Last week, the Florida legislature passed two bills that are heading to Governor Rick Scott, who has stated that he will sign them. One grants in-state tuition to undocumented “Dreamers.” Another will allow Jose Godinez-Samperio, a DACA recipient and law school graduate, the ability to be a licensed attorney in the State. Jose was in Tallahassee in the gallery on the day the Florida House passed the bill. He was given a standing ovation.
I am still shaking my head. What happened to Florida? Gov. Scott ran on a platform in 2010 that called for Arizona-type laws to be enacted. Four years later, he is supporting significant pro-immigration legislation. I thought we could easily count on current Florida leadership to remain oppositional to any pro-immigration issue that was not forced upon them.
It would be easy to be cynical and chalk it up to politics. It is an election year, after all, and perhaps some politicians are finally realizing it is not a bad idea to try to garner favor in the immigrant community.
Certainly I believe that is a big part of it. But, I also think that we may be witnessing a change in attitude across the board.
After the vote last Friday, I was contacted by a local newspaper columnist who had written earlier in the week in support of the Jose Godinez-Samperio bill. He had received responses from readers asking questions such as “Why didn’t he apply for citizenship?” “Why does he need a special law, couldn’t he have started the citizenship process during law school?” “Didn’t he want to become a citizen?”
He contacted me to make sure he was not missing anything – that there had been no change to federal immigration law recently of which he was not aware. I assured him that no, there had been no recent change.
The columnist, Tom Lyons, from the Sarasota Herald Tribune, then wrote a follow-up column clarifying that Jose did not have the option of obtaining citizenship and said of the questioners:
the more I thought about those people who wanted to know why that would-be lawyer hadn’t applied for citizenship, the more I thought kindly of them. Though they apparently missed a key point in the nation’s immigration debate, I think their question was based on a nice assumption. They assumed that U.S. law couldn’t be as rigid and mean as it actually is.
This illustrates what I believe is also happening in Florida; people are becoming more educated about the issues. And as they get more educated, they may be becoming more compassionate…and passionate to do the right thing.
I only hope that the individuals in office at the national level take a look at what is happening in Florida since I hear Florida might just be a tad bit important when it comes to presidential elections. I hope they realize that the House really needs to follow Florida’s lead and move forward on immigration reform.
By Victoria Jaensch Karins, Chair, AILA Central Florida Chapter