Former Republican Party of Florida Chairman Al Cardenas (photo credit: Wikipedia)
You can add former Republican Party of Florida Chair Al Cardenas to the list of state Republicans unhappy with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ legislative proposal to repeal in-state tuition fee waivers for undocumented immigrant students at colleges and universities.
The proposal is a part of a package of measures targeting undocumented immigrants that DeSantis announced last week ahead of the upcoming regular Florida legislative session that begins Tuesday.
“The (proposed) law makes no sense from a humanitarian standpoint,” Cardenas told the Phoenix on Friday. “From an economic standpoint. And from the standpoint of a stronger Florida in the future. So why do we do that other than to be mean spirited, I don’t know.”
Cardenas was one of several state Republicans who worked behind the scenes in 2014 to get Florida GOP state legislators and then-Gov. Rick Scott to advocate for the measure to be passed. Scott said last week in Tampa that he also disagrees with DeSantis on the issue and that he would sign the same bill into law again if he had the chance.
Approximately 40,000 students enrolled in higher education classes in Florida are considered undocumented, with about 12,000 eligible for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and 28,000 ineligible, according to the Higher Ed Immigration Portal.
“Look, these are people who live in our state,” Cardenas said of the so-called “dreamers.”
“They’re not moving from our state. They’re not going anywhere. They’re getting educated in our state. And they’re going to be an important part of our workforce once government gets around to doing the right thing,” he said.
Noting how DeSantis was able to advocate and pass legislation in his first year in office as governor that would eliminate so-called “sanctuary cities” (despite the fact that there were no cities in Florida which were calling themselves at the time), the 75-year-old Cardenas says most of these immigration proposals have been driven by politics, not public policy. And the measure that would ban undocumented immigrant students bothers him the most “because you’re harming kids, who don’t serve that.”
The Miami-based Cardenas served as the president of the American Conservative Union from 2011-2014. The organization founded CPAC (the Conservative Political Action Conference) in the mid 1970s, but Cardenas says that the CPAC taking place this week in Oxon Hill, Maryland is a far cry from the CPAC’s he attended as recently as a decade ago.
“The American Conservative Union for 50 plus years had been the stalwart of the conservative movement … and what I see now is a populist effort dealing more with cancel culture than they are with the real issues that are impacting Americans,” he says.
“If you look at the people in the exhibition room, there used to be conservative book sellers. There used to be people trying to get you to join conservative think tanks. Now it’s more of a culture circus that’s being offered to people,” he says, referring to an incident at last summer’s CPAC when Georgia Congresswoman Marjory Taylor Greene dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit inside of a prop jail cell to highlight what she alleged was the “mistreatment” of those jailed in the Jan.6 insurrection.
Cardenas remains a registered Republican, but broke ranks last fall to endorse Democrat Annette Taddeo in her electoral challenge to Republican Maria Elvira Salazar in Florida’s 27th Congressional District race (Salazar won). He says he’s no longer an activist, but instead wants to work towards lowering tensions and to have Congress work better with each other.
“We’re involved in a cultural war that is separating our country in ways that I never envisioned it,” he says. “We always had philosophical differences, but not the animosity that exists today, amongst members and even among staff in Congress. It’s not healthy. It’s not good for America. We’re probably living in the most challenging decade we’ve lived since World War II and we’re not prepared to handle the challenge because we’re so fragmented and emotions are running at such a negative pattern.”
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