The Brevard County Commission’s rare foray into national politics last month has incurred the wrath of numerous residents, some accusing Commissioner John Tobia of failing to vet a source labeled a “hate group” before accepting its statistics on the taxpayer-funded costs of immigration.
“A minimal amount of research would have revealed that (the Federation for American Immigration Reform) is categorized as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center,” Melbourne Beach resident Mitchell Roffer wrote in a July 20 email to Tobia.
“I can promise you that you did NOT represent me or the many people in your district who are educated about this problem (and) whom I have already communicated with,” Roffer added.
Tobia, of Palm Bay, did not respond to requests for comment. He represents a district that includes parts of the barrier island from Melbourne Beach south to the Sebastian Inlet.
Commissioners, all Republican, on July 10 voted 5-0 on Tobia’s motion to ask Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi to join a multi-state federal lawsuit, led by Texas, seeking to overturn DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy.
Under the 2012 policy, which former President Barack Obama, a Democrat, created by executive order, some 700,000 young adults nationwide – often called “Dreamers” – have been protected from deportation and given work permits for renewable two-year periods. But DACA doesn’t provide a path for citizenship.
In his resolution, Tobia cited figures from the Washington, D.C.-based FAIR. The nonprofit reported $4,919 as the average cost Florida taxpayers bear to provide healthcare, unemployment benefits and law enforcement for each illegal immigrant.
And statewide, FAIR calculated, such immigrants have racked up $6.3 billion in public costs.
In his resolution, Tobia said, many of those costs are passed down to Brevard County taxpayers. But he didn’t have any county-level figures. Tobia said FAIR didn’t break its statistics down that finely.
In fact, FAIR’s numbers are often cited by other organizations. And Tobia aide Billy Prasad said he tried without success to find independent figures from federal and state government agencies.
But Roffer and other emailers said Tobia and his colleagues should have researched FAIR before accepting its numbers.
The Montgomery, Ala.-based Southern Poverty Law Center, which bills itself as fighting for civil rights and against discrimination, has listed FAIR as an anti-immigrant “hate group.”
“But the SPLC is also a partisan group,” said commission Vice Chairwoman Kristine Isnardi, who voted for Tobia’s resolution.
Isnardi, also of Palm Bay, represents a district that includes the Indialantic area of the barrier island. She said she would have opposed Tobia’s resolution if it recommended deporting the children of illegal immigrants.
Isnardi said she got a trickle of emails before the July 10 vote, but a larger amount afterward. “If people cared so much, why did they wait until we voted?” she asked. “They’re a day late and a dollar short.”
While Tobia’s colleagues supported him July 10, none was enthusiastic. Isnardi, for example, said she didn’t see how a Brevard County resolution would sway Bondi.
“But both the Democrats and Republicans in Congress have failed to fix immigration,” she said.
Roffer accused Tobia, who politically backtracked to the County Commission in 2016 after being term-limited in the Florida House of Representatives, of taking his eye off local issues.
“It seems that you are positioning yourself for another position at the state and federal levels with the Republican Party,” Roffer told Tobia, “and not spending enough time and effort to educate yourself on how to fix the infrastructure in the county, especially the ancient water and wastewater treatment plants and sewage system.”