U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Florida, and other GOP members of Florida's Delegation are opposing a path to citizenship, while their constituents support it. (Photo by Lingjing Bao)

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Florida, and other Republican members of Florida’s congressional delegation are opposing a path to citizenship, even as a poll suggests their constituents support it. (Photo by Lingjing Bao)

By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s immigration plan, which includes a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants living in the United States, still faces strong resistance from Republicans in Congress. At the same time, a poll shows most Floridians support a path to citizenship.

Rubio, R-Florida, is leading a group of seven other senators who released a comprehensive immigration reform bill. A similar bill is expected to come out of the U.S. House as well. Rubio’s plan includes a way for many of the country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants to become citizens. The citizenship process would take several years. The Gang of Eight’s plan also includes provisions that would increase border security.

The bipartisan immigration reform plan has support from Democrats and moderate Republicans.

And a new poll from political advocacy groups Project New America and Florida New Majority shows that Floridians are also on board with the Senate plan’s path to citizenship.

The Orlando Sentinel reports that two out of three Floridians polled in this new survey said they supported or strongly supported plans to include a path to citizenship in immigration reform:

The poll was conducted the last week in April by Public Policy Polling of North Carolina, a Democratic-leaning surveying outfit that posted an impressive accuracy record through the 2012 election cycle. PPP surveyed at least 500 voters in each of the four target districts plus 621 more statewide. It’s statewide margin of error was stated as 3.9 percent and in the individual districts ranged from 3.9 to 4.4 percent.

The survey also found a strong plurality of voters statewide and in each district who said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supported a pathway to citizenship thana candidate who opposed such a pathway.

Statewide, voters said they would favor such candidates 49-29, with the rest undecided. In three of the targeted districts, the support for candidates favoring pathways was even greater, though in Webster’s the spread between support and opposition was a little tighter, 51-34.

Although a super-majority of Floridians support the Senate plan, some of Republican members of Florida’s congressional delegation aren’t as supportive.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, some members of Florida’s GOP delegation are “reluctant to embrace” Rubio’s comprehensive plan or are totally opposed to provisions such as a pathway to citizenship:

“I’m definitely not for a path to citizenship. It’s breaking the law and we’re rewarding it,” said Rep. Gus Bilirakis of Palm Harbor, adding he could support other reforms.

Rep. Trey Radel of Fort Myers said he appreciates the Senate’s bipartisan approach, but referring to the authors, he added, “I am concerned by the way the Gang of 8 is attempting to hand out citizenship like it’s a gift they can pick and choose. Before we talk about a path to anything, I am looking for a commitment to a safe and secure border.”

Rep. Dan Webster of Winter Garden said he’s concerned about provisions that would legalize about 11 million people and allow them to gain citizenship through fines and by waiting up to 13 years. “I’m thinking that through. There are people in their country who are being leapfrogged if we do that.”

Webster said he favors a piecemeal approach over the Senate’s all-in-one bill, which ran 844 pages when introduced April 17. “We’ve already seen what Obamacare did. You write a bill, you’ve got all these rules, regulations and it’s not even able to fulfill half the promises it made. Let’s do every piece right.”

The responses from one of the country’s largest House delegations (17 of the 27 Florida representatives are Republican; the Democrats are supportive of reform) show the challenges that await if the Senate bill passes.

The new poll was conducted in Webster’s and Bilirakis’ districts, as well as in other districts along the I-4 corridor. Webster’s and Bilirakis’ districts showed strong support for a path to citizenship.

The Senate will now work through the hundreds of amendments that have been filed for the immigration bill. Among the most controversial is one that would allow gay and lesbian citizens to petition for U.S. residency for their partners, something Rubio said he would not support.