions of their Congressman, many of which concerned student loans and the deficit. But, the topic that received the most attention at the Lutz-area meeting, by far, was immigration.
“I went through the whole immigration system myself,” explained Lutz resident Pamela Gomez to Rep. Ross, as she stood at the microphone inside the packed Lutz Elementary cafeteria. “My family struggled, so we know how hard it is with the current, broken immigration system.”
And, in response to some of the sometimes angry people in attendance, who expressed their unhappiness with the number of illegal immigrants in the U.S., Gomez added, “I just want to address some of the xenophobic things that have been said in this meeting.”
Gomez, a University of South Florida (USF) graduate, said that she works with kids from all over the world at a local community center in Lutz and that she wants to see those kids given the same opportunity to contribute to society that she did.
“We see the human cost every day,” she said. “Families are separated… You said you don’t support a pathway to citizenship? Well, I want valid reasons (why or why not).”
Following a round of applause for her emotional statements, Rep. Ross replied, stating that his grandparents, too, were immigrants, except that they were from Hungary. He had to stop halfway through his response to calm a tense exchange between Gomez and another member of the audience who had a different view about immigration.
“(My grandparents) had an opportunity to come here and become citizens, legally,” Ross explained. “But, there exists, today, the same path to that citizenship for everybody. What we first have to do is recognize that we have a system that has been broken for over 30 years and in order to bring that into play, we’ve got to start strengthening our borders, allow for enforcement of laws and, most importantly, for those who want to be here, like yourself, allow you the opportunity to earn that citizenship and be a productive member of society.”
Rep. Ross also said that he believes that just because someone has been here for an extended period of time doesn’t automatically give that person a right to citizenship.
“I think that citizenship needs to be earned,” Ross explained. “I believe, first and foremost, that if we can take away most of the people that are in (the immigration) line that are here for economic reasons, mainly for job purposes or education purposes, then we’re going to reduce the number of people in that line.”
Gomez asked if Ross would support the U.S. Senate’s plan (S. 744, the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013”), which was passed on June 27 and could spend more than $46 billion on border security, in order to catch and deport as many as 90 percent of those who cross the border illegally; require employers to electronically verify the legal status of their workers (E-Verify); and offer a 13-year path to citizenship to people currently living illegally in the U.S., among many other requirements.
“I would not vote for the Senate bill as it is, today,” Ross said.
What does Rep. Ross think the House will do with the Senate’s immigration bill? He says that the House probably will not take up the Senate’s bill at all. Instead, he explained, the House will take up certain parts of the Senate’s bill, including border security, an E-Verify program, a guest worker program and an expanded visa program, and then draft its own immigration bill.
“Already, out of the House judiciary committee, they’ve passed out an enforcement bill, a guest worker bill and they’re working on an extended visa bill. I believe that those three components, along with an E-Verify component, will come out of the House and be put together as one package and sent over to the Senate. It is probably going to be done during the month of July, before the August recess.”
In January, months before the comprehensive Senate immigration bill was passed, Rep. Ross introduced his own take on one aspect of immigration: the Legal Agricultural Workforce Act (H.R.242), which would establish a non-immigrant temporary agricultural worker program that would put limitations on the number of people who could come to the U.S. to work each year, by month, and offer a financial incentive for them to return to their own countries when their temporary visas expire.
However, Ross’s program also would have provisions, including enrollment requirements, a visa preference allocation system, a biometric identification card requirement, U.S. worker protections and visa increases due to extraordinary and unusual employment circumstances. The program also would not offer need-based federal assistance to those workers.
For more information about Rep. Dennis Ross and other bills he has sponsored and co-sponsored, please visit DennisRoss.House.Gov.