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  1. Florida Politics

Opposing activists pray, protest at Marco Rubio's office

The Revs. Jesus Fernandez, left, and Charles McKenzie lead a group in prayer Wednesday in the hallway near Sen. Marco Rubio’s Office.
Published Jun. 27, 2013

TAMPA — Nobody was quite satisfied outside Sen. Marco Rubio's Tampa office Wednesday as two different groups protested Rubio's stance on immigration.

The first group thought he wasn't doing enough, the other thought he'd gone too far.

In the morning, a group of church leaders, immigrants and community activists gathered in support of immigration reform.

Rubio has supported an immigration reform bill in Congress, and those gathered Wednesday said they want to ensure that the senator remains focused on the issue.

"We know this is a controversial bill and that not everyone is 100 percent happy with it," said Marcos Vilar, coordinator for the Alliance for Citizenship in Florida. "For us today we want to keep in our minds and in our hearts those 11 million people who are suffering every day, who are living in fear from being separated from their families."

The gathering was organized by advocacy group Mi Familia Vota as a vigil to pray to "remind Sen. Marco Rubio that he comes from an immigrant family," director Elena McCullough said.

"Family unity is at the core of what people of faith understand to be what their life responsibility is on this earth," said the Rev. Russel Meyer, a Lutheran minister with the Florida Council of Churches. "And we have a policy of immigration that intentionally destroys families and that policy is destructive of the American soul and of the American future."

Juan Sousa Rodriguez, who emigrated from Colombia with his family when he was 6, said he passed his citizenship exam June 20. He's now a community organizer and said Wednesday that comprehensive immigration reform will help the federal economy and will help families stay together.

"My entire family fought for the opportunity to become citizens. Most of them did not get that chance," he said. "(The bill) is a vital step to bring 11 million people out of the shadows."

After the Mi Familia Vota group dispersed, a tea party group took over just before noon to tell the senator he was at risk of alienating his base.

Carrying American and Gadsden flags and with posters that read "RUBIO TURNED RINO," Republican in name only, and "SECURE THE BORDER FIRST," the group of a few dozen people said that although they had supported him in the 2010 election, their support had wavered since then.

"I helped him get elected and I'm very disappointed," said Chelsea Johnson, a tea party supporter who donated to Rubio's campaign. "Sen. Rubio has really flip-flopped on that issue."

Sharon Calvert, co-founder of the Tampa Tea Party, said the bill simply isn't strong enough to end illegal immigration.

"I don't believe this bill solves the issue of illegals," she said. "Most Americans I believe are appalled and find it unacceptable that 12 years after 9/11 we still have not secured our borders."

Calvert recently wrote a letter to Rubio expressing her concerns, part of which he read on the floor of the Senate as part of debate on the immigration bill Wednesday. Rubio said that selling conservatives on the immigration bill has been "a real trial for me."

"These people are patriots," Rubio said Wednesday. "I know they love America and they're deeply worried about the direction this administration is trying to take our country."

Tim Curtis, Tampa 912 chairman, said at the protest in Tampa that he and other tea party supporters were frustrated with Rubio's support of a bill that they said won't solve illegal immigration.

They hope to continue supporting Rubio, he said, but only if the senator walks away from the current bill.

"Our statement to Sen. Rubio is simply this: Stop," Curtis said. "This is flawed legislation. Stop. Back away."

Charles Scudder can be reached at cscudder@tampabay.com or (813) 225-3111.

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