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Immigration proposal sparks debate at forum

A proposed law designed to curb the growth of undocumented immigrants is proving to be as contentious in Florida as it was in Arizona.

The bill, drafted by incoming House Judiciary Chairman William Snyder, R-Stuart, would require law enforcement officials to check the status of anyone they suspect may not legally be in the United States. But it’s raising questions about racial profiling and the scope of authority of law enforcement officials.

The merits of the bill, as well as other immigration issues, were debated Wednesday night at a Sun Sentinel-Lynn University sponsored forum at Lynn University Bachelor’s, master’s & online degrees.

Florida has an estimated 800,000 undocumented immigrants in the state. The proposed state law largely mirrors one in Arizona, which shares a border with Mexico. While Florida doesn’t border any other countries, it still has a large interest in immigration overhaul, said Snyder, who was a panelist.

“Floridians understand we’re a nation of laws,” he said. “But our laws have been routinely and flagrantly violated, and as a result of those violations we have a shadowy underworld of people who don’t enjoy the same rights.”

But opponents say the bill was written to specifically target Latin Americans, requiring them to provide documentation that they are in the United States legally, while not requiring the same documentation for Canadians.

“What we have here is a racial profiling bill that excludes Canadians,” said Maria Rodriguez, executive director of the Florida Immigrant Coalition, one of the three panel members. “It’s very alarming that under the guise of security, we’re undermining our security by promoting racial profiling.”

Rodriguez also said Florida’s proposed law would overburden law enforcement and hurt tourism.

Some worried about the effect of such laws on the children of undocumented immigrants, who have lived in the United States for most of their lives.

Anita Villard, 24, was born in Pakistan but has lived in South Florida since she was 2. She is now a student at Lynn University.

“I didn’t have a choice. America is my home. English is my language. I don’t have anyone in Pakistan,” she said. “I’m here because of something my parents did.”

Snyder said this problem happens when people enter the country illegally.

“Whatever system allowed the first act has now resulted in unintended consequences,” he said. “This is a natural consequence of our borders being violated. You’re the poster child for [the need for] properly enforcing the law.”

Panelists also debated national policies, such as whether to create procedures for the approximately 12 million undocumented immigrants to obtain legal status, and whether to build a massive barrier at the Mexican border.

Janet Bancroft, a scholar in residence at Barry University in Miami Shores, supports both measures. She supports a proposal that would allow people to register, pay back-taxes and state their case before an immigration judge. The judge would have the authority to allow them to stay legally, but would not grant them automatic citizenship, she said.

And Bancroft said a fence along the Mexican border, which exists in certain places, would help prevent new immigrants from coming in.

“When fences are tall, the number of illegal entries falls,” she said, quoting an article in the Christian Science Monitor.

Critics of these barriers have said they create safety and environmental hazards.

She said communities that didn’t want fences could use surveillance and border patrol.


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