Original post | 12:19 p.m.
Updated | 2:36 p.m., 3:21 p.m. and 3:33 p.m.
U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, pushed Monday for two key issues that could help decide how enthusiastic Hispanic voters are this year – and which party they end up favoring.
At a news conference at Hispanic Unity of Florida in Hollywood Wasserman Schultz said:
•U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, must put immigration reform legislation on the floor of the House for a vote. She said she was delivering a “simple message” to Boehner. “Allow the House to vote on comprehensive immigration reform without delay.”
Wasserman Schultz said the immigration reform legislation is “common sense and ready to go.” It would reduce the deficit, strengthen the nation’s borders, and improve the economy – and improve the lives of many people living in the U.S. She called it the “moral thing to do” for “millions of our brothers and sisters” living in the shadows.
Wasserman Schultz was joined at the event by U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, D-Miami. He said there’s no area in the United States that would benefit more from comprehensive immigration reform than South Florida.
•The Florida Senate must pass a measure granting in-state tuition for state college and university students who were brought to the U.S. years ago. Wasserman Schultz ridiculed Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s claim that he supports the legislation. “He’s exercised exactly zero leadership,” she said. “This is squarely in the Republicans’ court and I hope they don’t let the legislative session expire on Friday without taking it up and sending it to the governor.”
Josie Bacallao, president and CEO of Hispanic Unity, said it’s an important issue for many people in South Florida.
Anthony Da Rosa, 20, a student at Palm Beach State College, said his “whole life is here,” after coming to the U.S. in April 2004.
He’s been through elementary, middle and high schools in the U.S.
He said paying for college “gets hard with the out of state tuition and the rate I’m paying.”
He said he works 70 hours a week at a phone store and at a golf course to earn the money to pay for his tuition.
He started to tear up during the news conference, and Wasserman Schultz put her hand on his shoulder to comfort him.
“It’s not much I’m asking for. It’s just in-state tuition would be all. That would be the best thing,” he said.
He said he want’s to get his associate’s degree in nursing and eventually a bachelor’s degree because of the care he got after a 2006 accident, which included four days in a coma.
“I just want to get my nursing degree and work in the emergency room and give back to the community for what they’ve done for me,” Da Rosa said.
Wasserman Schultz told him that having to work two jobs to pay for school “is a burden that is far too great for you to have to bear.”
Juan Garcia, one of the Republicans seeking his party’s nomination to challenge Wasserman Schultz in November, said if the congresswoman really wants action on immigration reform she should be prepared to compromise instead of simply demanding a House vote on the legislation she and Joe Garcia favor.
He said many Republicans favor immigration reform “if we get in writing that we would secure the borders first.”
“I think this is just politics on her behalf,” he said.
Wasserman Schultz said it’s not political. She rejected the notion from some pundits that the Democratic Party would rather have no action so they could use the issues to gain political advantage with Hispanic voters.
“We are definitely not better off. We are always better off doing the right thing. That’s what we stand for. The Democratic Party and elected Democrats stand for making sure that the undocumented immigrants in this country, there are about 11 million of them, have a pathway to legal status and a pathway to certainty. So that every single night, like the stories you’ve just heard, there aren’t parents lying awake worrying about whether or not they are going to be able to come home the next day and be there for their kids the next day when they get home from school. Or that their kids will not just be left on their own with no one to care for them.”
In discussing the in-state tuition legislation for so-called Dreamers, Wasserman Schultz first referred to the head of Hispanic Unity, the non profit that hosted the Democratic members of Congress.
“I know you have to be careful, but I don’t. Democrats support that bill. The House of Representatives already passed it in Florida and all that has to be done is for the Senate to take it up and send it to the governor. The governor says he supports it, but he’s exercised exactly zero leadership, spent no political capital whatsoever, like he does with most things, where he has not pushed this legislation or used the power of his office to demonstrate how critical it is that undocumented immigrants to this country, young people who deserve an opportunity to get an education and take an opportunity to build a better life for themselves through being able to afford to go to college. This is squarely in the Republicans’ court and I hope they don’t let the legislative session expire on Friday without taking it up and sending it to the governor," Wasserman Schultz said
Susan Hepworth, communications director for the state Republican Party, emailed this response, referring to former Gov. Charlie Crist, the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination to challenge Scott: “If Debbie Wasserman Schultz wants to talk about 'zero leadership,' she should take a look at Charlie Crist’s record. He opposed in-state tuition for DREAMers and raised tuition for Florida’s students.”