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Bennett immigration bill protested by religious, Hispanic leaders

PALMETTO -- About 100 religious leaders and members of the Latin and Hispanic communities of Manatee and Sarasota counties met Saturday morning at the Palmetto Youth Center for the Faith against Racism breakfast to discuss Florida’s proposed immigration law.

Labeled as an Arizona-style immigration law, many in the Latin and Hispanic community fear Senate Bill 136 will bring about racial profiling.

“We want to let everyone know what’s going on in state politics in regards to immigration reform,” said Victor Yengle, operations officer for Unidos Now, the organization sponsoring the breakfast. “It’s an educational event.”

It was the first time such an event has taken place since the drafting of SB 136 by state Senator Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton.

In Bennett’s bill, police who make a lawful stop, detention or arrest, or while enforcing another law, would be able to require information regarding citizenship if reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an illegal alien. It also would permit law enforcement agencies to take illegal aliens into federal custody.

C.J Czaia, chairman of Unidos Now, said there is a need to get community and religious leaders together to educate and discuss the potential effects of the proposed law. It will not only affect the Latin and Hispanic communities, but everyone in the state of Florida, he said.

“This issue is racial,” he said. “We have so many prejudices that are not true. We need to be less Mexican and talk more about the borders of Canada.”

Engaging in dialogue will spawn ideas, and community leaders can provide input to legislators hopefully that will “remove the ignorance about immigration,” said Czaia, also a local attorney.

“We’re going to look to solutions that make sense,” he said. “It’s not Republican or Democrat, it’s about doing the right thing. We want inclusiveness to do the right thing.”

Florida seems to lag a little in doing the right thing when it comes to racial issues, said Kelly Kirschner, the mayor of the City of Sarasota.

“That legacy is really close to our history here,” said Kirschner. “The system is broken. We need to encourage dialogue.”

With the Florida legislative session concluding the end of April, Kirschner said, “We need to be having this conversation before the law gets passed.”

The proposed legislation is “not what the founding fathers of the United States envisioned for this country,” said the Rev. Charles McKenzie of the Henry Porter Evangelistic Association of Sarasota. He called the audience to action.

“We have the opportunity as laymen to bend history in the right direction,” McKenzie said. “This is not about black or white. This is about wrong or right.”

Irma Aguilar, president of the Florida Council of Migrant Workers, said she liked what she heard at the breakfast.

“It is very important to come to these meetings to be aware of what is going on to prevent this kind of law,” she said through interpreter Edwin Enciso of Progress Now, one of the breakfast speakers.

Jose Pineda, president of the Hispanic Ministerial Association of Manasota, said the breakfast was an important first step, but much work needs to be done. A lot of church pastors do not even know about SB 136, he said.

“The first thing that needs to be done is educate the pastors,” said Pineda.

“Then we can do something. We believe there are better ways to solve this problem.”

More events

Upcoming immigration events and discussions:

n Feb. 7 at 3:30 p.m. – Tallahassee Legislative Hearing. 515 Knott Bldg., Room 412 – Pat Thomas Committee Room, Capitol Complex, Tallahassee

n Feb. 14 at noon – “Across Our Borders: Searching for solutions to legal and illegal immigration at the Bradenton Woman’s Club, 1705 Manatee Ave. W.

n Feb. 23 at 7 p.m. – Immigration Forum at USF Sarasota-Manatee Selby Auditorium, 8350 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota

n Feb. 26 at 2 p.m. – Prayer Vigil to Call for National Immigration Renewal and Action at Our Lady of Angels Memorial Garden, 12905 State Road 70 E., Bradenton

n March 5 at 2 p.m. – “Bridges and Borders” at Selby Library Auditorium, 1331 First St. in Sarasota.

n For more information, go to