BRADENTON -- It was an unusually fiery session of the Manatee Tiger Bay Club on Thursday as Republican state Sen. Mike Bennett and C.J. Czaia, an attorney who is a Democrat, clashed over immigration legislation.
Bennett filed a legislative bill calling for “racial profiling” in immigration matters, Czaia contended.
Bennett answered that the bill, which did not pass, was race-neutral, and was meant only to enforce current immigration laws because of congressional inaction on the subject.
Both supported some form of immigration reform, they said.
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It is “absolutely necessary” the United States examine itself to make sure it remains devoted to equality, Czaia said.
He called immigration “our issue, our time,” and urged the audience to fight for such ideals, adding, “We must do it because it is right; we must do it because it belongs to us and our children; we must do it because we have no other choice.”
He said Bennett’s immigration bill would lead to police harassment and arrest on the basis of skin and hair color.
Czaia thanked undocumented workers who pick the fruit and vegetables for U.S. tables, and those who serve as busboys and cooks, dishwashers and laborers.
“Any and all paying jobs, low-paying jobs we do not want and will not do,” Czaia told the group gathered at Mattison’s Riverside restaurant.
He also lauded those who have come to this country and become doctors, lawyers, Pulitzer Prize winners, even soldiers who have died in battle.
“So, the next time a friend or neighbor demeans the undocumented immigrant, remind them of the great sacrifices these immigrants have given our nation; remind them that this is our immigrant roots, which give us our rich and unique character as a nation,” Czaia said.
“Red, yellow, black, brown and white, undocumented and documented, we are all invaluable parts that make up the sum of these great United States of America.”
Bennett countered that Czaia was mistaken in his view of the immigration bill, introduced in the Florida Legislature earlier this year.
The bill would have prohibited the state or its political subdivisions from limiting or restricting the enforcement of immigration laws, according to its summary.
It also would have required a law enforcement officer to request citizenship information under certain circumstances, and authorized police to take an undocumented person to a federal facility, among other measures, the summary said.
Bennett argued it was race-neutral, and would have simply enforced laws already on the books.
“All I’m asking for is for people to follow the system,” Bennett said.
He bemoaned the U.S. Congress’ failure to solve the citizenship question posed by what he called 11 million illegal immigrants that are now in this country, saying it is a federal issue.
“Because it’s not a state issue -- it’s a federal issue,” Bennett said. “We do not want to live in a country where we’ve got 50 immigration laws.”
He considered it “unfortunate” that the U.S. Congress year after year has “decided to do nothing about immigration reform.”
If diners adjourned and drove away and were pulled over by sheriff’s deputies, they would be asked to produce a driver’s license or some kind of identification, Bennett noted.
If one did not produce it, it might raise questions, Bennett said.
“I’ve got a funny feeling that would raise a reasonable suspicion that, possibly, you might not be here legally, and I think that they have a right to ask you, the same as they would anybody -- blond-haired, blue-eyed, whatever it is -- I believe we have the right to do that.”