BY GEORGE BENNETT – PALM BEACH POST STAFF WRITER
WEST PALM BEACH — Immigration reform advocates targeted U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Okeechobee, on Wednesday by demonstrating 60 miles outside his district at the Palm Beach Kennel Club, the dog track owned by the Rooney family.
It was part of a “Remember In November Farmworker Caravan” traveling Florida during the August congressional recess to urge House members to support a Senate bill to create a pathway to citizenship for millions of immigrants who are now in the country illegally. Rooney does not support the sweeping Senate bill and favors smaller bills aimed at increasing border security and creating a guest worker program for farm laborers, Rooney spokesman Michael Mahaffey said.
As for the demonstrators’ choice of the Kennel Club at Belvedere Road and Congress Avenue, Mahaffey said, “It’s his brother’s business. He doesn’t have a role there. He doesn’t draw a salary. There’s partial ownership by a trust that his kids are the beneficiaries of.”
The Kennel Club’s president is state Rep. Pat Rooney Jr., R-West Palm Beach, who is Tom Rooney’s older brother. According to his financial disclosure report, Tom Rooney owns an interest valued at between $50,000 and $100,000 in a trust that owns stock in Investment Corporation of Palm Beach, which owns the dog track.
“That is his family’s business…He gets profits from it,” said Afifa Khaliq, of the Service Employees International Union, which helped organize the demonstration. In addition to supporting immigration reform, SEIU wanted to show opposition to cuts in federal spending. The issues are related, Khaliq said, because both are “gambling with the people’s future.”
At 5:30 p.m., 16 people from the two groups stood along Congress Avenue waving signs at cars.
Before the Kennel Club event, four members of the immigration caravan stopped by the Palm Beach Gardens office of U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, to meet with Murphy staffers. Murphy supports the Senate bill.
Tirso Moreno of the Farmworker Association of Florida said he hopes Rooney will eventually support a pathway to citizenship.
“We hope that he can be in favor of immigration reform. He comes from a very agricultural kind of district,” said Moreno, who said the guest-worker reforms Rooney favors would be “improvements,” but fall short of what reformers want.
“We’re not willing to compromise on a path to citizenship,” said Jose Amateco of a group called Farmworkers Self-Help. “We believe that farmworkers have contributed to this country already. They’ve been part of the economy, the agriculture economy, the tourism industry, the construction industry. So we believe they have made this country better….I believe that undocumented people deserve an opportunity to decide whether to pursue citizenship or not.”