Gainesville Organizes for Immigration Reform, Hopes to Influence Passage of Comprehensive Bill

by Liz Getzman

A group of local residents and organizations gathered at Gainesville’s Mennonite Meeting House on Tuesday, May 7, to continue organizing a coalition on immigration reform within the Third Congressional District of Florida.

Organized by Gainesville’s Interfaith Alliance for Immigrant Justice, and under the leadership of Marihelen Wheeler, former Democratic primary candidate for Florida’s House of Representatives, the coalition hopes to influence the U.S. Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the coming months. A specific goal of the group is to work directly with Ted Yoho, U.S. Representative for the Third Congressional District.

Edwin Enciso, organizer for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) NOW, a Florida-based group that advocates for state and national immigration reform, joined residents Tuesday evening to help organize the Immigration Summit on Saturday, June 1, at 1 p.m. at the Fairfield Presbyterian Church in Marion County (15096 NW Highway 225, Fairfield, FL 32634).

According to Enciso, district “teams” such as the Third Congressional District’s coalition are needed to pressure congressional representatives to advocate for reform.

“We may see regressive forces rally this summer — just as we saw happen to health care in 2009 — if we fail to obtain enough congressional pledges of support now,” Enciso says.

According to the Interfaith Alliance for Immigrant Justice, the district coalition is non-partisan and open to individuals of all political spectrums. Additional organizations that have pledged support include the National Farm Worker Ministry, the Alachua County Democratic Women, the Florida Farm Bureau, and Alachua County’s League of Women Voters (LWV).

“The League of Women Voters strongly supports comprehensive immigration reform,” said Kathy Kidder of the Alachua County LWV. “We need an efficient system for legal entry into the United States, including programs allowing workers to enter and leave for seasonal or temporary work. Verification documents and employer sanctions for hiring unauthorized workers, improved safeguards against illegal immigration, and reforms that meet U.S. business and employment needs should also be part of the legislation.”

Dr. Samuel Trickey, a board member and past president of National Farm Worker Ministry, said, “The agricultural guest worker provisions in the proposed Comprehensive Immigration Reform were negotiated by authentic farm worker groups, led by United Farm Workers. National Farm Worker Ministry is pleased to support that. It’s far better than a rerun of the old bracero program, which would have been utterly wrong and unjust.”

Janell Hendren, National Affairs Director for the Florida Farm Bureau, agreed that the guest worker provision is fair to both farm workers and their employers. She said Florida Farm Bureau is committed to the comprehensive immigration reform package in the Senate bill.

To learn more about the coalition, contact the Interfaith Alliance for Immigrant Justice at

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