Tiger Bay Club discusses immigration reform

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SARASOTA, Fla. - Thursday's Sarasota Tiger Bay Club forum turned into a political discussion on the issue of amnesty of undocumented immigrants and the multiple reforms it entails versus a focus on securing the border.

Both Republicans and Democrats debated the hot button issue that affects not only the nation, but also the state of Florida.

Sarasota Republican committeeman Christian Ziegler avoids the discussion of amnesty when it comes to immigration reform, focusing instead on what he says needs to happen first: more secure borders. "Amnesty for illegals right now, versus really having a conversation on securing the border and revamping the legal immigration system."

On the other side, Luz Corcuera with Healthy Start Coalition does not think that will bring resolution. "It's almost like we are talking about an impossible task, that you're going to seal all the borders with all the neighbors…I don't think that's going to happen."

Luz is in favor of amnesty, which is really about what it would take for undocumented immigrants to obtain citizenship: pay a fine, learn English, and crack down on employers. "The reality of the benefits of comprehensive immigration reform, the fact that we have anywhere from 30,000-50,000 undocumented immigrants living in Sarasota and Manatee counties."

Those undocumented families have children who grew up here on the Suncoast and are now finding it difficult to further their education.

In the state of Florida, a bill is being debated in Tallahassee over whether undocumented students should be able to pay in-state tuition at Florida schools.

"We don't need to punish them. We invest in them to go through elementary, high school, middle school and then when they get to 12th grade, there's no investment anymore."

But Zeigler says the opportunity for higher education is still there. "No one's saying they can't necessarily not go to college. We're having a discussion about them getting a discount that other Americans wouldn't get."

This issue hits close to home. Just a few weeks ago, ABC 7 spoke with a Suncoast student who has lived in Florida most of her life and has dreams of becoming a nurse -- but the out of state fees make it difficult. "I've been here since I was three, and this is my home. And I feel like it's unfair because I've never been over to Mexico or anything."

Amnesty for undocumented immigrants is just a proposal and will continue to be discussed, but the in-state tuition bill is still being looked at in the Florida legislature.