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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Immigration advocates protest on Old Capitol



Chanting "Somos Florida!" ("We are Florida!"), about 150 people gathered on the steps of the Old Capitol in Tallahassee Thursday afternoon to protest proposed, Arizona-style immigration reforms.

The immigration advocates asked lawmakers not to "scapegoat" immigrants and hurt the state's economy, they said, by passing changes businesses may not be able to afford.

"They hurt our economy, they hurt our security, they undermine our safety," Maria Rodriguez, executive director of the Florida Immigrant Coalition, said of the bills making their way through the Legislature. "Either you're with us or you're against us."

Protesters were joined by a handful of Democratic legislators, including Sen. Arthenia Joyner of Tampa who tried to rally supporters. "We are not Arizona -- we are Florida," Joyner said. "We're in a big fight, so let's get ready for it."

Said Sen. Oscar Braynon II, D-Miami Gardens: "We want to work...We pay taxes like everyone else."

On Wednesday, Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, suggested he would change an immigration bill passed by a Senate committee Tuesday that relaxed the requirement for businesses to use the federal government's e-Verify system to check prospective employees' immigration status.

That move would be a political ploy by lawmakers who have "higher aspirations," said Rep. Luis Garcia, a Miami Beach Democrat who has taken to wearing his U.S. passport around his neck to protest some of the immigration proposals.

"Fifty-one years ago I was where these people are," Garcia said. "What these people are asking [for] is just a chance...Who's going to pick our vegetables? Who's going to work in our hotels?"

The only "real Americans," he added, were native Americans like some visiting the Capitol earlier Thursday.

[Last modified: Thursday, March 17, 2011 2:08pm]


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