TAMPA — They stood donning collared shirts and suit jackets, flashing shy smiles before the gaze of half a dozen TV cameras. All told stories of sacrifice in pursuit of a better life.
They were a business technology consultant from England, a Spanish-language TV executive, a Vietnamese nail salon owner and a marketing professional of Portuguese descent.
They were immigrants and kin of immigrants. They were entrepreneurs. They were Americans.
And they, according to U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, are the reason that the federal government must overhaul its immigration system.
"The problem is now our current immigration system throws up roadblocks to success stories like these," Castor said. "That's why it is important for the House of Representatives to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill.
In a Tuesday morning news conference, the congresswoman had each of the local professionals share their stories, punctuating their tales of sacrifice and success with a call for Congress to take action to make such stories an easier possibility for millions. These immigrants, she said, are proof of the tremendous impact that immigrants and their families have on the Tampa Bay area economy.
The news conference took place at the Waters Avenue office of Bayshore Technologies, whose chief executive officer, Peter Anderson, talked about his journey from England to play soccer with the Tampa Bay Rowdies.
Not long after he came to call Florida his adopted home, he married and went into business, building what would become a multimillion-dollar company.
"I have enjoyed Tampa more than any other city I have ever lived in," Anderson said. "Tampa and America have been very wonderful to me."
The others echoed his sentiments.
Castor used statistics to underscore her point about the economic impact of the immigrant community. Among them: 28 percent of American small businesses are started by immigrants, yet the same community accounts for just 13 percent of the U.S. population.
Through comprehensive reform, that economic impact could be much greater, Castor said. But she criticized her colleagues across the aisle, whose approach, she said, is not broad enough.
Speaking Sunday on CBS' Face the Nation, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., detailed his party's approach to reform, saying they rejected a similar bill recently passed in the U.S. Senate.
"What we're going to do is take a step-by-step approach to get immigration right," Ryan said. "We want to be fair to that legal immigrant who did everything right in the first place."
Castor said the Republican proposals do little to alleviate obstacles that immigrants face in trying to become citizens.
"The House Republican leadership says, 'We want to do a little bit here and a little bit there,'" Castor said. "That's not good enough. . . . It's going to be the business community that is going to push this tea party Congress into action."