The fight to break the Capitol Hill partisan stalemate on immigration legislation spread to downtown Miami Wednesday, where a unique group of leaders gathered to call for an overhaul of current laws.
Joe Green, who roomed with Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg at Harvard, flew in from Silicon Valley to join a panel at Miami Dade College showcasing the push for reform from two Florida Republican members of Congress, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
Green, a descendant of Russian immigrants, and billionaire Zuckerberg founded FWD.us. The group has been pressuring the Republican-led House to pass new immigration laws that would loosen restrictions on visas for high tech workers before members go on recess this August. They have the financial backing of other entrepreneurs and executives, such as the founders of Linked-In and Dropbox.
"People come here to study. We invest tremendous resources on them and then we kick them out of the country, which is just crazy," Green said.
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Political analysts have labeled immigration reform an impossible task to accomplish before the August break, but Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart - a key Republican in the effort to achieve legislation - disagrees. He says the chances are 50/50 that reform will pass and he is lobbying hard for it.
"I am not willing to accept that we have a system now where the United States does not know who comes in and who leaves," he said. "It's a threat to our national security. It is hurting our economy," he said.
Diaz-Balart is currently working on a House measure he hopes would strike a balance between what Republicans and Democrats disagree on when it comes to reform. He says he is not ready to reveal the details, but has found common ground between members of both parties.
"When you present them with legislation based on some very basic principles, the rule of law, people who have done things legally, dealing with people that are here in a way that adheres to the rule of law, security in our borders and helping our economy, when you present them with that sort of language, you'd be surprised how much positive feedback we're getting," Diaz-Balart said.
Conservatives have demanded a revised work permit process plus fines for immigrants who have lived illegally in the U.S. for years. Some 11 million immigrants are believed to be in this country undocumented.
The Libre Initiative's Daniel Garza - the son of migrant workers who went on to serve in several positions for the George W. Bush administration - wants any reform to include protection for the children of immigrants. "We don't have a system that allows for their children to become educated and contribute with certainty to the economy," he said.
For Miami Dade College student Jose Salcedo, reform can't come soon enough. Salcedo moved to the U.S. with his parents when he was in elementary school and grew up watching baseball and eating apple pie, he says. He is part of the group of so-called "Dreamers," children who grew up in the U.S. though they are not here legally.
"We have our Republican representatives down here saying that it's actually going to pass 50/50, but at the same time, how much more can you wait when you have the president deporting families and you have legislation that has been passed stalling, waiting to be voted on," he says. "This is something that affects our parents, ourselves, and our future," said Salcedo.