Bay area immigration advocates grateful, skeptical on reform talk

5:58 PM, Jan 30, 2013   |    comments
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Felipe Matos speaks in front of the immigration statue in Ybor's Centennial Park. When his mother became ill 14 years ago, Matos came to Florida from Brazil on a temporary visa and never went back.
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Tampa, Florida --  Promises, promises.

Immigration advocates in the Bay area are keeping a close eye on the newest push for immigration reform - new rules that could effect thousands who live here. 

But those pushing for those reforms say the devil is in the details, and they're worried the apparent new push between President Obama and the U.S. Senate could signal more political lip service than real change.

Advocates met Wednesday in the shadow of the immigration statue in Ybor's Centennial Park to talk about it.

Among them? Felipe Matos.

When his mother became ill 14 years ago, Matos came to Florida from Brazil on a temporary visa and never went back.

To help other children escape the same poverty, he dreamed of becoming a teacher, but was told 'no'.

He was here illegally, "And I couldn't do it," he says.

It's stories like Felipe's of dreams unrealized, and families torn apart, that brought immigration advocates together to praise President Obama and key senators for getting serious about immigration reform.

But they've heard it before, and that's why they are still skeptical.

"It's too bad that it takes an election to teach people that in fact basic human rights are important," said Mike Pheneger, local president of the American Civil Liberties Chapter 

"We have to work very hard to make this a reality," added Adriana Cerillo with advocacy group 'Unidos Now'.

The president and senate plans still have stark differences.

The biggest sticking point may be tying reform to tighter border security. Obama's plan has no such triggers.

But conservative critics, even those who support change, say without them, millions more will come here illegally.

Including, possibly - terrorists.

"And let me be clear, I will not support. I personally will not support any immigration bill that does not prevent that from happening," said Senator Marco Rubio.

But local immigration advocates warn both parties not to get bogged down in debate.

"This is the time, this is the moment. We need not lose it. We need to make it happen," said Rev. Russell Meyer with the Florida Council of Churches.

The coalition demanded action, and warned they aren't afraid to use the same voting power they did in the last election to get it.

"We've been waiting, and waiting is no longer an option," said Matos.

We spoke with local Tea Party members Wednesday as well, who expressed similar concerns to those raised by Senator Marco Rubio.

Immigration reform, they feel, needs to be in conjunction with tightening our borders.

Difficult to say how that will play out.

There are now two powerful, but opposing, political voices on opposite sides of the issue, and politicians in the middle will likely try, if not need, to cater to both.

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