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Hispanic religious leaders seek alternative to Arizona-style immigration reform

Hispanic evangelical leaders met Thursday night in Orlando to discuss ways to lobby the Legislature for Utah-style immigration reforms instead of the harsher Arizona approach that some state lawmakers are considering.

“In Florida, like in many other states where the Arizona-style bills were introduced, those bills aren’t going anywhere,” said Alfonso Aguilar, executive director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Values.

The Washington D.C. based group organized the town hall meeting with local pastors and their parishioners.

“We want to present Florida voters and legislators with an alternative that says, ‘we care about enforcement but we also care about the economy,” Aguilar said. “The Utah solution balances enforcement with the needs of the market.”

The Utah bill, signed into law earlier this month, would give illegal immigrants who do not commit serious crimes documents that would allow them to work legally in the state.

If they entered the state illegally, they would have to pay a fine first. But before the state could enact what is, in essence, a guest-worker program, either the Obama administration or Congress would have to give Utah permission to undertake what falls under the purview of the federal government.

The meeting at Peniel Evangelical Church in northwest Orlando was attended by about 100 people, including representatives of the government of Mexico, immigration leaders, the aides of various elected officials and Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings.

The evening’s key speaker was Utah state Senator Curt Bramble, one of the authors of that state’s immigration reform.

“Utah is a conservative state,” Bramble said. “We believe in a limited role of the government. But we also believe in the dignity of people of all races and backgrounds. We recognize the positive impact that immigrants have in Utah’s economy and its businesses.”

The Arizona-style law that Florida Gov. Rick Scott touted during his campaign has gained little traction in the Legislature.

A watered-down version of the bill recently cleared a senate committee.

Instead of empowering police officers to ask for immigration documents at any time, even without a reasonable suspicion, the modified version allows for such inspection to take place only if a person has been detained for committing a crime.

Other states that introduced similar measures have not seen them progress.

Aguilar told the audience to put pressure on their legislators.

“We need to tell Republicans that they have to bring back immigration. To remember Ronald Reagan, who understood this was a nation of immigrants. And we need to tell Democrats that the time they could take our votes for granted is over. If they want our votes they have to earn them.”

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