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Politics

Immigrant activists run into roadblock

The immigration reform group visits one senator's staff but is barred from the other's office.

By GINA PACE
Published September 28, 2006


A group supporting immigration reform was locked out of Sen. Mel Martinez's office when it tried to present his staffers with work gloves and letters from immigrants Wednesday.

Leaders from 12 central Florida organizations supporting immigrant rights gathered to urge the Republican senator to continue supporting a more comprehensive approach to immigration reform.

But the group of about 24 people, including three representatives from Tommytown's Farmworkers Self Help organization, was stopped by security and eventually left Martinez's Orlando office with its letters and used work gloves - symbolic of how hard undocumented employees work - still in hand.

Farmworkers Self Help is an advocacy group for issues local immigrants face. Its director, Margarita Romo, has raised concerns about safety for immigrants in the Tommytown area and recently spearheaded the East Pasco Community Coalition to fight drugs and crime there.

Romo and participants in the statewide group are looking for a number of concessions for illegal immigrants, who are the subject of ongoing debate in Congress. Among other things, the group wants an official path to legal status for undocumented workers and are against a proposal to build 700 miles of fences at the border between the United States and Mexico.

Participants say Martinez has been supportive of some aspects of the reform. But Wednesday, Romo was upset that, as a constituent, she could not get in to speak with his staff.

"He's our senator; we're voters," she said. "Why can't we see him?"

The group first made a presentation to Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson's staff, housed in an office tower next door to Martinez's office, without incident.

Then group members headed for the private office building where Martinez's office is located, along with several businesses.

There, they were locked out and told to leave, said Jeannie Economos, a program assistant with Farmworkers Association of Florida in Apopka, who organized the visit.

The police arrived and told group members to get off the property and stand on the sidewalk outside the building, which they did, Economos said. A spokeswoman for Orlando police did not have a record of police being dispatched to the area.

From the sidewalk, Economos said she called upstairs to Martinez's Orlando staff members. They offered to meet with one or two representatives of the group.

But Romo, Economos and others were unsatisfied. They had traveled from various parts of Florida and felt they had the right to meet with Martinez's staff as a group.

"The coalition agreed it was not acceptable to restrict us in that way," Economos said.

Martinez's office is located in a private building that employs on-site security, said his spokesman, Ken Lundberg.

"Once security makes a determination, it is out of our hands," he said.

Lundberg said a representative from Martinez's staff went downstairs to hear the group's concerns. He emphasized that Martinez has supported comprehensive immigration reform, which is in line with what the constituent group advocates.

"For anyone to suggest his staff would turn away a group that supports his position is ludicrous," Lundberg said.

A message left at the corporate offices of Highwood Properties, the company that manages the building in Orlando where Martinez's office is located, was not returned Wednesday.

Both senators were in Washington, D.C. ,Wednesday. The Senate is expected to vote on the fence bill, the proposal to build 700 miles of fences along the U.S.-Mexico border, before they leave for recess at the end of the week. Martinez helped write a more comprehensive bill that has now been set aside.

Times Staff Writer Anita Kumar contributed to this report.

[Last modified September 28, 2006, 07:07:46]


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