Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, rekindled the divisive debate over illegal immigration when he told the Senate committee reviewing a series of congressional redistricting plans that “before we design a district anywhere in the state of Florida for Hispanic voters, we need to ascertain that they are citizens of the United States.”
“We all know there are many Hispanic-speaking people in Florida that are not legal,’’ he said. “And I just don’t think it’s right that we try to draw a district that encompasses people that really have no business voting anyhow,” he said.
Of course, Puerto Ricans are American citizens from birth, as the territory is part of the U.S. “We’ve never had a problem with illegal voting in Lake County, no way,’’ said Lake County Supervisor of Elections Emogen Stegall, who has worked in the election’s office for 40 years.
Hispanic lawmakers of both parties were quick to condemn Hays. Sen. Rene Garcia (R), the chairman of the Hispanic caucus, said he asked Hays for an explanation and two Democratic lawmakers demanded an apology or resignation. “He is calling on a witch hunt before a Hispanic district can be realistically considered,’’ said Rep. Janet Cruz (D). The GOP-dominated caucus met late Wednesday night to discuss the matter.
Other GOP lawmakers, however, were less concerned, with one saying Hays’ comments were “irrelevant” and another saying, “I don’t think he meant it in a way that was negative or demeaning or detrimental.”