“For us, this is a matter of fairness, a matter of justice, and obviously a matter of law and order,” said board member Carlos Curbelo on Wednesday during a break from their monthly meeting. “Our current, broken immigration system costs the school district over $20 million a year that no one reimburses us for.”
“Often times we educate children that are undocumented,” said Curbelo. “They spend 10 or 12 years in our schools only to face deportation or in other cases to be denied access to higher education. These children reach dead-ends after we have invested tens of thousands of dollars in them.”
Maria Rodriguez, executive director for the Miami-based Florida Immigrant Coalition, welcomed the legislation.
“The Senate’s Gang of 8 has made a serious step forward towards creating a new immigration system,” she said in a statement. “We hope that this effort is supported by all of our Florida members of Congress, across party lines.”
Under the bill, immigrants here illegally could gain a provisional legal status six months after enactment as long as they meet certain criteria, and if the Homeland Security Department has moved forward on plans to secure the border. They would remain in that provisional status for 10 years, able to work legally but barred from federal benefits like welfare or healthcare. After 10 years they could seek green cards conferring permanent legal status, and three years after that they could petition for citizenship.
They would have to pay a total of $2,000 in fines along the way, and at least hundreds more in fees, though that number has not been determined. Immigrants would be barred from seeking citizenship if they have been convicted of a felony or three or more misdemeanors, and no one who arrived in the country after Dec. 31, 2011, would be eligible.
Miami Herald reporter David Smiley contributed to this report.