TALLAHASSEE -- For two days this week, Sen. JD Alexander sat behind his desk on the floor of the Florida Senate with a rosary draped across his laptop screen.
It was a gift from one of the hundreds of immigrant children and their parents who for weeks visited the state Capitol to protest a proposed immigration crackdown. The groups moved from holding outdoor protests at the steps of the Old Capitol to packing committee rooms and, eventually, taking over most of the fourth-floor lobby outside the Florida House and Senate chambers.
Some of their pleas were heard. The Senate signed off on its immigration bill Wednesday -- but without a key provision pushing employers to check the immigration status of workers. That omission may kill any immigration reform this year because the House wants a tougher stance.
“It’s easy to talk about -- you know, down at the post office, at the bar -- you know, we ought to do this thing,” Alexander, R-Lake Wales, told senators in a floor speech Tuesday. “But when you start looking in people’s eyes and understand they are people who live and breathe just like us -- I think you all need to think about it very carefully.”
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The immigration proposals drew opposition from across the political spectrum: big business, the agricultural industry, law enforcement officials, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Florida Catholic Conference.
Yet no group was more visible than the throngs of immigrants, most of them farm workers, organized by the Miami-based Florida Immigrant Coalition.
After the Senate’s 23-16 vote on Wednesday, dozens of the immigrants were ordered to leave the Capitol for singing while sitting in the visitors’ gallery. The activists, wearing matching orange T-shirts, sang “We who believe in freedom will not rest” immediately after the vote.
Once outside the building, they gathered in a circle and held hands.
“Today, we have enriched democracy by our presence,” said Maria del Rosario Rodriguez, the coalition’s executive director, telling the others that they could take some credit for the softer Senate legislation.
Over the last two weeks, the coalition, which was founded in 2004 and brings together immigrant rights groups from across the state, estimates it brought some 2,000 protesters to the Capitol, most from Central Florida.