Congressional Democrats talk immigration in North Miami

Immigration reform: It’s not just about Mexicans.

A group of Democratic members of Congress relayed that message Monday at an immigration forum in North Miami, home to one of the nation’s largest Haitian communities.

“You can’t discuss a new modern immigration system without discussing a new, fairer treatment of Haitians,” said Illinois U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, a top House immigration-reform player.

“Immigration reform is not just Mexicans. It’s not just Latinos,” he said before the Haitian Evangelical Baptists Church forum. “Look at the richness of people coming from the Bahamas and Jamaica. And, of course, look at people from Haiti.”

"Gutierrez earned loud applause as well for pledging to stop the mass daily deportations of more than 1,000 undocumented immigrants daily.

It hit home for one the Rivas family of Miami. At the end of the event, 18-year-old Carlos Rivas begged the representatives to stop federal authorities from deporting his father, Rene Rivas, at 4 a.m. – seven hours away.

“Oh my God,” U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, who hosted the event in her district, said. “Why didn’t you tell us sooner?”

Carlos Rivas said the family had just learned of the deportation hours before. The representatives started calling officials in Washington.

Before that dramatic conclusion to the meeting, many in the crowd were concerned with the plight of immigrants from Haiti.

After the 2010 earthquake that left tens — if not hundreds — of thousands dead or homeless, thousands of Haitian immigrants flooded the United States.

As a result, Wilson represents one of the most-Haitian congressional districts, home to Monday night’s forum.

Right now, none of those recent Haitian immigrants get special consideration in the immigration bill proposed in the Senate, drafted in part by West Miami resident and Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

The House has yet to release its bill and Gutierrez won’t discuss its contents.

Under the Senate bill, those immigrants who have been in the United States under what’s known as Temporary Protected Status for a decade could apply for a green card almost as soon the bill passes.

But many Haitian earthquake survivors haven’t been here long enough to qualify for green-card application status under the Senate bill.

“We’re really concerned. We want to figure out whether they can rewrite it,” said Francesca Menes, policy and advocacy coordinator for the Florida Immigrant Coalition. “We hope it’ll be brought up on the House side.”

Wilson urged the crowd to get engaged. She was joined by Gutierrez, New York Rep. Yvette Clarke and Texas representatives Sheila Jackson Lee and Marc Veasey.

All represent immigrant-heavy districts. And, Wilson said, that makes the immigration debate crucial.

“We are one of the most immigrant rich communities in the nation,” Wilson said. “For us, for many in this room, this is very personal.”

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