Carving out a path to citizenship for Dreamers and finding a permanent solution for immigrants in the country under Temporary Protected Status stand as the two most pressing immigration issues facing Florida this election year, according to the latest survey in the Influencer Series.
The Miami Herald, Bradenton Herald and el Nuevo Herald asked a group of 50 state leaders spanning Florida's political, business, academic and faith circles to rank five immigration issues by importance.
More than 80 percent ranked finding a permanent fix for Dreamers -- the hundreds of thousands of young immigrants brought illegally to the country when they were children -- as the most important challenge.
“Congress and the Administration must act now to find a bipartisan solution addressing immigration," said William Talbert, president and CEO of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau. "This is especially true in finding a path to citizenship for more than 500,000 Dreamers and TPS holders in our country.”
“If we’re fiercely debating the crisis at the border now, imagine the public outcry when it’s your neighbor or co-worker forced to leave after more than 20 years in the U.S.,” Talbert said. “They have diligently paid taxes, bought homes, started businesses and raised families. Legally."
In September, Trump ended DACA, an Obama-era program that granted temporary, renewable work permits to Dreamers. But a series of federal judges have ruled against him. First, two judges forced the administration to allow those who already have work permits to apply for renewals. In April, another judge said the administration should allow immigrants who qualify for DACA to apply for work permits even if they never applied before September 2017. The administration has 90 days to appeal.
While many lawmakers across the political spectrum -- and nearly three-quarters of Americans, according to recent polls -- say Dreamers should be allowed to stay in this country, lawmakers have failed for months to forge agreement on bill that all sides could support. The latest effort, led by Miami Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo, collapsed last week when the U.S. House rejected a bill that would have given Dreamers a path to citizenship in exchange for $25 billion for President Donald Trump's border wall and new limits on legal immigration.
Emilio Estefan, Miami music legend and CEO of Estefan Enterprises, suggested a solution. In his survey response, he recalled meeting with four presidents about fixing immigration -- meetings, he said, that seemed to always be fruitless.
"We should have fixed the immigration system many years ago," Estefan said. "We need to have laws and people need to be here legally. For example, why don't we give people who have been here for years a visa for three or five years so they are here legally and we can see what kind of people they are. After a few years, we let them apply for residency or citizenship."
The survey found 63 percent of Influencers ranked the reinstatement of federal protections for undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. under Temporary Protected Status as the second most important immigration issue this year. TPS is offered to immigrants affected by conditions "that temporarily prevent the country's nationals from returning safely, or in certain circumstances, where the country is unable to handle the return of its nationals adequately," according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
"Our immigration system is broken, thus a piecemeal approach will not work,” said Marleine Bastien, executive director of the Family Action Network Movement, a prominent Haitian women's group. “It is time for Congress to act to enact a comprehensive law that keeps families together and trail blaze a path to citizenship.”
Nearly 56 percent of Influencers said ending the Trump administration's now-defunct policy of "zero tolerance" at the border should be prioritized.
Since April, the federal government has been recommending for prosecution adults who crossed the border illegally with children, leading officials to separate thousands of children from their parents. Three shelters in Miami-Dade County are currently housing a small fraction of these displaced kids.
On June 20, Trump signed an executive order halting the separation of families, though his administration has been criticized by Democrats for failing to establish an efficient process to reunify families already split up by the zero-tolerance policy.
Nearly 14 percent of Influencers argued that limiting family migration for children and spouses only should be prioritized, while just 5 percent viewed building a physical wall along the southern U.S. border as "very important."
“First, control our borders so we manage who is coming into our country," said Carol Probstfeld, president of the State College of Florida Manatee Sarasota. "As a matter of safety and economy we need to know who is entering our country. Second, provide a path to citizenship for immigrants who are already here and contributing to the economy. We need these people to fulfill our workforce needs as a nation.’’
It's not solely a question of policies, argued Richard Fain, chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises.
"The system needs to be fair and to be seen as fair," he said. "Today, the policies and the implementation of those policies are seen as political weapons rather than fair-minded efforts.’’
This is the second of a series of surveys the Miami Herald will conduct with 50 Influencers through the November elections to help focus media and candidate discussion around the policy issues of most importance to Floridians. Look for the next report in two weeks when Influencers will talk about solutions to Florida’s infrastructure problems. Share your thoughts and questions about the state’s important policy challenges and solutions here.